Album Review – Rotting Christ / Rituals (2016)

The Greek gods of Black Metal return with a brand new opus that sounds more ritualistic and occult than ever, but as heavy and visceral as usual.

Rating4

rotting christ_ritualsI’m pretty sure most metalheads will agree with me when I say Rituals, the brand new opus by Greek Black/Dark Metal institution Rotting Christ, would be the perfect soundtrack to the most intense and gruesome epic movie of all time, making even classics like Gladiator look like a teen movie. Rituals does not offer just another selection of Extreme Metal songs crafted by this iconic band from Athens, Greece, but instead a sequence of ritualistic battle chants tailored to inspire us to grab our swords, shields and armors and be prepared to fight in this Holy War until our inevitable and sanguinary end comes.

In fact, this blend of Extreme Metal with History, religion and culture offered by Rotting Christ is not news to anyone. This has been a constant in the distinct career of this awesome Greek act since their inception in 1987, and with each and every new record they go deeper and deeper into the selected topics and themes, always improving the more contemporary blackened-Gothic style from their latest albums. Add to that the several guest musicians featured in Rituals and the band’s usual controversy in regards to their lyrics, and there you have another excellent album that will surely keep Rotting Christ more than relevant in the world of extreme music.

We already face a religious call to arms in the opening track, entitled In Nomine Dei Nostri (“In the Name of Our God”, from Latin), featuring guest vocalist George Zacharopoulos, who helps Rotting Christ in providing the album a solid start. Musically speaking, this tune is remarkably potent and imposing, a sonic battle that gradually grows within time and that gets even more impactful due to its demonic chorus. זה נגמר (Ze Nigmar), or “It’s Over”, is a dark and mysterious song about death and failure written in the official language of Jesus Christ (Aramaic) and is referred on his last 7 sentences on the cross, displaying the band’s trademark sonority with the guitar riffs by the band’s mastermind Sakis Tolis and the talented George Emmanuel creating a mesmerizing aura; while the high-octane tune Ἐλθὲ κύριε (Elthe Kyrie), or “Come Lord” from Greek, features Danai Katsameni (an actress of the National Hellenic Theater) vociferating some disturbing and desperate vocals which end up bringing a fantastic vibe to the music, not to mention those screams match flawlessly with the deeper growling by Sakis.

I simply love how many different languages and dialects are used by the band, always providing a fresh touch to their music, and in Les Litanies de Satan (Les Fleurs du Mal), or “The Litanies of Satan (The Flowers of Evil)” from French, that couldn’t be different, with the music generating a belligerent ambience that provides guest vocalist Vorph (Samael) all he needs to darkly declaim the song’s French lyrics (“Toi dont l’oeil clair connaît les profonds arsenaux / Où dort enseveli le peuple des métaux, / Toi dont la large main cache les precipices / Au somnambule errant au bord des edifices”). And as heavy and tribal as it can be, Ἄπαγε Σατανά (Apage Satana), the Greek for  “Begone, Satan”, brings forward a hellish march where its background noises and vociferations add an extra layer of obscurity to this disturbing chant, sounding like a satanic mantra at times.

rotting christIn Του θάνατου (Tou Thanatou), or “Death’s” from Greek, although you can hear straightforward Black Metal in the background, the music is at the same time very melodic and ritualistic, with hints of Symphonic Gothic Metal enhancing even more the quality of this beautiful cover version for a traditional Greek song by Nikos Xylouris. The initial and final narrations in For a Voice like Thunder (taken from the Prologue to “King Edward the Fourth” by William Blake) are obscurely amazing thanks to the fantastic contribution by the one and only Nick Holmes, who together with Sakis and his crew makes sure there are plenty of Gothic and Doom Metal elements from his band Paradise Lost added to the music.

Dark shadows continue to be over the music by Rotting Christ in Konx om Pax, which means  “Watch and do no harm” from Greek or “Light rushing out in a single ray” from Egyptian, another solid war-like composition where all instruments sound powerful, especially the sustained drumming by Themis Tolis and the song’s background keyboards. The same can be said about देवदेवं (Devadevam), or “God of Gods” from Sanskrit, a more melancholic and somber tune featuring guest singer Kathir which despite being very complex and dense, it lacks the Black Metal “venom” found in the other songs of the album. And the grand finale in Rituals comes in the form of a unique cover version for a psychedelic tune by Greek Progressive Rock band Aphrodite’s Child, entitled The Four Horsemen, where Themis and bassist Van Ace have exceptional performances while Sakis continues firing his bestial and effective growls.

