If you are on this site and playing a word association game “Greece” will no doubt be swiftly followed by thoughts of Rotting Christ as much as package holidays. Without doubt, with over three decades of history behind the much loved and respected band, your paths have no doubt crossed and memories of first discovery are still very much with you. For me it was stumbling across them via the long departed Steve’s Sounds promo department in Soho and finding albums in the mid 90’s along with releases by the likes of Samael, Marduk, Borknagar, Dimmu Borgir, Diabolos Rising, Emperor, Sigh and Burzum. My, what times these were and like many I have never looked back. As far as Rotting Christ are concerned it is one that has been a constant journey, dipping back into what I had missed and following forward with gigs, practically every time they played London and albums up to the present date and new disc ‘The Heretics,’ which is just about to be unleashed in 2019. They are definitely a band who have a story to tell and after years of being involved in extreme metal journalism in magazines and with his own publishing house Cult Never Dies Dayal Patterson is the perfect person to have formulated a plan to tell it along with band members past and present.
It looked like hard work too; photos emerged of collaborations in Greek bars and on beaches and the tale finally emerged, a right page turner it has proven to be too. No matter how much you think you know about the group you will almost definitely learn things here, even band leader Sakis did along the way. We start with two brothers Sakis and Themis growing up in a comfortable but skint fashion with dreams and ambitions following a baptism in the Greek punk scene. Along with founding member Jim Mutilator they developed gradually from early grind origins into forerunners of the black metal world, certainly in Greece where things took on a different slant from those within the traditional and well documented Scandinavian territories. This is not a sensationalist story of mayhem, murder and de-consecration of the holy. There were no prison terms here. Sex drugs and rock and roll are part of what we will read about, they had their vices but never to the excess that it destroyed creativity. Other things such as mental health problems definitely curtailed it and I was surprised to discover at certain points Sakis was practically running the show solely by himself. Guest musicians although credited on albums were not actually involved in the creation of the music itself.
This is the first time in years that the brothers along with Jim and Morbid aka Magus Wampyr Daoloth aka George also of Necromantia and the aforementioned Diabolos Rising have met up and their memories are great to read about. I expect they got as much as the reader out of this and still there is a very warm affection between them as they recount the trials and tribulations of their formative years. The book flows together in a really well written structure. Each release is taken in turn, given full credits and there is a synopsis of the developing sound encountered on it. Tours at the time of release are talked about, the recordings themselves and what was going on with the various record labels involved. Further insight is given by reactions from those they met on tour, those that discovered the albums themselves at the time and anyone who collaborated and was involved in the wider picture. These include members of groups such as Septic Flesh, Moonspell, Blasphemy, Mystifier, Behemoth, Watain, Cradle Of Filth, Tiamat, Mayhem & Enslaved just to mention a few.
Fully illustrated with an archive of interesting photos many of which have been unearthed and are being seen for the first time, the 300 page book is a really difficult to put down. What I really wanted to do was take each album in turn (yeah I certainly don’t own original demo recordings) and listen whilst reading the corresponding chapter. I am sure people with more time on their hands will take great pleasure in doing so. It is not only us black metal nerds who can enjoy this book though, anyone with a passing interest in the development of a dedicated group of individuals and what it means to be in a band can enjoy this. It is not an easy task especially when you have such a ‘confrontational’ moniker but surprisingly you will learn that it wasn’t something that caused Rotting Christ as much trouble as you may think (recent tribulations in Georgia aside) and the biggest problem they actually encountered was from within the so called community and a prime example of why finding god all of a sudden leads to delusional behaviour!
Forget any preconceptions to this world, Sakis is a warm and genial host a million miles from what you may expect listening to the music and seeing them live as I experienced meeting him at a recent album listening session for new album The Heretics (review coming soon). Of course it is a story not yet fully told as the band have gone from strength to strength never disappointing their fans (well certainly not me) with the development of albums full of arcane mysticism to gothic romance, devilish delights and the stomping mind-set of the latter years. Rotting Christ are driven survivors and true believers to the cause of what they are doing. Like others they could have thrown in the towel or with a name change gone down a commercial route in search of more in the way of fame and fortune but thankfully they are no such shallow deities. For that reason we can only applaud them and reading this book and picking up the new album is the very least we can do to show our own approval. Rotting Christ are the true kings of a stellar war and long may they continue to reign.