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Joyful Occultism - 90%

PhilosophicalFrog, August 8th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Century Media Records

I think it's fairly safe to say that Sanctus Diavolos is the culmination of Rotting Christ's sound. The modern generic "extreme metal" tag that Century Media threw around fits the album very well - mainly because I think one would be hard pressed to really place a genre on Rotting Christ's later years. Sure, it's black metal, but in the same way Behemoth's mid-era stuff was "blackened", i.e by proxy of past releases. There's shrieking vocals instead of growled, and tremolo riffs instead of thrash or death metal riffs, and melody and bombast instead of brutality and heaviness. But, in addition to the blackened qualities, Rotting Christ have perfectly augmented their gothic roots - the leads, while heavy, have a certain airiness and composition resembling Paradise Lost, Tiamat and of course Rotting Christ's earlier works.

To aurally summarize this dichotomy, one only needs to look at the second and third tracks; "Thy Wings, Thy Horns, Thy Sin" and "Athanati Este". The former is definitely the modern Rotting Christ's take on black metal, choirs meet blasting and an incredibly catchy but menacing lead with Sakis' barked vocals as the driving force. It's a very powerful song, perfectly paced, sounding like a more exotic Dimmu Borgir and a leaner Septic Flesh. The mood is apocalyptic and frenzied, but retaining a sort of beautiful atmosphere to it. The latter, however, is much more restrained and bombastic - which would be the mid-era Rotting Christ's take on black metal. The riffs themselves are largely forgettable, but there's a beautiful lead that just begs to be expound upon, and is arguably one of the most memorable leads I've heard in years. The harmonies and leads just keep piling on until it reaches a triumphant climax where Sakis clearly states the mission of the album:

"And when the bells of fate sound
Then you immortals stand up and shout
Then you blessed martyrs doubt
Here comes a new age's blow"

This is purposely structured, methinks. The first three songs serve as a sort of deconstruction of religion, with "Visions of a Blind Order" serving to show the mistrust of institutions on the part of man, "Thy Wings, Thy Horns, Thy Sins", serving to introduce the strange supernatural elements into the mix, with it's talk of demons and angels flying ferociously in the minds of men, and finally "Athanati Este" is where this intellectual war meets the fantasy and divine.

The following three songs, "Tyrannical", "You My Cross" and "Sanctimonious" are Rotting Christ at their most industrial in awhile. You can see the Current 93 influence as well as their own ideas from Genesis melding together seemlessly, and while some of the riffs are lacking (particularly "You My Cross" with its stop-start riffs and blasting - gross), the atmosphere is still strong enough to carry the dead weight. "tyrannical" features Silent Hill-esque tinges of noise and pulses layered over deep rumbling synths and percussive elements, "You My Cross" has an incredibly effective, if cheesy, repetition of lyrics where Sakis keeps repeating "Heaven oh Heaven / Way to mayhem
Sins number seven / Welcome to Heaven" with this nauseating and a-tonal riff swirling in murk beneath it. It works well in the context of the album, and adds some organic flair to an otherwise stale song. "Sanctimonious" is actually just a beautiful song - a male chorus perfectly accents weeping strings, and modulated and reversed vocals with simplistic and primitive percussion. It's a wonderful break from the first half of the album and well-welcomed.

Of course, fitting with the rule of threes I've decided to establish, these songs are the turning point for the album - where the convictions of Sakis' narrator are clearly aligned with the demonic end - with the "evil" serving now as the guide. The perversion of a benediction hymn in "Sanctimonious" only bolsters this, because, for those of you not familiar, a benediction is when the priests tells his flock that they may "go forth in peace, and love the Lord" - so in this case, we now have our narrator fully committed to the idea of the enlightening age of Lucifer.