There are so many details, so much content and so much to absorb in Rituals (which can be listened in its entirety HERE) that it becomes extremely difficult for an occasional listener of Rotting Christ to understand and enjoy everything the band is offering. However, if you’re a fan of occult and extreme music with a robust production and a primeval background, I’m sure you’ll have a very productive time listening to each “ritual” of the album. Rituals will take you to a time where crossing the thin line between war and religion was just a matter of accepting or not that the world we live in is hopeless, and there’s nothing we can do to change its wretched destiny.

Best moments of the album: In Nomine Dei Nostri, Ἐλθὲ κύριε (Elthe Kyrie) and Του θάνατου (Tou Thanatou).

Worst moments of the album: देवदेवं (Devadevam).

Released in 2016 Season of Mist

Track listing
1. In Nomine Dei Nostri 4:57
2. זה נגמר (Ze Nigmar) 4:43
3. Ἐλθὲ κύριε (Elthe Kyrie) 4:49
4. Les Litanies de Satan (Les Fleurs du Mal) 3:55
5. Ἄπαγε Σατανά (Apage Satana) 3:50
6. Του θάνατου (Tou Thanatou) (Nikos Xylouris cover) 3:37
7. For a Voice like Thunder 6:11
8. Konx om Pax 6:21
9. देवदेवं (Devadevam) 5:18
10. The Four Horsemen (Aphrodite’s Child cover) 5:24

Special Digibox bonus track
11. Lok’tar Ogar 4:25

Band members
Sakis Tolis – vocals, guitars
George Emmanuel – guitars
Van Ace – bass
Themis Tolis – drums

Guest musicians
George Zacharopoulos – additional vocals on “In Nomine Dei Nostri”
Danai Katsameni – additional vocals on “Ἐλθὲ κύριε (Elthe Kyrie)”
Vorph – additional vocals on “Les Litanies de Satan (Les Fleurs du Mal)”
Nick Holmes – additional vocals on “For a Voice like Thunder”
Kathir – additional vocals on “देवदेवं (Devadevam)”

Concert Review – Heavy Montréal 2014 Day 1 (Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, QC, 08/09/2014)

A Saturday full of sun, Thrash Metal and Punk Rock at the biggest heavy music festival in Canada.

INTRODUCTION: The Island of Heavy Metal

heavy montreal 2014Since its first edition in 2008, Heavy Montréal (formerly known as Heavy MTL), has become one of the largest heavy music festivals in the world, being compared to some huge traditional European summer festivals, with around 70,000 people attending every year. Not only that, after only two editions of Heavy T.O. in Toronto in 2011 and 2012, Heavy Montréal became the only mega Heavy Metal/Hard Rock festival in the entire country, elevating its importance even more for all Canadian headbangers.

In my opinion, one of the most outstanding characteristics of Heavy Montréal is the fact that the festival is held annually at the beautiful Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is located on Saint Helen’s Island in the middle of the romantic Saint Lawrence River in Montreal, Quebec. In other words, heavy music festivals happen all over the world in different sites, but only Heavy Montréal offers us the uniqueness of spending two days of our summer every year at a true “island of Heavy Metal”.

HEAVY MONTRÉAL: Where to Stay, How to Get There and Overall Organization

IMG_2899Booking a hotel in Montreal during the summer is not only painful, but also as pricey as hell: even the most disgusting pigsty downtown will cost you at least 100 Canadian dollars a night or more, if you’re lucky enough to find a room available. In case you’re not driving, there’s not much you can do but surrender to that “mafia”. However, if you go to Montreal by car there are many excellent hotels near the airport, which is just a 20-minute drive from the heart of the city. You can park your car at Complexe Desjardins for around 10 Canadian dollars a day, and then take the subway to Jean-Drapeau (yellow line) metro station starting either at Place-des-Arts (green line) or Place-d’Armes (orange line) metro stations, arriving at the festival main entrance in less than 15 minutes.

IMG_2891Another highlight of Heavy Montréal was its overall organization: the food trucks were amazing and the beer was ice cold (a bit costly, though), the Wi-Fi zone was relaxing and the internet service worked fine, the toilets were clean, there was plenty of water, good merchandise and some freebies, among many other cool stuff happening all over the island. Of course, the main “attractions” were the stages where lots of awesome heavy bands from different styles delivered unforgettable moments to their fans. We had Scène Heavy (Heavy Stage) and Scène Molson Canadian (Molson Canadian Stage) for the main bands, Scène De L’apocalypse (Apocalypse Stage) for midcarders, Scène De La Forêt (Forest Stage) for indie bands, and Scène Heavy Mania (Heavy Mania Stage) for some awesome wrestling action.

