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Non Serviam truly begins the Rotting Christ sounds that has continued for almost two decades. It's that maniacal riff tsunami with the epic slant, pounding drums, ambitious backdrop, and hefty bass support that marks the band's distinct style of black metal. In Non Serviam's case, it's just downgraded in terms of richness, but not without the compositions ripe for second wave black metal. From the start, "The Fifth Illusion" slams down its authority with the same otherworldly atmosphere Thy Mighty Contract utilized, but now with production and songwriting moving more in the right direction. You can hear almost direct influence in this album, like with the solo of "The Fifth Illusion" being used as far as Theogonia's "He, The Aethyr".
More and more you hear these similarities (don't mistake for copying or reusing material), and for that this album feels connected and has an identity among the rest of the band's works that Thy Mighty Contract didn't. Whether it's the thrashing steadiness of the title track or "Mephesis Of Black Crystal" (thrash break / outro!), the doomy "Morality Of A Dark Age", the eerie "Fethroesforia", or the groovy "Saturn Unlock Avey's Son", Non Serviam is the definitive debut of the Rotting Christ sound. It isn't their best album, but it's the best starting point to stand as the beginning of an adventure for fans. It's got the old school black metal sound, but with a refined twist to make it more than just old school black metal.
Sakis' vocals are the same hoarse screams / growls that sound a little distant on this album. Certainly not up front or above the rest like Thy Mighty Contract or later albums. Sometimes Sakis goes ghoulish, and these moments are cold and evil as hell. The rest of the music, though, isn't evil at all. It's catchy without being sappy, aggressive without being brutal, and clever without being intellectual. Such a mix, and with as much tightness as there is, makes for a loaded, comprehensive album without tons of replay value. Much of this can be attributed to the riffs, which are primarily mid-paced (like the songs) and harsh. The guitar tone is a step up from the semi-wirey tone of Thy Mighty Contract, as there's a superior punch to the callused one here. That, and the polished guitar style of one harsh / one lead gives credence to a "duty" system between the two (the rhythm intensifies and the lead stimulates).
Instead of the "tish" noise with the snares from Thy Mighty Contract, the snare sound now has a bonk more akin to, well, snares that make a bonk sound. It's the other end of the annoying spectrum, but not on a grindcore level where it's a "tock" bonk. Aside from that, it's more or less the same style of drumming Themis would have done and it isn't too obvious that it's a drum machine. Bass back up has risen slightly to where now the blurbs are heading in a direction that constitutes booms. Their jobs are purely secondary, as they should be, to enhance Sakis' role.
Definitely check this one out, as it serves the proper beginning of a long career. Rotting Christ shed a new twist on black metal that they only honed from here on out. Little by little, the gothic tendencies that make up the driving fervor in the riffs and after-tones will mature into the streak of genius that each passing album brings closer and closer. Let's just say you'll definitely want to be listening when it happens.
Non Serviam is an album I've long had a mixed relationship with, at first being incredibly underwhelmed by its content in the 90s; later, slowly coming to accept and mildly enjoy what I was hearing. Finally, in these days it seems to me the logical successor to Thy Mighty Contract, only slightly less exciting since that album served as such a glorious precedent. There is nothing out of the ordinary about this sophomore, it essentially channels the driving heavy and thrash metal influences into an even more melodic whole than its direct predecessor. Yet the songs do have a tendency to grow dull, with few twists and turns in their corpses that really snagged my attention. Rather, they wear their rotting hearts upon their sleeves boldly, and apart from a predictable shift or two, do not strive for much.
That said, Non Serviam is a beloved album by many, and probably the first that much of the band's enduring fan base were exposed to, since it generated some limited buzz upon its release. I really adore the cover art, though it seems more akin to the death metal genre than the actual content of the disc, a similar aesthetic to Obituary's unforgettable Cause of Death. The tone of the guitars does still feel rather dry and thin circa Thy Mighty Contract, but on the whole I'd say the mix is more level and consistent in general, though this characteristic also contributes to the noted lack of depth and contrast. One of the foci that drew me back to the album time and time again, forging my gradual appreciation, were the vocals. Sakis Tolis had really come into his own by this point, with a bloodied, painful rasp that was instantly distinguishable among the bands spanning Europe, and it works wonderfully with the largely solemn, melodic charge of the muted guitars that also dominate their sound.
