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For a Voice like Thunder... - 80%

Rosner, March 4th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Season of Mist

Rotting Christ is a very consistent and respected band in the metal community. With an almost 30 year career, they've experimented successfully with different styles of metal and have prolifically released twelve studio albums. This new album, Rituals, seems to take the band's music to a new level, but it makes one wonder: are they really reinventing themselves or are they just watering down their most recent formula?

There's one pattern that I can perceive when I listen to the band's catalogue: through the years, they have experimented with different ways of making their music, not only by changing their style, but also by trying different types of production. Whenever they find a sound that suits them, they keep attached to it until it wears down and it's finally time to move on to a new sound. It happened in their early black metal days, in their gothic era, in their mid-career melodic albeit weird albums and more recently, in their 'folk' and occult sound. Don't get me wrong: I love bands that constantly change their sound, and I love all of the Rotting Christ's musical eras, but this time, the folk sound that they've been playing since 2007's Theogonia is starting to get really weary. And while in Rituals the band manages to try a new approach, one can sometimes get the impression that the album is just a watered down version of 2013's Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού.

The folk and 'world' elements of Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού are still present in Rituals: the songs cover different aspects of ancient religions, rituals and even literature of all the world, and some of them are even sung in various languages (for example, זה נגמר in Aramaic or Les Litanies de Satan (Les Fleurs du Mal in French). The production is quite similar to their 2013 album too, which is something good in terms of quality but some kind of deception in terms of innovation. Also, the songs are very repetitive, based around just a couple of riffs: this seems to be the biggest and most common complain reported by various listeners.

With everything I've just said, it may seem that I find this album a total disappointment, but yet I am giving it an 80%, a considerably high score. So, what's so good about this album then? Truthfully, I think the atmosphere it creates is very unique for the band and thanks to it, this may be their darkest and most occult record yet. They really managed to create beautiful soundscapes that transport the listener to the past, like a soundtrack to the rituals on which the album's concept is based around. This is all thanks to the hypnotic performance of the band, the exquisite sampling and orchestration and finally, thanks to the guest musicians, who add a new dimension to the songs.

Take for example Les Litanies de Satan (Les Fleurs du Mal), with guest vocals by Samael's Vorph, who recites lyrics that quote Charles Baudelaire's works in French. Or For a Voice like Thunder (the best song on the album by the way), an epic song in which Paradise Lost's Nick Holmes recites the prologue to Blake's King Edward the Fourth. The delivery of the lyrics, alongside the sample of a medieval battlefield, the hypnotic and epic riffing and the eerie keys truly manage to evoke the feeling of being in the aftermath of a brutal battle. Ἄπαγε Σατανά is another example of the band successfully crafting a soundtrack for the occult, being it a tribal song that would perfectly fit in an angry and dark Dead Can Dance album.

With Rituals, Rotting Christ creates a beautiful and hypnotic album that generates a very particular and unique atmosphere, taking the band to a new level of experimentation. But on the other hand, Rituals feels like an album made of B-sides from Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού, even including a cover of Aphrodite's Child just like their 2013's album had a cover of Cine iubeşte şi lasă and just like 2010's Aealo had a Diamanda Galás cover. Sometimes I wonder if they were lazy and played it safe by making a repetitive and watered down version of their 2013's work or if they really aimed for a more atmospheric and hypnotic sound. The truth is that, either by laziness and accident or either by sincere experimentation, Rotting Christ managed to forge their darkest and most cinematic album to date. It's not perfect for sure, but it is a worthy addition to they impressive catalogue.