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Let me preface this review by saying that I (more than not) can't stand symphonic music. Be it opera, overused synths, bombastic orchestras, grand choirs, and all of that stuff in metal music. By itself doing its own thing, it's fine, but when it gets imbedded into metal it typically gets hackneyed and ends up sounding pompous as all hell. Power metal bands I can stand when done right, but most of the time it only kills what could already be done with the keyboard (at most). Sanctus Diavolos has more of these with these moments than before, and that's thanks to partnering up with Septicflesh pseudo-symphonic guru Christos Antoniou. No mistaking that the man pads his own band with this shit, but with Rotting Christ it has almost no place at all. That, to me, is what brings this album down from being a top contender for Rotting Christ's best album.
With that out of the way, it should be noted that this is probably Rotting Christ's heaviest album. Their most lethal, too? Probably not, but at the same time maybe so. Fredrik Nordström's production job makes a tight, punchy, fat sound that works well for melodic death bands. Rotting Christ don't sound like melodic death, and despite all the symphonic moments, they keep the riffs impenetrable, blistering, and at the forefront of the album. Along with the guitars is a fat bass that booms with a mammoth sound that'll give your ears more chunky pressure than your pillow. Take "Doctrine"'s colossal riff beatings as not only a sign of heaviness, but also a career revival that you can actually hear. But of course it gets fucked up by that corny ending with clownly keys (like a creepy jukebox).
On the subject of the guitars and bass, turn your attention toward "Tyrannical". Rotting Christ still hasn't abandoned the sprinkle of industrial influences. Sanctus Diavolos is the transition into modern metal, certainly, and that means shying away from the gothic glory days of the late '90s and moving even more into Khronos and Genesis territories in terms of contemporary, loud, and digital substances. "Tyrannical" is the epitome of this new progression - a chuggernaut that's fucking deafening and atmospherically evocative. Holy shit, it chugs immensely even by death metal standards. Simplistic, but still highly catchy and terrifying in its own right.
Sakis himself took notice of Genesis flying under the radar and upped his own performance. His screams are now boiled and ghoulish like they were on Khronos. Very spiteful and spitting with viciousness. The growls have a nastier bite than before, as well, but the screams are more prevalent. Low cleans are used, too, but not as much anymore considering that this album increases the black metal sound. Cutting riffs, blast beats, acidic vocals, and speeds reflecting such enmity characterize Sanctus Diavolos for sure. On the flipside, there are also patterns in the drumming and riff / vocal styles akin to the tribal / epic-themed albums that follow ("Athanati Este" is a superb example).
The symphonic influences attempted to bring a grandiose feeling, but to me it doesn't work as strongly as Khronos did with just the synths and guitars. The larger than life feeling on that album made it dark and devastating, but here it feels invasive when it isn't Rotting Christ working their magic. The keys do their jobs superbly on their own, and even on the heavily symphonic songs - like "Sanctimonius" and "Sanctus Diavolos" - the guitars motherfucking ooze the emotion out while most of symphonic stuff sounds tacky and over-the-top. Sakis is also more than capable of handling chant-styled singing on his own ("Visions Of A Blind Order" and the title track are proof) without persistent symphonic hammering.
Anyway, you can definitely hear Theogonia and Aealo pick up after this album in terms of aggression and principle. Take away the symphonic bullshit and add warlike rhythms and that at least creates a bridge from this album to the next two effortlessly. The modern production job and symphonic additions make it sound like a Septicflesh album (post-reformation), but there's enough here to enjoy on its own.