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I bought 6 rotting christ albums for some reason - 69%

RapeTheDead, July 22nd, 2017
Written based on this version: 1997, CD, Century Black (Reissue)

Somebody traded Rotting Christ’s entire full-length discography into a used CD store near me (born again Christian? Who knows). As I had heard good things but never fully gotten around to checking them out, I figured this was as good a time as any to see what was up. I had heard a handful of scattered tracks here and there, but it never gave me the impetus to go any further. I even own Non Serviam but it never really grabbed me despite a couple of tries. Perhaps a full-scale discography binge was what I needed to “get” this band; either that, or I just wasted fifty bucks on a bunch of albums. Might as well justify my purchase by writing about it.

Admittedly, it takes a bit of adjustment to appreciate what Rotting Christ (and Greek black metal as a whole, generally) is going for if you listen to a lot of black metal already. The style is one that’s much more immediately melodic and less aggressive than one might be used to. Even as somebody who prefers more melodic offshoots of the genre myself, the frequent theatrical wandering and lack of overt speed was tough for me to stomach at first. I’ve gotten over it a bit more now and have grown to appreciate the approach for what it is, but there are still a few kinks I haven’t ironed out yet that show up on Thy Mighty Contract. Rotting Christ does have sections where they pick up the pace and sound more like your standard black metal band, but the speedier sections are probably my least favorite parts of the album because I’ve never been a fan of Rotting Christ's blastbeat style. The snare and kick drum drown out the cymbals in the mix, and the lack of variance in the alternating snare-kick-snare-kick patterns can make them really irritating and kill the vibe of the melodies (the beginnings of “Dive the Deepest Abyss” and “Exiled Archangels” are kind of grating). There is a more straightforward approach to drums in general, and it can work really well at times (such as in “Visions of the Dead Lover”), but on the whole the moments more directly inspired by black metal rarely inspire much other than boredom in me. The double-kick patterns are alright because they're nice and steady (a benefit of programmed drums, I guess), but otherwise the more intense Rotting Christ gets, the less engaged I am.

It’s fair to say that Rotting Christ was still finding their sound on Thy Mighty Contract, and that mostly shows in the playfulness of the songwriting and abundance of melodies. The songs are fairly cohesive and all, but it’s also evident that the band is combining ideas and influences from a few different styles and sorting out where they fit. The vocals sound like a holdover from their early death/grind days, not really adding a lot but not detracting much either. The keyboards, which show hints of the gothic vibe the band would explore later in their career, mostly feel like an afterthought on this album. Although Rotting Christ are most certainly black metal here, it doesn’t actually sound like the riffs take a whole lot of influence from it directly. There’s moments I can say sound inspired by early ‘90s death metal, maybe even Iron Maiden with some of the leads and solos, but the black metal tag is mostly attributed to Rotting Christ for the atmosphere they create around the riffs. Greek black metal is kind of interesting for that reason. It sounds like bands from this region have much different influences than the Norwegian bands of the early 90s, yet they still evoke similar enough atmospheres to have the same genre tag - it’s kinda like parallel evolution or something. Sure, there’s maybe a hint of Blaze in the Northern Sky influence on Thy Mighty Contract, but it’s dressed up in syrupy melody. This is much more whimsical and flamboyant than the cold, stark seriousness that often gets associated with black metal.

That being said, I don’t think I’m totally sold on Rotting Christ yet. Sakis Tolis has a great sense of melody and that shines through on a handful of moments, but even the tracks with the best riffs never seem to capture my interest all the way through. There’s a lot of potential on Thy Mighty Contract, no doubt, but at this point it’s still unrealized potential. The production is a bit too thin at this point (I know it’s black metal, but these guys don’t exactly have a cold and minimalist approach), and the band is still trying to figure out what they really want to be. This is sorta an “essential” album because it’s a key landmark in black metal’s development, but I wouldn’t really recommend it as a pleasure listen.