ANTHRAX

IMG_2827Unfortunately I had to miss some of the afternoon bands on Saturday such as Overkill, Apocalyptica and Babymetal as the drive from Toronto to Montreal is lengthy and boring, but I got there just in time for American Thrash Metal masters Anthrax. Honestly, I don’t know what else to say about Joey Belladonna, Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello and Jonathan Donais: they kick fuckin’ ass no matter where they are and how much time they have to play. Their SETLIST was pretty much the same from the previous time I saw them, but you know what? It’s always a pleasure to listen to Thrash Metal classics like Madhouse and Antisocial mixed with some newer badass songs such as Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t. I just thought the crowd was not as excited as I was expecting, maybe because Saturday was a day for “softer” bands, but that didn’t stop Anthrax from delivering an awesome concert to everyone attending the festival that day. As Scott Ian said at the end of their performance, always remember to worship music!

Band members
Joey Belladonna – lead vocals
Scott Ian – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Charlie Benante – drums, percussion
Frank Bello – bass guitar, backing vocals
Jonathan Donais – lead guitar

THE OFFSPRING

IMG_2837Right after Anthrax were done at the Molson Canadian Stage, it was time for American Punk Rock veterans The Offspring to hit the Heavy Stage at 7:15pm performing one of the most influential Punk Rock albums of all time in its entirety, the excellent Smash, plus some other classic songs to complete their SETLIST, to the delight of their old and new fans. They might not be a true metal band, but it’s impossible for any living person not to enjoy the hits Come Out and Play, What Happened to You?, Why Don’t You Get a Job? and The Kids Aren’t Alright. Moreover, the quality of their live performance is superb, just as if you were listening to the studio versions of all songs with an extra dose of energy added to them, especially in regards to frontman Dexter Holland, who doesn’t seem to get old with time. Quite the contrary, he seems to be in great shape and ready to rock for many years to come.

Band members
Dexter Holland – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Noodles – lead guitar, backing vocals
Greg K. – bass guitar, backing vocals
Pete Parada – drums, percussion 

METALLICA

IMG_2841It was 8:15pm when the lights went off at the Molson Canadian Stage and, after the intro The Ecstasy of Gold, the main attraction of the night, American Thrash Metal giants Metallica, delivered to their fans their “Metallica by Request” concert. Let me start by saying that I’m not the most recommended person to talk about Metallica. Although I like some of their old songs, I consider them an extremely overrated band, and pretty much 99.9% of everything they recorded in the past 20 years or so is pure garbage, especially the abominable album St. Anger. Well, as I was already there I decided to enjoy their performance as much as I could, which really happened with kick-ass songs such as Blackened, Battery and The Four Horsemen, by far the best moments of all, but besides those songs there was nothing else truly memorable from their SETLIST chosen by their “fans”. Not even Master of Puppets, One, Seek & Destroy or Fade to Black turned me on, mainly because their setlist is always that same old annoying “radio hit collection”.

They give the fans the unique chance to select some old school Thrash Metal anthems such as Whiplash, Metal Militia, Damage, Inc., Trapped Under Ice, Motorbreath, and many other songs they haven’t played in ages, and what do those so-called fans do? They vote for the repetitive sleep aids The Unforgiven, Sad But True, Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters (do they know anything besides the Black Album?), which sounded even worse when blended with their new dreadful song Lords of Summer, the unnecessary instrumental Orion (not a bad song, but an awful choice for live performances), and two absolutely disgusting guitar solos (if those “things” can be called solos) by Kirk Hammett. Even when people could choose The Four Horsemen, Fuel or Fight Fire with Fire for the “Vote of the Day” things went partially wrong, as we ended up without listening to the amazing Fight Fire with Fire.

I don’t know if the fans who voted actually attended the concert, because I saw lots of people yawning during the never-ending slow songs, especially during The Unforgiven, which was a true torture. You have to agree with me here: how can you consider a song boring if you voted for it to be part of the setlist, right? At least for me and for the real Metallica fans, this “Metallica by Request” thing was a huge failure, and that could be easily seen by the extremely low level of energy and excitement after the show was over, as people were just like “yep, let’s go home now”, no one was screaming the name of the band nor anything fun happened after that. Leastwise, let’s all remember some beautiful words from Monty Python and “always look on the bright side of life”: although some people mysteriously voted for some songs from St. Anger, none of that tuneless rubbish made it to the setlist. That made me really proud of living in Canada.

Band members
James Hetfield – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Kirk Hammett – lead guitar, backing vocals
Robert Trujillo – bass guitar, backing vocals
Lars Ulrich – drums

To be continued…