Review Summary: A strong continuation of the black/folk metal present on Aealo
Rotting Christ has always been a band that has made their own decisions regarding musical direction, performing a variety of extreme metal genres throughout their 25+ year career. They began their career in 1987 as a grindcore band and quickly evolved into one of Greece’s earliest black metal bands, releasing several strong releases in the early 1990’s. Starting in the mid 1990’s the band began incorporating gothic elements in their music, and this fusion resulted in the excellent Triarchy of the Lost Lovers in 1996. The gothic influence intensified and continued for several strong albums in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and gothic influences remained when the band started to return to their black metal roots with 2002’s Genesis. By 2007, Rotting Christ made it clear that they were once again ready to undergo a musical evolution, and began incorporating a variety of folk elements into their music. This new approach was to result in the excellent albums Theogonia and Aealo, in 2007 and 2010 respectively.
2013’s Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού is a continuation of the folk influenced black metal presented on their previous two albums, and proves a powerful listen. The title translates to “True To His Own Spirit”, a phrase fitting for Rotting Christ, exemplifying their unique approach to extreme metal throughout their decades-long career. The lyrical content of the album is all based on the ancient mythology of a variety of cultures, including Mayans, Persians, Sumerians, and, of course, Greeks. One can get a good sense of the theme of the album just by reading the song titles on the back cover. Each title is written in a different language, and each song is based on a myth from the language’s respective culture. It is certainly an intriguing concept, and Rotting Christ manages to deliver an album with enough variety, both musically and lyrically, to remain interesting throughout.
The album’s opener, In Yumen/Xibalba, begins with a long, droning introduction consisting of sustained, distorted chords and chanting. This two-minute-long introduction serves to set the mood for the album, an album that serves as a 50-minute journey into religions of the past. The chanted intro conjures up images of ritualism and pagan ceremonies, the heart of the album’s concept. At about two minutes into the song, the band changes pace, breaking into a heavy tremolo-picked verse highly reminiscent of the material on 2010’s Aealo. Honestly, the majority of the material on this album is reminiscent of Aealo, but this in no way detracts from the strength of the album. Aealo was a very strong release, and Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού serves as its logical sequel.
A clear album standout is the excellent “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”, featuring powerful, driving rhythm guitar and a chanted chorus repeating the title, which translates to Great Spirit Diavolos in Latin. The verses are delivered with an interesting vocal technique; Sakis Tolis delivers the verse in his typical harsh vocals while a baritone clean sings at the same time, again adding to the pagan atmosphere. Another standout track is “Pусалка”, the title being a Russian word translating to mermaid or nymph. This track features more Aealo-esque tremolo picking and interesting whispered vocals in its verse. It also features an outstanding guitar solo that ranks among the best in Rotting Christ’s career. In fact, the guitar work in general on this album is very impressive. Several tracks feature impassioned guitar solos and strong leads, making this one of Rotting Christ’s most lead guitar-oriented albums to date.
While the impressive guitar work is certainly the album’s focus, there is a variety of other instrumentation that contributes greatly to the album’s mood and concept. The title track features a bagpipe, an interesting inclusion to any metal album, and several songs feature a full choir, serving as an excellent complement to the heavy guitar work. There is a great amount of musical variety present on this album, and the majority of the musical experiments are very effective. The only real exception to this is present on track five, “Cine iubește și lasă”, Rotting Christ’s rendition of a traditional Romanian song. While it is performed well, this piece is certainly the album’s low point. What really damages the song is the inclusion of strange laughing samples in the middle and at the end of the song, serving no purpose other than upsetting the mood of the album. The laughing is a confusing inclusion, and damages an otherwise strong track.
Sakis Tolis’ vocal work on Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού is as strong as ever, although it should be noted that he is a little more difficult to understand on this album when compared to past releases. This seems to be a trend for Rotting Christ since the early 2000’s, as with every new release Tolis’ vocals seem a little more garbled and harder to decipher. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as he certainly still gives a powerful performance; it is just an observation on the development of the singer’s vocals over time.
Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού is a powerful musical journey into our world’s religious past, and is an album that should be listened to in its entirety. While there are several standout tracks, the album is best understood as one piece of art, and should be listened to as such for full effect. Fans of Aealo and Theogonia will certainly be pleased with the direction Rotting Christ has chosen to take with their latest album, and even fans disappointed in those albums may find material on this album enjoyable. The heavy amount of variety featured on this album should prove an interesting listen at the very least. The album is testament to the fact that Rotting Christ is not slowing down after almost thirty years, as Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού stands as one of the strongest releases of Rotting Christ’s lengthy career.
Album Highlights: “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”, “Iwa Voodoo”, “Pусалка”