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Ritualistic...Surprisingly - 62%

Larry6990, February 29th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Season of Mist

Rotting Christ are a band with a broad, varied history. From the grinding blasts of their mid-90s material, through their 'gothic' phase, right up to 2016 - it cannot be argued that the Greeks have always been unique. Although, for some reason I always remember them as the band who were kicked off a tour by Dave Mustaine because of their moniker. With this year's "Rituals" rearing its ugly head, RC have opted for another change of approach. This is notable even from how the album presents itself; beside the striking cover image, the title is formatted as "Rituals, by Rotting Christ". An interesting choice for sure, as it implies not a collection of songs, but one whole shared experience.

"Rituals" is indeed an album to be experienced whole. One simply cannot pick out an individual 'ritual' - they must all run together as a lot of dread-like hymns. Nothing here is catchy, memorable or even remotely conventional. The whole affair is tribal and almost hypnotizing in its ugliness. The rhythms can be numbingly simplistic, with melodies very rarely using more than one or two notes. Yet, "Rituals" manages to vary itself through its differing paces, textures and - most notably - voices.

I'm sure this will be something on a lot of critics' minds. The use of sampled voices on this album can be off-putting to many sceptics. However, the use of voices unfamiliar to the listener only enhances the sense of unease this album emanates. The panic-stricken woman in "Elthe Kyrie" is especially frightening. Other than the samples, there are whispers, grunts, shouts, and occasionally a deep male choir which are incredibly disquieting - most notably their chorus in "Tou Thanatou" (complete with added bagpipes!!). The savage, satanic chanting in the opening track and "Apage Satana" won't fail to reach down and unleash something unnaturally primal inside you.

I have praised the 'ritualistic' nature of this album insofar as it being fresh and different. After a while, the simplified rhythms will become stale, and you will yearn for some dynamics. Thankfully, an occasional guitar solo will jut out and soar among the clouds for a short burst of relief - before diving back into the palm-muted pit again. At least the final trails of "The Four Horsemen" are suitably melodic, bookending the album on a high. The quiet narrations are also a welcome breath of fresh air between the knuckle-dragging guitar scrapes that surround them.

The production quality here is pretty superb. The rhythm guitars, bass and drums create a meaty, impenetrable wall. Just have a listen to the on-beat pummelling of "Konx Om Pax" - that's a beefy tone if I ever heard one! All the ambient sound effects are beautifully distant - yet omnipresent - adding to that sense of dread which prevails so. Sakis's vocals, when allowed to shine through, are the only disappointment. Despite my earlier praise of the sampled vocal styles, they tend to eclipse the best moments of who is a very talented growler.

Overall, "Rituals" deserves acclaim for challenging what we consider the concept of an 'album' to be. And, in many ways, it's very enjoyable - in an ugly, barbaric way. However, the pounding rhythms will become tiresome over its 50-minute duration. Perhaps these satanic hymns will come alive when played in a concert setting, but I can't help feeling this premise would have worked better as an EP.