Atmospherics are still available here, with graceful keyboard lines and thundering percussion trespassing upon the core metallurgy in "The Fifth Illusion", "Ice Shaped God" and the darker ascent of "Non Serviam" itself. Magus Wampyr Daoloth (Necromantia, Thou Art Lord) once again offers his eloquent synthesizers, and you can clearly feel his presence. I feel like the ambiance peaks upon the instrumental interlude "Fethroesforia", but the guitars seem to steer much of the album directly, from the clambering, sluggish majesties imbued in "Morality of a Dark Age", "Wolfera the Chacal" and "Saturn Unlock Avey's Son" to the slightly more propulsive proportions of "Where Mortals Have No Pride". It's all tight and statuesque, like the beloved and enduring architecture of the Greek landscape if one were to stand in the shadows it cast.
The majority of Non Serviam's hues are molded in a regal sadness that only Rotting Christ and their Greek peers seemed predisposed towards, somewhere at the nexus of the doom, heavy and black metal genres, and wholly unique to what the more infamous Northmen were producing. But for its strengths, I just don't enjoy the content as much as Thy Mighty Contract, or the following effort Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, which is essentially a Non Serviam 2.0 with more potent production and memorable songwriting. I've heard live renditions of several songs here that felt more thriving and alive, and I'm only happy to chew the boots of my earlier indifference to the sophomore, but I just can't hear how Non Serviam could deserve its cult status above its siblings, when the songs are simply not as distinct in isolation. For channeling that sorrow-stoked Hellenic miasma, it serves as well as most of its scene, but this is far from the first album I'd turn towards when seeking the full Rotting Christ experience.
Released in October 1994, Non Serviam is the second full-length album from the Greek Black Metal band, Rotting Christ. It was released by Unisound Records and, apparently, they did little to promote this great record. I've read that the album was somewhat rushed, not getting the proper time for mastering. Maybe that accounts for the low sound on my CD. At any rate, it matters little as this is an incredible release.
My first exposure to Rotting Christ came from hearing the song "Ice Shaped God", on 'The Haunted Mansion'. Idiotically, I recall thinking the guy said it was "I Shape God" at first, so it took a little while before I was even aware of the correct title. Over time, I'd go on to record a couple more songs from the radio, that came off of this album. I was instantly hooked and began searching for the CD. I spent several years, keeping an eye out for this thing, without luck. It wasn't until a few years ago that someone gave it to me, as a gift, thus ending my quest. Prior to this, I'd nearly worn out the tape that had those few songs from Non Serviam, so I was quite eager to hear more. One winter night, with the open window allowing cold air to flow through the room and only a few candles to illuminate the proceedings, I experienced it as a whole. I wasn't disappointed.
Throughout the album, you will find a variety of tempos, ranging from mid-paced and majestic to much faster sections that are filled with intensity. The drums blast away as the staccato riffing sends you into a trance. This is accompanied by utilization of keyboards, which is more than on Thy Mighty Contract but still not too much, by any means. The production seems kind of soft, lacking an edge, being somewhat reminiscent of Tales From the Thousand Lakes, by Amorphis. The heavier doom riffs are a good contrast to the faster ones, giving off an epic feeling that was present in earlier songs, such as "The Fourth Knight of Revelation". The melodies are quite memorable and introspective, at the same time, though not in a depressive way. As well, the vocals are still quite unrestrained and feral. Magus Wampyr Daolith (of Necromantia) adds some back-up to Necromayhem's vocals, in some places. His style is more high-pitched and raspy, giving a nice effect.
Overall, the record has a more melodic sound, being much slower and taking its time to build up, with some assistance from the keyboards as well. The sound is a little thicker and more bottom-heavy than one would expect, though the muddy guitar sound is likely a result of the limited time they had as opposed to any direct desire. The riffs are absolutely haunting, being very memorable and easy to follow, even during the faster parts. The lead solos do well to add depth to the songs, also. The sound is powerful and crushing, yet epic and flowing. There is an intensity and passion that borders on pure madness, found here.
