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Rotting Christ's first album, to me, is also there least impressive. It's the kickoff for all Rotting Christ fans since it begins the band's full-length venture, but for some fans it may also be the cut-off point (this or Non Serviam). That's because Thy Mighty Contract is unrefined, riff-curling black metal from start to finish. Say second wave black metal, and this album is up there in terms of composition with its Norwegian counterparts. In fact, Thy Mighty Contract is a tad more classy in its use of atmosphere and less on its image. Yes, it's balls deep in dark themes, blast beats, and rough production, but these riffs and the way they intertwine with the rest of the music show to the listener an attempt at something more magical.
Go in expecting mostly mid-paced songs and this bizarre aura of atmosphere behind it all. It's a strange feeling that won't be picked up immediately, but you'll notice it once you figure out that the music isn't aggressive, out-the-gates black metal assaulting your ears. Nothing of the likes of early Gorgoroth or mid-era Marduk, for sure. The keyboards are used to bring about this ethereal background (in a synthy manner), but the guitars were written with a melodic slant much of the same way they are in latter Rotting Christ albums. However, the powerful, rich guitar sound isn't as strong here as they are during the gothic or epic eras of the band. Instead, they're somewhat wirey, but still with some variable of a punchy blare. Above them are Sakis' tormented screams and hoarse growl/speak (sort of the wrong frosting on the right cake - no matter how tasty).
Themis on the drums has always been consistent with his own style, and that extends to this first album. That is, if he actually drummed on this album. To my knowledge, he didn't, but the drum machine employed does contain a style that isn't far off from the way he'd drum when he actually started to do so in recordings. This machine will dish out blast beats a lot of the time, but it'll also have mutual drum patterns to accompany the guitars that make up the finer points of the album. The snare sound in particular is a thin "tish" noise that's not so bad during workaround drum patterns, but during blast beats when I'm hearing it back-to-back for a few seconds makes it grating. Bass backup I wouldn't say is stellar, and for an album of this caliber I wouldn't knock it down too hard. This definitely isn't a cold or fast album, but it could use more than background bass blurbs in order to foster a more complete recording.
When the riffs, bass, and drums are in harmony at these points, that's where this album shines. These moments are very subtle in the why I'm describing them - there aren't any flash solos, glaring leads, or breaks during these moments. No, it's a subtle thing for an album such as this, and for this album in Rotting Christ's discography it works. However, it's what also kills this album in the face of Rotting Christ's later material since the inclusive, epic sound wasn't fully grasped. To still get a quick fix of what was done right as whole songs, listen to "Fgmenth, Thy Gift", "Dive The Deepest Abyss", and "His Sleeping Majesty". This album, though, works better as a whole listening experience, but even when cherry picking songs it's able to adapt.
Passage to Arcturo might have briefly wedged open the doors of possibility for the mighty Rotting Christ, but it was Thy Mighty Contract that would kick those doors off their hinges and catapult the band into the collective consciousness of the European metal underground. 'There's metal from Greece now?' Bugger me. For its day, this was one of the best black metal albums released outside of the Scandinavian territories, and yet it was wholly distinct from the forerunners Bathory, Burzum, Darkthrone and so forth. A class of its own, retaining the decidedly thrash and death foundation of the band's roots, but refining those influences in a shadowy concourse of compelling composition that to this day still sounds wonderful.
In fact, this is really where Rotting Christ 'got their sound'. The very first track, "The Sign of Evil Existence", provided the foundation for several of their best albums to come (in particular Triarchy of the Lost Lovers): a glorious and desperate charge through a mid-paced melodic muted sequence over a steady but dry, moderate blast beat. Always a band to experiment with their riffing, there was really no other black metal artist quite like it. Most were falling over themselves to propel their music as quickly as possible, to compete with the extremity of the death metal genre; others were wrought from a rawer, Hellhammer aesthetic. But these Greeks had a peripheral perspective, like what might have happened if Metallica or some other thrash metal band had decided to lean their songwriting into a copious chasm of hellfire and underworld inspiration, bringing the dynamic strength of the parent genre along for the ride.
Though the riffs are far more memorable than Passage to Arcturo, they do manage to retain a loyalty to its atmospheric visage through the incorporation of keyboards and melodic driven lamentations, like "Transform All Suffering Into Plagues" or "Dive the Deepest Abyss". But where it strikes hardest is in its glorious crescendos, like the majestic guitar line crowning "His Sleeping Majesty" or the forward smashing "Exiled Archangel" and "Coronation of the Serpent". Themis (aka Necrosauron) had improved dramatically as a drummer from the EP, and his performance here is more indicative of what he was playing in Varathron; while Sakis Tolis (Necromayhem) has enough character in his harsh vocalization that there is never any sense of the monotony that often haunts the genre. To top it all off, they've even got Magus Wampyr Daoloth of the brilliant Necromantia here on the keys and backing vocals.
