Rotting Christ has towered over the Greek death metal scene for over two decades. Along the way, they've reinvented their style with each subsequent album, adopting a myriad of personas that recalls the chimera of Greek myth. Though they've since conquered listeners on other shores, there remains something distinctly Hellenic about Rotting Christ's heavy metal. Their 2010 album, Aealo, is no exception, capturing the drama of Greek tragedy and the strength that made Greece the dominant force of the early Western world.
Aealo proudly displays this cultural heritage by examining order and chaos much like the Greek philosophers of old. Roughly translated, the title is Greek for (alternatively) "thrashing," "catastrophe," or "destruction." Rotting Christ's death metal roots manifest these traits expertly given the genre's gritty pummeling is a perfect fit for expressing anarchy. Aealo exists in a higher plane, however, given the band pairs its war anthems with epic orchestral effects and a traditional Greco-choir called a Pleiades. The resulting fusion is beautiful but barbaric, a death metal dichotomy that's nothing short of masterful.
The album's title track instantly showcases this synthesis, pairing operatic voices with relentless drumming and frantic, squealing guitars. Frontman Sakis Tolis' fierce barking violently clashes with the feminine lilting, producing a beauty and beast combination that's simply surreal. "Eon Aenaos" next begins with an ominous wail, only to devolve into sonic bludgeoning replete with twisting percussion lines and unhinged, jangly guitar notes. Rather than go off the rails, Rotting Christ wisely anchor the tune with chest-beating gang vocals and an intense, fiery guitar solo. "Demonon Vrosis" thus provides a necessary breather, growing out of an atmospheric chorus into an adrenaline-fueled march through stomping death metal riffs.
By the time "Noctis Era" roars out of speakers, only the most jaded listeners will have resisted the group's siren song allure. Visceral and gripping, it combines brawny guitars with primal gang vocals and melodies so intoxicating they're like wine. "Dub-sag-ta-ke" ratchets up the intensity with grinding death metal and disorienting, exotic woodwinds. When the choir's poignant howls join the fray, the resulting mood feels like digging one's toes deep into the sands of the Aegean before battle. Perhaps fittingly, "Fire Death and Fear" is next, barreling forward with skull-rattling rhythms, soaring guitar harmonies, and eerie choral chants.
Rotting Christ follow this jam-packed track with "Nekron Lashes
," a song that contains nothing besides the mournful cries of the isolated choir. When "
Pir Threontai" kicks in with its hammering guitars and plodding percussion, the contrast is devastating in its immensity. "Thou Art Lord," for its part, settles into rumbling guitar and drums, only to build into a spine-tingling finale courtesy of guest singer Diamanda Galas' haunting vocals. "Santa Muerte" goes in the opposite direction, letting the band members laugh maniacally before launching into one of the album's biggest barnstormers. Speed-picked melodies spin and whirl around listeners, only to break down into chugging guitars, tortured screaming, and somber choral singing.
Ending Aealo is an unnerving cover of Ms. Galas' "Orders from the Dead." Mediterranean harmonies swirl around Galas' husky, manic keening like a funeral pyre, giving her already macabre words a supernatural aura. It's as if an ancient oracle is uttering omens and portents of doom, the end of not just an album but all things. In similar fashion, here's another prediction for music fans if Rotting Christ keep producing music this majestic, they'll be the future of all death metal to come.
Fire Death and Fear
Thou Art Lord
Orders from the Dead (Diamanda Galas Cover)
Check 'em out at www.myspace.com/rottingchristabyss
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. His writing also appears on his Heavy Metal Hensch blog at The Washington Times.