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Dark, rich soundscapes. - 84%

SculptedCold, January 23rd, 2006

Now, modern Rotting Christ are quite the anomaly aren't they? I first got into Rotting Christ with Triarchy of the Lost Lovers and quickly harboured a love of that highly melodic and unhurried expression of music which was tamed and tamed further on subsequent releases. It was with shock and disappointment that I one day purchased Genesis and found something so bizarrely constructed and delivered that it went right over me, sounding cheesy and unpolished to boot.

With Sanctus Diavolos, the Christ have continued down this road, and such is the quality of this album, that it has enabled me to go back to Genesis and really appreciate that odd offering as well. Sanctus Diavolos seems to be the perfected mix of the dark, mournful soundscapes of their Dead Poem era, the occasional harsh abrasiveness of their first albums, and the eclectic sound experimentation that so unsettlingly distinguished Genesis; it is all here. Across the entire album, Rotting Christ have composed streamlined metal songs that are bursting to the brim with highly unnerving and atmospheric keys and electronics as well as soaring, melodic leads, to the extent that it becomes a bold and perhaps arrogant act to pigeonhole this music into black, gothic or industrial metal. Or indeed, simply metal. It is a seamless integration of all, and manages to come-off with the best qualities those genres can offer in a sound that is, prima facie, quite avante-garde.

None of that is to say that Rotting Christ aren't still black; Sanctus Diavolos has a palpably malevolent atmosphere, and despite English not being Sakis' first language, he has crafted some stunning lyrics that really catapult these songs into deserving a much more thorough inspection. The ideas perfectly trade-off between corporeal suffering and divine (or to be exact, infernal) imagery, utilising all kinds of double-meaning and purely symbolic allegory that is remarkable... considering that Rotting Christ's lyrics have never before been anything other than average. My favourite has to be;

And what if there are no roots on Earth
and what if the stoned residence
is a ruined hovel
where the flame of God cannot burn
and what if human sense
appears as a son without birth
on an unequal battle
where the stoned walls are made of human flesh.

The chorus to Shades of Evil is such a multidimensional beast, that despite it being one of the poorer tracks musically, I can't help but admire it anyway. If Sanctus Diavolos has a fault it is that; there are noticeable drops in the music quality towards the end of the album. Serve in Heaven and Shades of Evil come across as too hurried and brash compared to the sprawling, eerie experimenting of the tracks before, and the staccatto, rhythmic riffage that constructs the metallic backbone of most of the songs could well come across as uninspired or repetitive to many listeners. There are so many layers of sound though that I think they get away with it; there is always something interesting going on, whether it be the jaw-dropping leads a la Thy Wings Thy Horns Thy Sin and Athanati Este or trippy, twisted electric audio voyages through the suitably explorative and lyrically inspired Doctrine and Tyrannical.

What really strikes the killer blow for me on this release though is the breathtakingly eloquent Sanctimonious. It is the only short, interlude-like song dividing the album in two, and part of the reason that the second half feels a little poorer than the first is because nothing else on the album can compete with the pithy Sanctimonious. It is very moving; sorrowfully romantic in its slow, melodic explorations with violin, sparse lead guitar and multilayered background choir vocals, and is the emotional and atmospheric center of the album. It is almost as if the essence was strained from all the other songs on Sanctus Diavolos and concentrated into Sanctimonious. A truly extraordinary track to flagship an extraordinary (but not perfect) work of sound craftsmanship.