It's nearly impossible to select any particular song as a stand-out track, as there is an incredible cohesiveness throughout. It's not a matter of one or two songs standing above the rest. The whole album is very consistent in its delivery, as there is not one bit of filler. From the vicious speed riffing of "The Fifth Illusion" and "Where Mortals Have No Pride" to the more overtly melodic riffs of "Non Serviam" and "Mephesis of Black Crystal", this L.P. filters a lot of traditional Heavy Metal structures through the Hellenic Black Metal style. Every song is like a mini-epic, containing various shifts in pace and feeling, each melody building upon the previous one. Also worth noting is that, on this release, Rotting Christ doesn't sound nearly as similar to Varathron as on the previous outing. It is also interesting that, excluding "Fethroesforia", this album seems to follow the same pattern set by Thy Mighty Contract. Just compare the two, track by track, to see what I mean.
In the end, despite whatever shortcomings the band were dissatisfied with, Non Serviam is an excellent record that deserves to be explored by anyone interested in the Greek Black Metal scene. For those that think Black Metal was something limited to Scandinavia, around the early-to-mid 90s, seek out the earliest works of Samael, Master's Hammer and, of course, Rotting Christ.
During the early 90s, a definitely characteristic approach to Helenic black metal was created in sharp contrast to the sounds emerging from more northerly climes. This is not to say that the Greek black metal "explosion", so brightly vibrant for a few years and then quickly and unfathomably buried, was a reactionary movement aimed at its contemporaries in Norway; rather it suggests that the Greeks drew on some very different sources of inspiration for their well of creativity, both in terms of musical achievement and overall philosophy and atmosphere. Whereas the typical Bathory-inspired fair held alof by Mayhem, Darkthrone et al presents a cold, brutal relentlessness born of savagery and sorrow turned to seething hatred of the modern world, the Greeks seem to offer a more inward-looking, intellectual and constructively critical viewpoint. Much of this difference could perhaps be traced to the history of romanticism in Scandinavia and Greece, and the latter's position as one of the seats of ancient wisdom and culture. By stating all this, I don't want to convey the impression that Greek black metal belongs on a pedestal of superiority, but rather that there is a distinct quality of vibrancy and strength to the music that emerged from this scene that is really like no other. In forging their craft, the Greek bands (as well as a few others from this time period) seemed to bridge a sort of nebulous gulf between heavy metal and the more extreme genres, with a large helping of very unique and potent ambience and magical atmosphere. Then there is the singular riffing style, a sort of staccato melodicism that works at nearly any tempo and which can be both trance-inducing and memorably intricate.
Materialising the year following its predecessor, 1993's "Thy Mighty Contract", an album monumental in its own right, a good place to begin speaking of "Non Serviam" is probably to describe exactly how it differs from what came before. I think it is safe to say that on this particular record Rotting Christ have really honed their art to a fine and individual craft. They sound a little less like Varathron this time (even though there were still definite differences in the approach of the two bands in the past) while retaining a decidedly Helenic approach to riff construction. The riffs themselves are really where the difference lies, as well as the keyboards, but I'll get to the latter shortly. To me, "Thy Mighty Contract" is like the grand statement of Luciferian rebellion, and this album is the aftermath. The war continues, perhaps, but the beast is now in his element and able to observe and direct with a wise and commanding will. To that end, there is a good deal less thrashing here, and although the tempo by and large may be faster and more relentless than on the previous album, speed isn't necessarily correlative with aggression. I still find the catchiness in evidence here which was all over "Thy Mighty Contract" and its triumphant, memorable metal riffs, but there is altogether more obscurity at work here and multiple listens always yield interesting and layered facets. Whenever I play "Non Serviam", I find myself entering a very receptive state of mind and simply being taken on a journey with the music. Each song fits together into the cohesive whole of the record, each riff and trance-inducing pattern keenly etching itself onto the sensory cortex of a recippient brain. There are often three guitars at work here, churning out layered melodies one after