There are a few minor caveats here, in particular the rather dry production. It's not as cluttered or annoying as Nightfall's Macabre Sunset, but music this good undoubtedly deserved something better. The tones are simply too far on the thin side. This is also one of the cases where the re-issue actually trumps the original: the 1997 Century Media version includes the two tracks from the Apokatheolis single (1993), and both the lurching, doomy "Mystical Meeting" and familiar momentum of "Visions of the Dead Lover" fit flush with the newer crop of tunes. Also, I'd be remiss to not mention just how much better the newer cover art was than the original...fuck, the face of Thy Mighty Contract's reissue is one of my favorites in the entire genre! Moody, dire, and important, with searing agonies beneath its surface and popping guitar melodies that stick most of its tracks to the listener's memory, this is perhaps the finest Greek black metal debut of them all, and while its not exactly their peak of creation (I marginally favor the 1996-7 material, which refines the ideas laid out here), its nonetheless an essential.
In their desire to get a good contract and international distribution, the Rotting Christ boys decided in the early nineties, to drive an old car all the way from the sunny Aegean shores into deep Europe, in order to hand copies of their demos and EPs to every record label imaginable. A trip without any warranties of success, yet at the same time, a trip representing a leap of faith. Because it worked. Legendary Osmose Records became interested in the art of these Greeks, and offered them the long awaited contract as well as the chance of debuting with a full length at international level. The first spawn was named Thy Mighty Contract.
This album marks a giant leap compared to their previous opus, the now cult classic Passage to Arcturo EP, because the compositions were improved, achieving glimpses of the sophistication that would come in the future, either like in Coronation of the Serpent or the slow and melodic section of Transform All Sufferings Into Plagues; and that’s without saying a word about the production and mastering, which were also superior.
The album was well received by the local Greek scene and by the first international fans that came to know the band. The secret for success was in the shape of black metal with a sound way ahead of its time (with this I mean that it was well produced, contrary to the lo-fi school created by Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthorne and many others who were making it at the same time). In addition, there was a key element: musical eclecticism. Not everything was blast beating and blasphemy in the second wave of black metal. Thy Mighty Contract is a great example of how to combine aggression with melodic lines of deep feeling, and making the effort fit in structures full of changes that sound natural, being Fgmenth Thy Gift a great example.
The inclusion of top notch guitar solos was also an aspect which set this band apart from the homogenous black metal surface.
Slow riffing that is sometimes dark and full of cadence is almost visionary, because it evocates something poorly developed or non existent at all at the time: gothic metal. And despite everything, the sound is not primitive if compared with what came later on, since the addition of soft and well positioned keyboards, has granted the band from the very beginning, a dark aura of refinement and classiness.
Archetypal album, which should not be missing from the collection of any fan, and above all, a great display of the quality in the Greek scene.
Originally submitted to (http://www.metalicos.com) on January 13th, 2010.
Thy Mighty Contract - an album that gets praised by many of my fellow blacksters, but is still fairly unknown compared to the so-called "cult" Scandinavian albums.
The Greek Black Metal scene has forged it's own path into the metal territory since their early beginnings. Many bands and solo-artists from Greece have called it quits during the late 90s, but the Greek spirit still stands strong amongst those from the north. There might not be as many musicians who play this kind of black metal anymore, but the audience interest has steadily risen in the last few years, so the scene is far from dead. Still, sometimes one of the primary roots of this unique style has been forgotten - Thy Mighty Contract.
While Rotting Christ's earlier EP "Passage to Arcturo" already showed a few hints of what was to come, this album was the one that set the ball rolling.
Lightning fast, razor-sharp guitar riffs that are often harmonized, supported by slower powerchords, which are played in a sometimes even Doom metallish manner, are used to create a very special atmosphere. Another important point in Rotting Christ's music is the bass. It's not only here to support the guitars, it often plays it's own distinctive lines, which gives the album a very organic feel.
The vocals range from quite low, raspy death metal growls to inhuman sounding high screeching that is able to send chills down your spine. There are also a few very tasteful spoken passages.
A drum machine was used for "Thy Mighty Contract" but it doesn't distract from the listening pleasure at all. It might not be very technical or overly special, but the machine never misses a beat and it sounds fairly real. The drumming has rarely been a major part in the Greek BM scene.
Lyrical expression has always been a major part in Rotting Christ's music. The lyrics on Thy Mighty Contract are very mystical and fit very well into the general sound scheme.
Some of this album's finest moments are, for example, the middle spoken passage in "Exiled Archangel" (one of the best Rotting Christ songs ever written). It might be a simple instrumental break, but I've rarely heard anything so emotionally impressing. It makes you stand up and shout "I name you under our cult!" with Sakis.
...and finally, there is ONE song that summarizes everything that is Rotting Christ:
"Transform All Suffering Into Plagues"
It has it all. Slow, haunting melodic passages with subtle keyboards in the background. These riffs are so moving you won't believe it until you heard it. Then, about one- and a half minutes into the song, it suddenly stops and a very fast tremolo-picked riff comes in. It's the perfect riff for the lyrical content about slaves being tortured and begging for their death. It's fast, melodic, later harmonized and just plain awesome. The song also contains a fantastic solo, which you'll probably air-guitar to immediately when you hear it. The vocals are generally very low and evil sounding in this song. I love them. I can't do anything but praise this excellent work of art, it's probably my all-time favourite Rotting Christ song.
