Over the course of the past 23 years of existence, Greek ROTTING CHRIST have made an amazing transformation from a Grindcore act over a band blasting out Black Metal over Gothic Metal to this unique hybrid between Melodic Black Metal, Gothic atmospheres and also an increasing Greek Folk influence, resulting in a quickly increasing fanbase and favourable reviews all over the place.
I personally discovered Sakis Tolis and his crew back in 1997, when I picked up “A Dead Poem” at a festival and got me hook, line and sinker with its Gothic Metal (plus Sakis’ harsh voice) and the years after I always had the feeling that they were not able to fully replicate its quality, until 2002’s “Genesis” saw them pick up steam in a dramatic way, after “Khronos” (2000) was kind of hanging between the chairs with the return of Black Metal elements, but overall a lack of flow and cohesion. “Genesis” saw them embark on the journey they are still on, with a great, epic mix of Gothic, Black and more, the guitar leads retained their melodies, while the overall atmosphere of the songs was considerably darker and heavier.
“Sanctus Diavolos” in 2004 saw them follow down that road even more, getting more intense and also bringing in some Greek lyrics (“Athanati Este”) and 2007’s “Theogonia” was the pinnacle of their musical creation to that date, having fully found their style with Black Metallic fury, Gothic melodies, high intensity and the courage to try to bring in some genre-atypical elements, such as choirs and also some Greek Folk instruments, such as the zournas.
Now, three years after, “Aealo” has hit and it’s hard to put into mere words how hard it hits! The title is an ancient Greek word meaning as much as “catastrophe” or “destruction” and befits the character of the album, which sounds more Hellenic than ever by the band embracing their culture even more in both lyrics and musical nature. New in their sound is the incorporation of a traditional female choir from Ipsos, named Pleiades, that leaves its stamp on some of the tracks, other than that the characteristics are still the same as on “Theogonia”, just elevated to the next level.
If I had to describe “Aealo” in five adjectives only, it would be: intense, defiant, warrior-like, traditional (as in rooted in traditions) and authentic. The title track mirrors these perfectly, with the chants of the Pleiades (which to the uninitiated sound odd, foreign and somehow outlandish), followed by a blastbeat assault that will batter your senses before settling into ROTTING CHRIST’s trademark sound of powerful mid-tempo double-bass, the characteristic riffing and Sakis’ vocals, all of which identify the track as nobody else’s but ROTTING CHRIST. The immense power of the song evokes images of this primordial force that is following the warriors into battle.
I really have to reel myself in to not describe every track in all of its grandeur, so I will have to condense this to the primae inter paris, the first among equals. “Demonon Vrosis” is a typical ROTTING CHRIST song, with some female chants again, but it is the leads and riffs that make this one intense ride through the Greek myths (with the title meaning “Demon’s Food”), but then “Noctis Era” is one of my two favourite tracks on “Aealo”, pounding, heavy, irresistible with these incredible melodies and leads that draw you right in and a very intense atmosphere, followed by the short, but sweet attack of “dub-sag-ta-ke”, which sounds even more primordial with fast and frantic attacks of sharp riffs, which also feature some Greek fiddle (or whichever instrument this is) and these chants again, serving a stark contrast between the two of them.
The other favourite is “Thou Art Lord”, which is a brilliant, slower track that epitomises the meaning of the word intense and features PRIMORDIAL’s Alan Nemtheanga as guest vocalist, who perfectly complements Sakis venomous vocal delivery on this one. Two other songs I have to mention as well, unfortunately for a different reason, for one “Nekron Iahes”, which is more of an interlude, but is solely made up of these odd chants by the Pleiades and no matter how often I listen to it, it makes my neck hair stand on end every time and I definitely feel rubbed against the grain. The other one is more of a bonus track, that being “Orders From The Dead”, a cover version of Greek-American Avantgarde artist Diamanda Galas, who also features on the song, and I just cannot get into this one, mostly due to her overtly theatrical and over-the-top performance.
But that does not take away anything from the sheer intensity and quality of this album, which now truly is the best album that the Athenians have created to date and I am still leery about giving it the full 10/10, because I somehow have that feeling that they have something more up their sleeves. “Theogonia” was about the building of the world, “Aealo” is about the destruction, so no wonder that they are two brilliant albums close in kin right after each other. This is a very serious contender for album of the year and this is going to spin in my player (and head) for a long time to come!
(Online October 14, 2010)