Album Review – Rotting Christ / The Heretics (2019)

Heretics, atheists and rebels, it’s time to burn in the fires of the dark and occult Black Metal masterfully crafted by the greatest Greek institution in the history of heavy music.

“Since man cannot live without miracles, he will provide himself with the miracles of his own making. He will believe in any kind of deity even though he may otherwise be a heretic, an atheist, and a rebel.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It is not a coincidence that our review number 666 exhales blasphemy, heresy and, above all, first-class occult Black Metal and a lot of fire. Hailing from Athens, the capital of the beautiful Greece and the heart of Ancient Greece, here comes the greatest Greek metal institution of all time, the almighty Rotting Christ, spitting fire upon humanity with their fantastic and very atmospheric new opus, entitled The Heretics, their thirteenth studio album and a beautiful follow-up to their excellent 2016 release Rituals.  Recorded at Pentagram Studios in Athens, mixed and mastered at Fascination Street Studio in Örebro, Sweden, and featuring a stunning artwork by Ukrainian designer Vyacheslav Smeshko and cover art by Greek artist Maximos Manolis, Rotting Christ’s new album is absolutely incendiary, going against all types of religion, church and creed.

And when I say incendiary I’m not exaggerating, as pretty much every single song from The Heretics mentions the world “fire”, proving the band’s mastermind, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sakis Tolis and his brother, drummer Themis Tolis, knew exactly what they were doing when turning what it truly means to be a heretic into their unparalleled Dark Metal. All lyrics are obscure, austere and rebellious, which together with all beautiful intonations by guests Stelios Steele and Dayal Patterson, as well as an array of guest musicians such as Irina Zybina (vocalist for Russian Pagan/Folk Metal bands Alkonost and Грай), Alexis Karamelis and Melechesh Ashmedi, makes the experience of listening to The Heretics truly hypnotizing, enfolding our souls in darkness and fire while the music remains as heavy, intricate and epic as we got used to from the Tolis Brothers. In other words, are you ready to burn in the purifying fires of the Dark Metal blasted by the one and only Rotting Christ?

The imposing In the Name of God brings forward a very atmospheric start, with the words by Russian philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky spoken by guest Stelios Steele setting the stage for the crushing wall of sounds created by the Tolis Brothers, always in the name of fire, not to mention how its headbanging riffs will inspire you to break your neck in half, while Vetry Zlye, also called “Ветры злые” (which translates as “evil winds” from Russian), is another beautiful composition by those Greek metallers with the help of guest vocalist Irina Zybina and her mesmerizing voice, getting closer to what the band did in Rituals and with the drums by Themis sounding as imposing and demolishing as we like it in classic extreme music. “The mind is universe and can make a heaven of hell a hell of heaven”, and it’s with those words by English poet John Milton that Rotting Chirst kick off another thrilling hymn titled Heaven and Hell and Fire, showcasing austere, cryptic lyrics (“Beyond the burning fire, heaven and hell / Today I give you choices: life or death / I offer you desire, I sentence you to death / Today I give you a choice, I give you Hell”) that perfectly match with the song’s flammable, classic and very melodic musicality, with Sakis once again being a beast with his riffs and unmatched roars.

Hallowed Be Thy Name is a mesmerizing and extremely obscure hymn by led by Themis’ pounding beats, with Sakis extracting those low-tuned, Stygian sounds we love so much from his guitar and bass. Put differently, join their mass and burn with them, also savoring the words by William Shakespeare powerfully declaimed by Stelios, putting a majestic end to the song. Following such enfolding tune we have Dies Irae, where Sakis’ work on the guitar is the perfect example of how heavy and harmonious a riff can be at the same time, as well as the song’s background choir bringing even more thunder to this already potent song; whereas in I Believe (or “Πιστεύω”), which is based on a poem by Nikos Kazantzakis, a giant of modern Greek literature, the instrumental pieces are a bit too “polluted”, but nothing that makes the song boring or not enjoyable. Moreover, it should work a lot better live as it has the potential to generate huge circle pits due to its frantic pace. Back to a more visceral mode, we have the fabulous Fire God and Fear, with the words by French philosopher Voltaire (“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”) generating a stunning paradox with the birds gently chirping in the background in the beginning, before the scorching riffs and thunderous drums by the Greek brothers of metal urge us all to bang our heads nonstop. Hence, this is by far one of my favorite songs of the entire album, where we can savor that classic Rotting Christ sonority with a welcome contemporary twist.

