What a great time to be a Rotting Christ fan. New book Non Serviam has provided a huge insight into the history of the Greek band who have simply gone from strength to strength over the last 3 decades plus. Then there’s the new album The Heretics their not so unlucky 13th. They have been touring relentlessly of late too and unless you are unlucky there is a good chance you will have caught them live over the last few years. Those of us in the UK have been blessed in this respect and they seem to like it here. Bloodstock Festival is welcoming them back this year and they will be headlining the Sophie Lancaster stage there. By then I expect most people will be well versed in the 10 new songs here. I certainly am as I must have played it 20 times since first hearing it at a listening session in Camden. My first impression has not changed drastically although my love of the album has grown with time. I found it almost a composite snapshot of past and present, almost as though it was tying in different nuances of sound from the past and bringing them to the present. As I came to learn during the reading of Non Serviam it is Sakis Tolis who as ever is pretty much behind all the musical composition and arrangements here and he is also responsible musically for everything apart from his brother Themis on drums. Speaking of which the drummer rebelled a bit this time around and made it clear that he wanted to record his parts without his brother standing over him and the result was a subtle change of allowing him slightly more freedom. I guess manic RC fans and drummers may notice this as the album unfolds. Another thing this time around is that there are no big choral aspects or a huge array of special guests as there were on Rituals. There are a few people cropping up such as Ashmedi of Melechesh on one track and Non Serviam co-author Dayal Patterson getting in on the act and providing some backing vocals but by and large this is an album that could be looked on as back to basics in some respects.
This is not particularly noticeable due to the fact that it has an inner narrative so to speak with many spoken parts from Sakis giving a sort of dialogue during the songs. Apart from his normal rasping singing this very much diversifies the material and gives you an insight what these heretical songs dealing with not serving to any ideas of religious dogma and taking us through the journey in a multi-cultural sense. Everything from Milton to ancient Zoroastrianism is included on this trip and again some track titles are presented in their native script.
We start ‘In The Name Of God’ and after dramatic and foreboding speech that heavy stomp we have become accustomed to. The sense of ancient civilisations marching to war is present as are the glorious backing vocal chants and that ever present Hellenic groove. There’s a sense of grandeur and might and its fist pumping and vitriolic. Underlying it though there is a melodicism that harks back to the Gothic romance of an album such as A Dead Poem ‘Vetry zlye (Ветры злые)’ is enhanced with backing vocals from Irina Zybina of Grai and is the only tack adding a bit of femininity. You will note that there is no over-extending of anything here, all the tracks range between about 3-5 minutes and although having plenty going on in them certainly get there job done in a perfunctory fashion before moving on. The dark and brooding intro of ‘Heaven And Hell And Fire’ takes back to ancient biblical time with mesmerising chants and melody. It’s not just the title and lyrics that are full of elemental fire and flair either. The leads are ever flowing and roll over the listener like molten lava. “My own mind is my own church” speaks the truth. The slow and brooding ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ is a crypt crawling exercise in sinister occultism inverting religious principles with a feel of unholy blasphemy. Satanically chanted and sinister it really gets under the skin and slithers tenuously with a very forked tongue. By contrast Dies Irae takes another doctrine and adds ballast and blast usurping the solemn tone and grace at its heart. It comes across as a pious exercise in dynamics, equal parts Jerry Goldsmith and Latin hymnal.
The b side starts with the albums most destructive rite. ‘I Believe (Πιστεύω)’ is a fast paced flailing storm with spoken parts in Greek enthralling the listener as the track hits like a sandstorm and keeps pillaging away with harmonic and precise force proffering deliverance like the land has been hit by a deadly plague. After this calm is installed slightly with bird song as shocked survivors emerge to ‘Fire God and Fear.’ Religion rules by installing such aspects on those it controls is no doubt the message this is conveying and it does so with leaden beats and flowing jagged guitar work. There’s a great solo and it can only really belong to the one band, instantly identifiable and glorious. If you are after a pernicious and stirring melodic thrust the chances are you will find it most on ‘The Voice Of The Universe’ the central motif absolutely soaring over a dark slow pounding beat. Shortest track at just over 3 minutes ‘The New Messiah’ definitely has a dark and delicious romanticism at the heart of the music tempered with fierce rasping and gravid growling vocals. The end is great tale and the inspiration behind ‘The Raven’ should need no introduction as it comes not so much tapping at the chamber door as blowing it wide open. Mid paced and perfectly poised for the ritual of banging one’s head like the rest of the album it is impossible not to get caught up in this storied denouement. What I particularly found oddly amusing though is a sudden guitar solo that reminds of a different flock of birds, namely seagulls. If you are of a certain age listen yourself and see what I mean! Apart from that Sakis gives an almost Shakespearean theatrical oration to the track which if all else fails could well see him treading the boards and wraps up a near perfect album.
(9/10 Pete Woods)