the other and playing off each other so marvelously, with even more subtlety and skill than was exhibited on the previous opus. Sakis has in fact said that this album wasn't as strong as it should have been, and I'm guessing that he's mostly referring to the sound quality, which isn't too dissimilar to that of "Thy Mighty Contract" except that on the original release it's thinner and muddier. Such layered and dynamic music does sort of call for a sound that renders everything clear and well-defined, however the obscurity of the original release isn't too bad and I think kind of benefits the atmosphere in a strange way. If you are lucky enough to get Sakis's recently released remastering of the record, you will find that the sound is very thick and full, and the parts rendered much more clearly and distinctly and with a skillfully utilised degree of stereo panning. One thing that has not changed however is the drum machine. It's programmed with negligible variance or fills, and because of the relentless blasting that takes up a good portion of a few of these songs, it is particularly monotonous. Rather than criticising the band for their decision to use a machine, though, I feel that somehow the fact that the drums are so obviously mechanical, so straightforward in their monotony, kind of works as a contrast to the intricacy of the music to generate a strange floating effect. Since the guitars are at times quite intricate and expertly arranged, you *expect* to hear drum lines that are similarly involved, and you don't get them. The strange dychotomy is that this is both frustrating and fulfilling, since the lack of any but the most basic of percussive attacks leaves the brain instinctively reaching for some further complexity that will not be attained except by the subtle weaving of the guitar lines and the machinations of the listener's mind. It's easy to wonder just how much better this album could have been with acoustic drums (or even more intricate programming) and feel disappointed at the result, but on the other hand there can be little doubt that the spare and minimalist use of machined drums was purposefully orchestrated. There are times when the insistent thudding blast of the percussion lulls the listener into the sort of open, suggestable trance-like state I mentioned earlier, and the regularity of brief syncopations brings to mind certain aspects of techno music, though this isn't really as prevalent a phenomenon as on the Thou Art Lord debut (a record which is, incidentally, fairly similar to this one).
The real strengths of "Non Serviam" lie in the breathtakingly intelligent arrangements of the string parts. While Sakis was apparently the only guitarist in the band at this time, he layers multiple guitar tracks to create some very captivating patterns and harmonies. In a way it's not surprising that he's the only guitarist as, short of undeniable tandems made in Valhalla like Typton and Downing, I'd be very hard pressed to find any guitar team that is this well coordinated and play off of each other with such perfect sense. There isn't a note out of place here, and the little rhythmic accents and harmonic squeals thrown in to, one imagines, sort of fill the peeks and troughs of contrast and progression that a drummer would normally flesh out, are used with brilliant engenuity and are a delight to hear. No more is this evident than on the blasting opener, "The Fifth Illusion", which positively launches itself at your cranium with a pounding yet sensibly melodious riff that feels like a strangely contemplative take on early 90s American death metal. Magus Wampyr Daoloth's keyboards are expertly utilised here: always kept to a minimal atmosphere-building role (no sweeping symphonics here) and tastefully interjecting single note lines or ambient sounds at the right moments. Though the synths seem a bit relegated to the background of the actual sound picture, they are, I think, more integral to the music here than on the preceding album. The magus also lends his vocals to several songs, and in fact he and Sakis have some excellent interplay on the aforementioned opener, ocasionally growling out lines in tandem to produce an effect similar to the one Glen Benton always went for on those old Deicide albums. The magus has a strange voice here, sounding somewhere between a phlegmy whisper and a shriek. It's certainly not as powerful or mighty as Sakis's own voice, but in a subservient role it is extremely evocative, mostly because he seems to know precisely when an interjection is needed. The eerie chorus to 'Wolfara the Chacal" is sung completely by him, and it sounds most fitting this way, conveying a quiet and creeping menace to which the song purposefully has been striving and which Sakis, with his more manic and pridefully strength-filled approach, probably couldn't match.