Trust me, I've been trying to find any flaws in this masterpiece, but I only found one minor one, the song "Dive the Deepest Abyss". It's one of the slower songs on the album and tends to plod along for a bit. It doesn't contain enough variation to be truly great. It's still a very good song, but not up to par with the rest of the album.
Other than that, Thy Mighty Contract is simply a flawless display of Black Metal art. It is one of my two absolute favourite albums (Triarchy of the Lost Lovers being the second) and I recommend it to anyone interested in Black Metal, melodic or not.
All, and especially "Transform All Suffering Into Plagues" and "Exiled Archangel"
I love this album, despite the fact that many people might not like its rawness. Having said that, there are still a few of the telltale melodies of new Rotting Christ, but this is so much heavier and more "evil."
"The Sign of Evil Existence" blasts along with a really nice riff, and really raspy vocals. The riffing is what makes Rotting Christ special; they seem to use a lot of palm muted things, that seem kind of beautiful, yet evil at the same time. Other times, they'll use actual riffing, rather than just tremolo picked speed. The only thing that sucks about this song is that it's so short. "Transform All Sufferings Into Plagues" is quite a bit slower. The "chorus" sounds a lot like Candlemass, with the pitter-patter bass drums and slow riffing. "Fgmenth, Thy Gift" has a jerky main riff, and yes, it does sound a bit like Metallica's "Seek and Destroy." "Exiled Archangels" is one of my favorite songs on here, and that opening riff is just monsterous--kind of atmospheric, like Mayhem's "Funeral Fog." It goes into a heavier riff after the verses, which is nice too. "The 4th Knight of Revelation" has another monster opening riff, which works really well. My main problem with this album is that some of the songs on here just sort of go by, especially after "Exiled Archangels." Everything else is great, though.
If you get the reissue (and I reccommend that you do), there's two bonus tracks. "Visions of the Dead Lover" is probably my favorite Rotting Christ song, and it's very emotional. It's fast most of the time, and the lead guitar is awesome. The part after the first verse is really cool; a scale played rather quickly. It goes slower in the middle, but it still sounds very powerful, especially when the solo comes in. Excellent song. I don't like the song "The Mystical Meeting" at all. It has some chugging riff and total death metal vocals, making it sound totally out of place. They do throw some weird keyboards in there too, but they're just weird. Is this really a Rotting Christ song?
Once again, we have a Greek band using a drum machine (just like Nightfall and Septic Flesh...hmm, does "Costas" play on here as well). With the rough production it doesn't sound too much like a drum machine, but it certainly doesn't help the album out too much. The rough production does help, and Rotting Christ sound like a vintage black metal band with an interesting touch on here.
It's totally unbelievable to me that noone has bothered to review the "good" Rotting Christ albums yet. I haven't heard the last two, but I don't imagine they're really that much of a return to the band's roots as they claim. anyway, this album, from 1993, is the undisputable pinnacle of Rotting Christ's achievments. They took the Greek black metal sound, pioneered by Varathron, and let it grow to its full potential on this one. For those unfamiliar with RC's riffing style, it consists of a lot of staccato rhythmic yet melodic riffing, played by two guitars that often harmonize the riff. The result is something that sounds simultaneously rather heavy metal influenced but completely unique. The band uses keyboards to spice up most of these songs, but they're their strictly for accentuation and atmosphere...used perfectly I might add; sparing and not overbearing in the slightest, for this is a metal album first and foremost.
The first track, "The Sign of Evil Existence", I view more as an intro than anything else. It's really an actual song, but its' very short and doesn't really contain any truly great riffs, although it does introduce the listener to Rotting Christ's unique approach to riffing. "Transform All Suffering into Plagues" is next, and it is mostly a slower track, featuring some superb melodic riffing and a superb faster section near the end. "Pnemth, Thy Gift" might be my favourite song on the album; and if these riffs don't force you into manic headbanging and fist pumping there must be something wrong with you. For some reason I was actually reminded of Metallica's "Kill Em All" when I first heard this song...maybe because the main riff has a vague resemblence to "Seek and Destroy"?
All these songs, in fact, are total juggernauts. Most of the music is midpaced, but a few faster tracks make the whole affair slightly more intense..."Coronation of the Serpent" being a definite highlight. The lyrics are bizarre; strange and I guess metaphorical occult ramblings that I can't make any sort of sense of, but it adds to the mysterious aura of the band. I always thought that Greek black metal had a sort of mystical feeling to it that bands from other locales seem to lack. Vocals are good, deep and throaty, slightly strained sounding as though they're pretty painful on the throat, with the occasional high pitched shriek provided, I would guess, by Magus Wampyr Daoloth of Necromantia fame, who is playing the synth on this album. I have to take a few points off here for the use of a drum machine. I really hate drum machines, and the mechanical nature of the percussion here is pretty obvious during the faster sections. I've heard worse though, and it's not bad enough to detract much from the brilliance of the album; I just think it's unfortunate the band couldn't find a real drummer to record this with, as the thought of this being even more destructive and great than it already is boggles the mind.