Rotting Christ is back with a new album, but can The Heretics live up to expectations? Let’s find out.
The question I have asked more than anything whilst getting into Rotting Christ’s new album is this: are they even able to release a bad one? Much of that is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Some might argue that the Greek black metallers have been releasing the same album over and over again for the past few years (basically since 2007’s Theogonia), and I would not even argue against them. There’s been a noticeable amount of repetition when it comes to riffs, melodies and even vocal lines, but that’s always been par for the course for the Tolis brothers. It could be argued that the last two or three albums have been more formulaic, but that does not make them bad albums per se. At the end of the road, there’s always a basic level of quality to their albums, and that’s true for this new record as well.
That being said, The Heretics, a concept album about famous freethinkers, atheists and such, does feature a few moments that are a bit too interchangeable for comfort. Especially Πιστεύω and Hallowed Be Thy Name copy shamelessly from earlier work (Lok’tar Ogar and देवदेवं, respectively). Now, there’s nothing wrong with songs that sounds a little too same-y when they come from a band that’s been going for over thirty years, God knows Iron Maiden have nicked bits and bobs from their own songs on more than one occasion, but when you just about carbon-copy not one but two songs from your previous album instead of cherry-picking elements from your entire discography, things get a little more troublesome, especially when they take up almost nine minutes on an already lean forty-three minute record.
The eight songs that are left on The Heretics are rock-solid. Hell, even the two aforementioned songs are fine, especially if you somehow skipped Rituals. Here we find Rotting Christ what they do best: relentlessly and almost hypnotically marching in mostly mid-tempo from start to finish. Sakis Tolis growls, grunts and talks over stampeding guitar riffs and rolling drums, referencing Nietzsche, Milton, Voltaire or Dostoyevsky whilst being backed by otherworldly chanting, choirs and shouting, basically like he has done since Theogonia. If there’s one point of criticism to be leveled at The Heretics is that we’ve heard it all before, and the band is going through the motions more than ever on this album. None of the new material differs from anything you’ve heard on the last few albums, although that would have been fine if there were one or two standouts here like Ἐλθὲ Κύριε from Rituals or In Yumen-Xibalba from Κατά Τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού. The music on The Heretics is good in and of itself, but Rotting Christ never makes you sit up and take notice this time around, and that’s a shame. It’s an assault that starts with In the Name of God and ends with the Edgar Allen Poe-inspired The Raven and then just stops. It’s an assault we have heard before.
I still enjoyed the hell out of The Heretics, and continue to do so in spite of the familiarity. The material is just too strong not to, and a new Rotting Christ album always means a trip through different cultures and literature. Frankly, it’s all just too damned interesting to write off in the same way a new Primordial album always seems to deliver; even the lesser albums are interesting enough to not leave my player for the first few weeks after they’ve hit the streets. I still play Κατά Τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού and Rituals on a semi-regular basis, and time will tell if The Heretics will gel in the same way. For now it’s a fun ride where there is something new to witness even if you’ve seen the landscape before. That being said, I do hope Rotting Christ manage to shake things up a little on the next album.
Label: Season of Mist, 2019
- In the Name of God (04:14)
- Ветры злые (03:13)
- Heaven and Hell and Fire (04:52)
- Hallowed Be Thy Name (05:06)
- Dies Irae (03:46)
- Πιστεύω (03:42)
- Fire, God and Fear (04:50)
- The Voice of the Universe (05:23)
- The New Messiah (03:07)
- The Raven (05:23)
- Sakis Tolis − lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards
- George Emmanuel − lead guitar, backing vocals
- Vagelis Karzis − bass, backing vocals
- Themis Tolis − drums
Review by Ralph Plug