"Serve in Heaven" begins strong, with a riff sounding straight off of Non Servium, with escalating speed and really nice accent leads, the listener is immediate met with a memorable song. When the "breakdown" comes, there are two really excellent leads, with just enough melody to remind the listener that Rotting Christ haven't forgotten their roots all the while perfecting this modern sound. "shades of Evil" might be the only "boring" song on the album. It's just annoying breakdowns, some random industrial sounds thrown in underneath, and a really annoying stop-start riff. If it didn't turn into a more melodic piece about halfway through, it would be a song to skip entirely - but there's a moment where these deep horns come in that actually make that incredibly annoying stop-start riff sound badass, and the choral elements give an apocalyptic feel like no other. "Doctrine" is another example of Rotting Christ's blending of the old and new sounds, there are the standard minor chords, chugging, and melodic leads, but the layers in this song are actually really impressive. I originally hated this song, but it's probably one of the few "growers" on the album - incredibly well placed samples and vocal pieces make this a fantastic capstone for our narrator's traverse to the Luciferian light.

Here's our narrator, now fully committed to ending the reign of God, and overthrowing the established traces of religion in favor of the warm glow of the "Lower God" - the Lucifer promised to us in the beginning of the album. It's only fitting that the song before the finale would finish on reversed guitars, a-tonal riffing, strange tribal noises and the words:

"Lawless wings of doctrine
I produce and I create".

So, now the album comes to a close on what might be the best song that Rotting Christ have made in their "2000 and beyond" career: the title track, "Sanctus Diavolos". Reflecting Blake's "Holy Thursday", the lyrics are a strange perversion of older established orders, the truths of religion, and the reign of God. Beginning with low choral hums, tribal drumming, exotic melodies and distorted vocals - the song is a slow burner. The climax teased about half-way through only to slide effortlessly back into the serpentine melodies. Slight strings, industrial noises and synths creep autonomously over drumming, kicking into wonderfully warm and melodic leads. It's triumphant, really, the song is filled with major chords, choral harmonies and layers. It's spiritual art, really, and is a complete vision in and of itself - even without the excellent context the album provides. By the time the Pink Floyd-esque solo comes in at the end of the song, the listener is, much like the subjects of the song, tranquilized. It's hypnotic, beautiful, evil, sinister, charming, wonderful all at the same time. It's what Rotting Christ does best, and probably one of the best musical representations of Lucifer the genre has.

The album ends with Sakis saying of this new ruler of men, "will reign, will prevail and, tranquilize the human race" in an almost nonchalant and distant manner while an angelic (or demonic?) chorus passionately sings "Grantis spiritus - Sanctus Diavolos" over pounding double bass and muted guitars. It's an ending fitting for the story, a new awakening rather than a closer, a song to excite the masses rather than leave them feeling spent and tired. Really, it's a perfect album ending, and one of the few to fit the description "grand finale".

So, I really didn't mean to do a track-by-track, but it wasn't until I listened to this album ten years later (can you believe that? ten years!) and as a fully formed adult, that I realized the lyrics actually meant something, that there was order and structure to the album. This is an album to argue against those who say lyrics don't mater in metal, because while the songs themselves are composed excellently, the subtle story-telling of the lyrics bumps up the score. It presents a beautiful aesthetic and a wonderfully enjoyable album.

There are fewer bands out there that hold as much nostalgia for me than Rotting Christ. I think my Triarchy of the Lost Lovers shows that. But, unlike that album, associated with deep moments of self-reflection and meditation, this album is almost entirely associated with positivity and joy and youthful adventure. I think, as strange as it seems for a black metal album, that such a reaction is appropriate. Rotting Christ's peculiar brand of modern black metal isn't anything like the Norwegian wave that inspired it, even nothing like some of the earlier work Rotting Christ themselves have made. It's warm, there's a perpetual orange and red sun in the middle of the sky on this album - the colors are red and yellow and orange - not black and blue. This is not Satan "the enemy", it's Lucifer "the bearer of light". Our narrator is welcoming and embraces this new god to come show humanity the way, not fearful or subservient. So, I think it's only appropriate that I associate a lot of summer days and great memories with this album. It fits its strange message of joyful occultism in a way only Rotting Christ can do.

It's an excellent album, ten years later it still sounds like nothing else. Every band that has tried to copy Rotting Christ sounds empty, and while Sakis and company's more recent works have been a little lacking, Sanctus Diavolos represented a band that for one brief moment, bridged the past and future in a truly unique and celebratory way.