Well, looks like Rotting Christ are back at it again with one of their more controversial efforts yet. It's definitely not for everyone, but their fans seem to love it. I actually checked the comments for the band's Facebook post announcing the new album and found that sixty people were at least very thrilled and enjoyed the record. Yet in black metal groups, there were more than a few that seemed very disappointed, calling the record “the worst they've ever done” while others remarked that they wouldn't listen to the band past the first two albums (in trve black metal elitist style, of course) anyway and had no interest to begin with. So as you can see, opinions for this record have been heavily skewed. But why such a huge deviation of opinion? That's quite simple. Rotting Christ this time, decided to make a record that sounds, well... a little bit like a ritual. Not even a little bit. The entire album sounds like one huge ritual to achieve something by which I hope was a definite success. Could the album have been a sort of hypersigil of sorts? Well, yeah – probably. But I wouldn't think to call it something of a hypersigil unless you're dealing with new school occult terms. In the old school of magickal thought, I guess I could consider this all some sort of large incantation. Like an extremely large and intricate spell, which when listened to many times over by many people, allows such a form of thought-matter to gain energy. But what are these guys using it for? That, I cannot really be sure of. Obviously the lyrical content is heavily inspired by that of Satan, Lucifer, Old Scratch – you know the deal. It almost sounds like they've taken a trip back to 1993 with that line of material, which I thought they had graduated from when they began talking about ancient alien gods with 2007's Theogonia. That to me was a bit more interesting than the tired old egregore that I feel is used far too much in this genre of music.
We begin with “In Nomine Dei Nostri” which begins with chants, lightens up with drums and and becomes something of an epic scale. The chants you hear are something of a chorus, which to some might sound like the beginning of a song that never took off. But to me, it sounds quite complete and ends out with what I thought were some of the only memorable leads during the first listen. The track also features George Zacharopoulos (Necromantia, Principality Of Hell, ex-Thou Art Lord) on guest vocals. “Ze Nigmar” comes next with a much slower atmosphere, and it certainly works well with the ritual nature of the piece. It almost has a thick doom feeling, which is accented by the chants. Next came the single “Elthe Kyrie” which included the female vocal rantings that I couldn't get into at all on my first listen. I actually felt that is was the absolute worst thing I've ever heard from Rotting Christ and on this second listen, I still can't get above her quick vocal rantings. It's performed in the native Greek too, which is quite literally all Greek to me. There's a chorus line here as well, but the female vocal rantings just make this one very hard for me to approach. It's an experiment, sure. But it's just not the kind that I feel gels all that well. “Les Litanies De Satan” (Hmm, I wonder who that could be about?) actually manages to bite a little along with guest vocals from Samael's Vorph, while “Apage Satana” is more or less a traditional tribal ritual with strong mantric chants. A guitar comes in later, but the track does sort of seem more like an intro piece than anything else. I didn't even notice it the first time.
“Tou Thanatou” punches things up a little bit, adding bagpipes along with quickening drums and more chants. There's also a guitar solo here, which is the first one I've really heard on the disc. I'll also mention that the leads here are especially strong as Sakis shows that he's still got the chops, regardless of the obvious musical change. Now “For A Voice Like Thunder” surprisingly features Nick Holmes of UK Legends, Paradise Lost. It's also one of the strongest tracks on this whole fucking record in my opinion, and has an almost doom tone that reminds so much of the Rotting Christ of the nineties, back when they were making records like A Dead Poem. Holmes vocal performance here is masterful, whether he's doing the narration or filling in with a harsher vocal style, making for one of the best songs I've ever heard from the band, hands down. This alone shows that they haven't forgotten those old doom days and it was also one of the pieces in particular that stood out to me the most on the first listen. But after that, it just went kind of back to the background, unfortunately. “Konx Om Pax” starts out convincingly enough with earth-shattering doom riffs, but then it quickly goes back to Themis's pounding and a very familiar style of riff melody that I've been hearing for I'd say a good thirty minutes now. “Devadevam” features Rudra bassist Kathir on vocals, where he performs a much different approach than we might expect for what seems a very deep moment in the ritual. His chants work perfectly here, bringing something of an otherworldly and deeply spiritual sense to the record. It's pretty awesome, to be honest. The disc ends with “The Four Horsemen” which has a buildup of highs and lows, ultimately culminating in the choral moment. This piece becomes so majestic that it ends the record on a very strong note, leaving no real need for mention of the Aphrodite's Child cover that I have here as a bonus track. That particular piece, here entitled “Lok'tar Ogar” seems alright enough, with it's strongest point being in the horrifyingly demonic vocal approach. Sakis sounds unbelievably inhuman here, but the backing section is just one constant riff repetition, so it's ultimately a bit stale in that regard. You don't really need it to complete the experience I feel, but major fans will want to own it just because.
At the end of the day, while I don't think Rituals to be their most memorable experience, it's definitely not a terrible album as a whole. There are some strong moments here and some notable guests. I've obviously named what I feel is the strongest track on the record and hopefully they'll shift the gears a little more in that direction with the follow-up. I don't feel that it's as strong as the last one (and neither does Metal Archives) but it's worth a listen nonetheless. I just don't think you'll be playing it as much as some of their older albums.
(11 Tracks, 53:00)