Nothing rotten about Rotting Christ’s lyrically-driven metal journey

Chronicle columnist Peter Fitzpatrick says Rotting Christ's new album 'The Heretics' was released through Season of Mist and features artwork created by Greek artist Maximos Manolis. Photo credit: Peter Fitzpatrick

With a band name like Rotting Christ, you might immediately have visions of angry guys with long, dark hair screaming about Satan and evil. But with their newest studio effort The Heretics, you’d be wrong.

At first glance, these Greek metal gods may seem like most black metal bands with a blasphemous name, anti-Christian lyrical themes, and a band logo that is difficult to read.

However, Rotting Christ will surprise you with strong riffs – melodic sections counterpunched by heavy, powerful chugging – supported by a mixture of choral and spoken word segments and intelligent lyrics that can be applied to any power, religious or otherwise.

Instrumentally, this album is pleasing to any metal fan’s ears. Its lighter melodic parts pair equally with their heavy riffs, giving a good mixture throughout. Sakis Tolis, Rotting Christ’s resident guitarist, bassist and keyboard player, really stands out vocally.

The album has parts reminiscent to Polish blackened death metal act Behemoth’s The Satanist released in 2014, including Tolis’ similar sounding guttural vocals. But this is no mere copy. Rotting Christ’s instrumental work feels slightly lighter and more accessible than Behemoth’s heavy death metal riffs, which fits with the choral and spoken word segments that are abundant.

The Heretics makes heavy use of compelling spoken word segments while guitars punch away in the background, driving every word home with each strum.

Rotting Christ also brings on an ambient tone with choir-style singing, in many languages, including their native Greek. These choral segments appear in almost every song, paired often with the accessible lighter, melodic riffs.

The spoken word parts usually include quotes from famous poets, philosophers and the Bible.

The lyrics in this album are absolutely phenomenal. Often when listening, I was so struck by the genius in the songwriting that I had to go back and listen to parts all over again, turning the 43-minute album into a satisfying 90-minute musical journey.

The Heretics‘ opening track, In the Name of God, sets the tone for the rest of the album, being a case study in human philosophy and religion’s place in it.

It quotes Mark Twain’s poem The War Prayer, saying, “O Lord our God, help us to tear their bodies to bloody shreds with our shells,” acting as a cutting statement against war and the people who blindly follow the path of war for quasi-patriotic and religious reasons.

Later songs relay similar messages, including “I Believe,” an entire song inspired by the works of Nikos Kazantzakis, an openly blasphemous Greek writer from the 20th century.

In Fire, God and Fear, Voltaire is quoted with the lyrics, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” which can refer to anyone who holds power including religious organizations, political leaders, and, to a lesser extent, celebrities.

The album quotes many other inspiring authors, among them, John Milton, Edgar Allen Poe and Thomas Paine.

Overall, this release promotes free thinking above religious and political dogma through the use of Christian symbolism.

While the lyrics are thought-provoking, its accessibility may remain locked for some as the speeding guitars, harsh guttural vocals and rapid drumming may not appeal to those who do not enjoy heavy music.

However, the lyrics alone make The Heretics worthy of a listen. With pop radio littered with songs containing little-to-no lyrical value, it’s nice to hear the written and spoken word come together in one heavy package.