Rotting Christ The Heretics Box Collector

The Voice of Universe is another song that will reach deep inside your mind and soul, with Sakis vociferating its insurgent words (“The angel, I won’t serve again / I won’t have a place anymore in heaven / It’s my own soul, it’s my own mind / And can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”) while Themis keeps blasting his trademark tribal beats, and when you think those Greek metallers couldn’t sound more mesmerizing and brutal at the same time they deliver the excellent The New Messiah, featuring an excerpt from Matthew 24:11 (“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”), with the guitars and all background elements and voices filling out all spaces in the air. And lastly, as the icing on the cake we have the magnificent, somber and ferocious The Raven, based on what’s probably the most famous poem by the iconic american writer Edgar Allan Poe, offering our ears over five minutes of cutting riffs, Black and Doom Metal drums, and endless poetry, with highlights to the sensational job done by Stelios Steele, giving life to Poe’s renowned lines. Actually, if you have some spare money to purchase any of the special editions of the album, you’ll also be able to enjoy the bonus tracks The Sons of Hell and Phobos (also called “The Sons of Hell, Pt. 1 & 2” by some people), two dark and demolishing tunes that make it worth the additional investment, or in other words, two excellent samples of modern-day Black Metal infused with epic and atmospheric elements.

In summary, The Heretics, available for a full listen on YouTube and on sale from several locations such as the band’s own BandCamp page and the Season of Mist webstore (and if I were you, I would go for the limited edition deluxe wooden boxset as it comes with several awesome perks), is definitely an album that will touch your heart and soul, taking you on a fascinating musical ride through the woes of religious wars, Zoroastrianism and the eternal war between good and evil. That’s what the unrelenting Rotting Christ offer us in their top-of-the-line new opus, and may Sakis and his horde continue to burn us all heretics, atheists and rebels with their dark and occult Black Metal for many decades to come.

Best moments of the album: Heaven and Hell and Fire, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Fire God and Fear and The Raven.

Worst moments of the album: I Believe.

Released in 2019 Season of Mist

Track listing
1. In the Name of God 4:13
2. Vetry Zlye 3:14
3. Heaven and Hell and Fire 4:52
4. Hallowed Be Thy Name 5:06
5. Dies Irae 3:45
6. I Believe 3:42
7. Fire God and Fear 4:49
8. The Voice of Universe 5:22
9. The New Messiah 3:07
10. The Raven 5:23

Deluxe Edition/ Limited Edition Deluxe Boxset bonus track
11. The Sons of Hell 4:18

Limited Edition Deluxe Boxset bonus track
12. Phobos 4:12

Band members
Sakis Tolis – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion
Themis Tolis – drums

Guest musicians
Giannis Kalamatas – guitars (live)
Van Ace – bass (live)
Stelios Steele – poem intonation on “In the Name of God”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “The Raven”
Alexis Karamelis – backing vocals on “I Believe”
Stratis Steele, Alexandros Louziotis, Giannis Stamatakis & Theodoros Aivaliotis – vocals (choirs)
Nikos Velentzas, Stamatis Ampatalis, Vasilis Koutsoyflakis & Manos Six – percussion
Irina Zybina – female Vocals on “Vetry Zlye”
Dayal Patterson – intonation on “Heaven and Hell and Fire” and “Fire God and Fear”
Melechesh Ashmedi – vocals on “The Voice of Universe”

Metal Chick of the Month – Dianne van Giersbergen

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You will die for my love tonight!

When you think about the Netherlands, the first (if not the only) things that come to your mind are probably prostitution, drugs and those famous wooden shoes. However, you should forget about all that touristic bullshit and start admiring the true wonders of that picturesque European country: their female Heavy Metal singers. It’s amazing how many talented girls can be found in such a small country, as for example Anneke van Giersbergen (Agua de Anneke, The Gathering), Sharon den Adel (Within Tempation), Charlotte Wessels (Delain), and our last Metal Chick of the year, the stunning soprano Dianne van Giersbergen, frontwoman of Dutch Progressive Metal band Ex Libris and German Symphonic Metal band Xandria.

Dianne was born on June 3, 1985 in the village of Liempde in the Netherlands, about 100km from the capital Amsterdam, but currently resides in the city of Dordrecht, close to Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the country. Her beautiful and potent voice started to be defined and polished really early in her life: when she was a kid, Dianne used to listen to many pop female singers such as Whitney Houston (R.I.P.), which developed in her a true fascination for the human voice and, at the age of four, her parents gave her as a birthday gift her first singing lessons. In the following years, she had several other music teachers and sang in different choirs.

