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The Culture Collective - 91%

OzzyApu, November 11th, 2013

I had plenty of ups and downs when I first heard this was going to be released. The first stroke was with the cover art, which looked (and still looks) rushed and lazy as shit. I then heard the whole album and felt more disappointed after the three year wait following the flawed Aealo. Rotting Christ continued to evolve into something that made them adopt more traditional folk influences, but this time it made for another inconsistent album. They hadn’t yet captured that ancient essence like on Theogonia. I still hung on to this album out of sheer fandom, and one by one songs began to be more creative and compelling than I first gave credit.

The first four songs (and the bonus song “Welcome To Hel”) are already, on a level for any basic listener of black or death metal, significantly easy to get into. Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού is Rotting Christ continuing with the ruthless roars, thumping pounds of the drums, tumultuous riffs, immense atmosphere, and that ambitious scope ripe with folk modulation. I use the terms folk, traditional, or eastern within the western concept of ancient Greek imagery. Since Theogonia, Rotting Christ have expanded on this sound to the point where this album isn’t even a standard, cohesive body of work. It’s a collection of songs taking influences from various cultures and tying it to this core sound. The effect is an inventive communal embodying the Tolis brothers’ (or at least Sakis’ since he wrote almost everything) values of breeding modern extreme metal with diverse, resourceful influences. Better yet, it does so without becoming pompous like Aealo.

Each song has a standalone theme, luring you in with its ominous, mystical tone. “In Yumen - Xibalba” deafens with its opening akin to the immensity of a Triptykon song; those riffs tower over and slam down on you. The riffing is the chug and rudder approach as the guitars perform faster picks (as heard in the rest of the song), but something like this builds and crashes with such force. The compositional importance this time around is in the atmospheric crescendos where the melodies and tonality are the key rather than the choruses. Sakis’ vocals are quite secondary in terms of consequence. His delivery of potent growls and scornful screams is fine, but they mostly compliment the songs, not direct them. Songs like the harmonious “Welcome To Hel” and the slick “Iwa Voodoo” are the kinds that give him precedence.

On production, this is top notch: thick, warm, clear, tin-less, powerful. It lacks the mechanical polish in many modern albums – that Jen Bogren style that doesn’t exactly have any harshness - yet doesn’t dismiss heaviness. If you’ve got a bass-heavy setup, then you’ll certainly hear the robust bass support. The bass plucks are meteor impacts, but Themis’ blast beats and militaristic fills are stampeding. “Русалка” is one of the more straightforward songs on here and it perfectly demonstrates the non-stop barrage of fast-paced beating alongside hovering guitar tremolos. The song after it, “Ahura Mazdā-Aŋra Mainiuu,” is a huge track that goes for the mid-paced, roaring / stomping style. Both types are melodic and contain this ritualistic intrigue, if only for the way non-metal traits are seamlessly implemented (they made bagpipes in “Ahura Mazdā-Aŋra Mainiuu” sound classy).

The difference between Aealo and this album needs to be highlighted. Aealo and this one are more similar to each other than others because of their inclusion of traditional elements. What Aealo stunk at was making it sound seamless and, well, good. Most of what was going on with that album was great in the metal department, but the overabundance of annoying female vocals and supplanting folky moments inappropriately caused the album to sound bloated. Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού largely avoids this problem (the baby cries in “P'unchaw kachun - Tuta kachun” aren’t my thing but I get why they were going for that). Instead of annoying female cawing, there’s heavier use of male choirs to bring in antique chanting. Two tracks that use this perfectly are the infectious “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos” and “P'unchaw kachun - Tuta kachun”. The latter in particular is my favorite in the way it starts out barbaric and then maintains this epic as shit lead when it first fires off midway through.

On Aealo they featured two songs which were devoted to going all-in on the traditional stuff. One was a really, really shitty transition track called “Nekron Iahes…” and the other was an unnecessarily long cover song. The closest thing on here to any of those is “Cine iubeşte şi lasă,” an adaptation of a traditional song not actually arranged by Rotting Christ. Hearing this on my first run irked me because the female singing was not something I was into. However, it had this cryptic atmosphere as she sung over the shuffled piano melodies. It sounded so moving, giving this image of walking through a battlefield littered with the dead, and eventually had me sucked in to her soulful performance. Her solo section ends a couple minutes in when the guitars smash with a catchy riff that follows the same stomping pace as previously mentioned.

My fandom paid off. This album could have been as dismissed as Aealo, which I still like but find substandard for a Rotting Christ album. At the core that album did things right, but what got plastered in between didn’t work; here it does work. Despite having listeners approach these songs with a different mindset, the result is the same. You get more charismatic songs by a band that crossed black, gothic, and now uses those genres to tread into their own niche. The wait was worth it, and if only these guys took the time to grace this release with artwork that isn’t as dull as the color black itself I’d actually have something to appreciate looking at, too.