Really, there are no highlights on the album because it's firmly a whole work and not a collection of songs. Whether it's the menacing and doom-laden warning of "morality of a Dark Age", the fist-raising anthem of strength that is the title opus, or the hauntingly reflective closer "Saturn Unlock Avey's Son", if you enjoy one piece you'll not be able to avoid being drawn into the whole album. I suppose I do have a most favoured track, though, and that might be "Where Mortals Have No Pride", which seems almost like an amalgamation of everything that Rotting Christ can deliver at this point in their evolution. Several minutes of repetitive, blasting riffs with a sneaking and winding degree of variation creeping into the fray, followed by one of the most exquisite and strong Greek-styled heavy metal riffs around (the previous album was full of forceful melodies like this, but they are used more sparingly here) which descends into an achingly beautiful slow passage consisting of a simple and extended set of chords overlaid with soaring leads. It's gorgeous, in a way that I find remarkably difficult to describe, which is largely how I feel about the album as a whole. "Non Serviam" marks an end of sorts to a ban'ds progress to an unbreechable pinnacle, and although I wouldn't dispute claims by some that previous works were in some ways superior (though I don't really agree) I don't think anyone could credibly claim that the subsequent Rotting Christ material could ever hope to achieve what this album does so definitively and successfully. So yes, though it is disappointing that the band somewhat went astray in later years (though they always retained the same influences, more or less), and that there really aren't too many albums like this around, at least we have masterpieces like this one that will never be buried nor forgotten.
This is undoubtedly the best album Rotting Christ ever recorded and, unfortunately, the worst promoted by Unisound, as it was originally only released (as far as I know) in Greece. It's still hard to find and the scarce vinyl copies still available on the market cost more than 50 euros each.
The album is a masterpiece, it's black metal the "greek style", full of melody, atmosphere, fast and slow parts, careful usage of keyboards (giving a majestic feel to the overall atmosphere) and heavy guitars. It's a natural evolution from "Thy mighty contract" although "Thy mighty..." is rawer.
All songs are of equal value here (though my favourite is "Saturn unlock Avey's son"), even the instrumental "Fethroesforia". The guitars are fast and heavy, the bass is rumbling and the drums stormily pounding you on every second. Sakis' voice is burning and gives you a creepy feeling. The grunts in the song "Non Serviam" are ones of the best I have ever heard in a black metal record.
The only drawback to this unique piece of work is the production, it could have definitely been better but then sometimes I wonder, would
this monumental feeling be there if the production was cleaner and polished?
"A masterpiece that catapults metal to the pantheon of excellence" is written on a special label on the top left corner of the vinyl record. It couldn't be more right.
Non Serviam is one of those unfortunate albums which need years to gain some popularity. It was released by Unisound in 1994, but the label put no effort in the promotion of the album and so it almost went by unnoticed. Even Sakis said in interviews that they had to rush the mastering process of the album and he feels that Non Serviam is one of Rotting Christ's weaker albums.
I could not disagree more.
Sakis was right about the production, it is worse than on "Thy Mighty Contract" but I still have no beef with it. It's probably the most abrasive and "cold" sounding album they've recorded in their entire career. The songs themselves are very strong, so the production doesn't detract from the overall impression at all.
"The Fifth Illusion" opens the album with a strong and fast tremolopicked riff which gets supported by a different tremolo riff, creating the typical sound they were aiming for at the time. Sakis vocals are as aggressive as ever but they sound ever harsher, which is probably the production's fault. The Magus of Necromantia fame provides the keyboard lines on the album and he does a very good job. The amount of keys has also risen. Still, they never overshadow the guitars, they just enhance the cold and sterile atmosphere provided on the album.
A song that must be mentioned is "Non Serviam" which is known as a Rotting Christ concert-staple. It's a slower song with a very epic feeling and a chorus that won't leave your head for weeks to come. Sakis unleashes ear-piercing screams and he sounds like he's in strong pain which fits great into the concept of the song.
The album is sometimes even faster and more aggressive than "Thy Might Contract" (The Fifth Illusion, Ice Shaped God, Where Mortals Have no Pride) but it also has very slow, doomy parts (Wolfera the Jackal, Non Serviam, Morality of a Dark Age). Non Serviam is probably one of their most diverse albums so far.
I have only one complaint: The instrumental "Fethroesforia" splits the album in two parts, which would be nice if it actually had some quality. It's just a one and a half minute long, noisy synth piece. I really can't say why they included it, it almost destroys the flow of the album.
Other than that, this is one of Rotting Christ's best albums and probably their rawest, coldest and most aggressive display of talent.
I recommend it to all fans of Black Metal, even though it probably won't appeal to fans of polished, pretentious BM.
The Fifth Illusion, Non Serviam, Morality of a Dark Age, Ice Shaped God