In the year of 2005, this long dark-haired beauty began her studies in Classical Music at the ArtEZ School of Music with singer Elena Vink, and also became a trainee at the Nationale Reisopera. Besides her classical Music studies, in her free time our gorgeous soprano also braved the worlds of popular music and musical theatre. Finally, in May 2009, Dianne graduated from her studies with distinction, and her newly acquired Bachelor’s also worked as the admission for her Master studies, when she improved her technique to have classical and metal music mixed together. Not only that, this nonstop diva also attended composition courses, wrote poems on behalf of composers, and was the chairman of the New Artez Student Association group of master students. We have to admit this is a very respectable resume, which makes me wonder if she somehow has part of the DNA from Iron Maiden’s “multi-man”, Mr. Bruce Dickinson.

Moving on to her career as a Heavy Metal singer, Dianne has been with Ex Libris since their beginning in 2003, and has already recorded the demos Drawn (2005) and Medea (2011), and the full-length albums Amygdala, in 2008, and Medea, now in 2014. In one of her interviews, she explained the reason for the name of the band.  “An Ex Libris is used to indicate ownership of products of a craft-guild and can come in different forms like a seal, stamp or a brand. You could say that by naming the band Ex Libris we would like to brand our products as our own.”, she said. In case you have never heard the voice of Dianne with Ex Libris, here are a few songs to make your day a lot more pleasant: From Birth to Bloodshed, A Mother’s Lament, Love Is Thy Sin, and Dawn Of Sugars.

In October 2013, Dianne was chosen as the new frontwoman for Xandria, replacing German singer Manuela Kraller. She made her live debut with Xandria in November 2013 during a Spanish tour, and has recently recorded her first album with the band, entitled Sacrificium. You can for example check her astonishing voice beautifying Xandria’s music in the very enjoyable song Dreamkeeper, from Sacrificium.

Besides that, she was a guest soprano for Polish Symphonic Power Metal band Pathfinder during their Blood Aliance Tour in 2011, and in December 2013 she was a guest vocalist during one of the concerts from Dutch Symphonic Gothic Metal band Stream Of Passion, when together with lead singer Marcela Bovio they performed the duettino Sull’aria, from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”, and one of Stream of Passion’s own songs. And, of course, you can always check all her other projects and videos on her official website and also on her official YouTube channel.

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A woman so talented like that could never have a bad taste for music, and this can be easily seen on her awesome list of favorite bands and artists, which includes music icons such as Nightwish, Dream Theater, Tarja Turunen, Devin Townsend Project, Anneke van Giersbergen, Anathema, System of a Down, Dire Straits, and many more. And before you ask about it, despite having the same last name as Anneke, those two divas are not related at all. “We share the same surname but are very different in voice type and vocal techniques. I like her style though.”, Dianne said during an interview. Not only that, she also listens to a lot of classical music (mostly choir pieces, songs and opera), with Wagner, Rachmaninoff, Zemlinsky, Berg and Verdi being among her favorite composers.

In terms of cinema and literature, Dianne once again showcases a splendid cultural background by mentioning among her favorite movies masterpieces such as Braveheart and Lord of the Rings (and anything from masters Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton), great TV series like Breaking Bad and Lost, and everything from one of the greatest and most mysterious writers of all time, the unparalleled American poet Edgar Allan Poe. Add to that the fact that she loves French food and red wine, and there you have a perfect European “milady”!

Last but not least, Dianne even said once that she would love to have an alto (or contralto) voice for a day. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, just for your reference the female voice can be divided into three categories: alto, mezzo-soprano and soprano, with the alto being the lowest standard female voice type (you can see a very good explanation of all types of voices HERE, including a perfect example of how an alto sounds like). But even after reading all that information about voice types you didn’t really get it, don’t worry: I’m pretty sure that, as long as our Dutch princess Dianne keeps singing Heavy Metal, your metal heart will keep beating delightfully.

Dianne van Giersbergen’s Official Facebook page
Ex Libris’ Official Facebook page
Ex Libris’ Official Twitter
Xandria’s Official Facebook page
Xandria’s Official Twitter

“Smile and you will be rewarded.” – Dianne van Giersbergen