Rotting Christ - The Heretics - (9.5/10)
Published on February 15, 2019
Rotting Christ are one of the few bands that can legitimately claim to have carved their very own niche within the wide metal universe. Starting out as a pure black metal band they underwent different evolutions, going through a gothic metal phase (see A Dying Poem) until they let some folk influences creep in, so fans of the Greek are used to an album not sounding like the previous one. However even the constantly high level of quality of their twelve albums before, nothing would really prepare for The Heretics.
Now there are different elements within the Rotting Christ sound that make them, well, Rotting Christ, be it Sakis Tolis’ very characteristic gruff voice, the guitar work, the pacing, but while they had used choirs before, The Heretics is probably the culmination of the use of them so far. Now old fans should not fret, the band has not gone all out symphonic, but The Heretics is the probably most atmospheric and compact effort to date. More often than not when bands discover a new element to include in their songs, they tend to overuse it or try to showcase it in the foreground, in the case of Rotting Christ’s latest, though, everything is marvelously cohesive and fluid.
Setting out with “In the Name of God”, the dark opening with choir, spoken word and some atmospheric keyboards lull the listener into a false sense of security, being pummelled over the head with the blastbeat attack kicking the song itself off, but they cleverly alternate blastbeats and slow double-bass, creating these great dynamics that together with the rough vocals and choir invoke this big and incredible atmosphere, aptly setting the pace for the album. The choirs are one of the most important and strongest elements on The Heretics, adding this almost sacral atmosphere to many of the songs, but instead of being put front and centre, they are very well integrated into the overall sound and also create a great contrast to the harshness of Sakis’ voice.
“Vetry Zlye” operates mostly in slower tempos, despite some very well timed faster outbursts, but instead of a choir Grai’s Irina Zybina lends her great voice to complement Sakis in another very atmospherically dense song. What sets The Heretics apart from not only other bands, but even their own back catalogue, is that it flows from beginning to end and the 43 minutes pass by in a rush with the only realization at the end of it being to hit “play” again right again. Vocally the Greek also are among the most varied they’ve had so far, with Sakis’ gruffness offset not only by female vocals, but also spoken word and the choirs, adding even more variety.
With the strong use of choirs and whispered vocals, “Hallowed By Thy Name” (no, not related to Iron Maiden) almost feels like a ritual, a feeling that also threads through “The New Messiah”, where they repeat these three words throughout the whole song, but with its intensity and slow speed it never feels annoying, but just works. “I Believe” adds yet another dimension to the album, complementing blastbeats with great atmospheric keyboards and spoken Greek, showing how versatile Rotting Christ have become, while maintaining a remarkable level of cohesion. The album comes to a close with the band’s interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem “The Raven”, alternating the pounding verse with the slow chorus, which features some beautiful and passionate narration, but it is the really nice elegiac lead guitar that is the true star of the song.
As mentioned above, the whole album is over in a flash and while one is left wanting more, it is possible to just restart from the beginning and immerse oneself in the deep atmosphere again. Every song has its place and the flow of the whole album is magnificent from beginning to end, with the tempo changes in between and within songs aiding this greatly! The Heretics is maybe Rotting Christ’s most atmospheric and compact album ever and one of their, if not THE best of their career and for a band that has albums such as Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, A Dead Poem, Khronos, Sanctus Diavolos, Theogonia, Aealo etc. under their belt, that means a lot. Whichever way one might be looking at this, The Heretics is an absolutely astounding album that will rank high in many year-end lists and wholly justifiedly!