True Black Metal Legends, Rotting Christ have amassed 13 studio albums and numerous live albums since their humble beginnings in Athens back in 1987.
Back in 2019, at London’s ULU, I turned up with my good friend ‘Evil’ Jim, who is not evil in the slightest, to watch UK Death Metal titans Bolt Thrower decimate an enthusiastic crowd. However, it was the opening band that left me with a lasting impression. Rotting Christ were that band and they have since become my favourite extreme metal band. So, what better way to introduce The DevilsHorns Blog than by an album retrospective of one of the most influential extreme metal bands of all time?
Album Retrospective – Rotting Christ
Although they formed in 1987, releasing a handful of Demo’s and EP’s, it wasn’t until November 1993 that they released their debut album, Thy Mighty Contract. The album marked a change in sound from their early origins, more of a grindcore/death metal sound, evolving into a proto-black metal sound that differed from the bands Norwegian Peers. Often criticised for its poor production, it must be taken into account that Black Metal, and particularly Southern Europe Black Metal, was in its infancy. Nobody knew how to record this new genre, and it is fair to say that they didn’t get the best out of Sakis ‘Necromayhem’ Tolis’ vocals. It also didn’t help that the studio they used was sparse, with only room for an electric drum kit, leading to the trade-mark, click-drum, blastbeats used by Themis ’Necrosauron’ Tolis. It was a promising start. 6/10
Within a year, Rotting Christ, released their 2nd and final album on the Unisound Records label, and it is an absolute beast! Non Serviam is, in my opinion, the definitive 90’s era Rotting Christ album. Translating as ‘I will not serve’, it has become the band motto, with Sakis even sporting a tattoo bearing the slogan. The album has bona-fide classics on there, co-written by Sakis and Jim ‘Mutilator’ Patsouris, with ‘The Fifth Illusion’, Non Serviam and Saturn Unlock Avey’s Son regularly appearing on my playlists. It is this album that allowed the band to take a massive step forward. 9/10
Triarchy of the Lost Lovers is the 3rd album and was the first on a major label, Century Media Records. It also marks another subtle shift in the overall sound of the band, introducing a Gothic influence. Being part of a major label brought a degree of professionalism to the recording, a professionalism that was reflected in the overall album. That said, in the excellent book by Sakis and Dayal Patterson, ‘Non Serviam – The Official Story of Rotting Christ’, Sakis tells of how he got ill with measles early on in the recording process, hindering his vocals. To be fair, you wouldn’t know it from listening to the album and it is, again, a masterclass in the genre. 8/10
Prior to the release of A Dead Poem, the band was hit with a body blow when Mutilator left the band. Like most extreme metal bands, Rotting Christ could not make a living out of the band and so, with a young family, the main lyricist Jim ‘Mutilator’Patsouris bowed out, but not before leaving a few more words for Sakis to put to music. It was, in my opinion, the end of the bands classic era, leading to Rotting Christ becoming an autocracy, with Sakis becoming the leader, with his brother Themis taking a supporting role. The end of an era was compounded by the changing of the Rotting Christ logo, which may or may not have been with the bands permission. According to Tolis and Pattersons book, Sakis was never made aware of it, or didn’t read the memo. That said, A Dead Poem, features one of my favourite songs by the band, ‘A Sorrowful Farewell’ is truly immense and is a must listen for anybody interested in getting to know this band. 6/10
1999 saw the release of Sleep of the Angels, an album where you truly notice the departed Mutilator. Although Sakis had previously contributed lyrics, it wasn’t his primary job. Sleep of the Angels was true Sakis album. Although they had a full band, it was Sakis who contributed the guitars, bass and lyrics. He even had a hand in the drums. It is an album where Sakis is finding his feet, and it shows. Arguably their weakest album, it is also transitional, a learning process that would ultimately lead to far better things. 5/10
Khronos saw the band move back to a slightly more aggressive sound, slightly eschewing the previous gothic tones. The album has a handful tracks that demand repeat listening. ‘Art of Sin’ is one of them, with a compelling riff it dominates the album as well as the opener ‘Thou art Blind’. They also include an excellent cover, ‘Lucifer of London’. A decent listen, it does seem that they are trying just a little too hard on occasions. This should not, however, be treated as a criticism, as it is a step forward from the previous album. 7/10
If Khronos was a step towards the older Rotting Christ sound, Genesis completed the circle. This was compounded by the return of the classic logo, with Century Media and/or the band realising the folly of the so called ‘clean’ logo. Not only was Genesis a return to a ‘heavier’ sound, it also hinted at the future, with ‘Lex Talionis’featuring Gregorian chants. The irony of the biblical album name should not be overlooked, as this was a new beginning for Sakis and Rotting Christ. 8/10
Sanctus Diavolos holds a special place in my heart. After seeing Rotting Christ for the first time in 2010, this was the first album of theirs that I bought. Truth be told, straight from Sakis’ opening scream in ‘Visions of a Blind Order’, I was transfixed. There is absolutely nothing about this album that I dislike. I would not say it is perfect, but the low points of this album are pretty high. It also has the benefit of having 2 of my favourite Rotting Christ songs, ‘Thy Wings, Thy Horns, Thy Sin’ as well as a song that I believe every metal fan should listen to at least once in their lives, ‘Athanati Este’, arguably the finest song ever written by Sakis. Sanctus Diavolos also marked a major point in the history of Rotting Christ by being their final album for Century Media. 9/10
Season of Mist became the new, and current, home of Rotting Christ. Another Major label, the fact the band signed to another prestigious Metal label goes to show the respect a Black Metal band had gained over the years. Theogonia was the name of their 9th full length studio album, and truth be told, before my restrospective, it had passed me by. I never really gave the album a chance on the few listens I gave it. I don’t own it, so it never really entered my playlist, a scenario that is particularly disappointing. It is a particularly enjoyable listen, and you realise how much Sakis has grown into the role of being Rotting Christ. 8/10
2010 saw the release of Aealo, the album that was released just prior to me seeing them live for the first time. Unfortunately, despite having a few tracks that almost hit home, it doesn’t light a fire between my very heavy metal loins. ‘Fire, Death and Fear’ is a decent enough song and ‘Nemtheanga’ from Irish legends ‘Primordial’, lends his considerable talents to ‘Thou art Lord’. Overall, Aealo is slightly disappointing. 5/10
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sakis Tolis and Rotting Christ is their most recent output. I had the pleasure of reviewing Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού, an album I gave 4 ½ stars out of 5. Originally thought to be name after the Aleister Crowley quote,’ Do what thou wilt’, Sakis has since sought to clarify the meaning, according to Wikipedia, as ‘True to Your own Spirit’. To my ears, we have now entered the true sound of Rotting Christ. A sound that elevates the band from being a Black Metal band into being one of the only true Heavy Metal Bands in existence. This is the album that gives Rotting Christ the credit they deserve. It is an album that has not aged, an album that is still fresh and an album that brought the band to the mainstream listener who never considered listening to a ‘satanic’ band. Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού is nothing short of outstanding. 10/10
At the time of writing, Rituals is the penultimate Rotting Christ album. Perhaps not up to the standards of their previous opus, it is still an outstanding slab of metal. Described as Sakis most personal material to date, the album features many different languages and influences. It encapsulates the listener and provides a continuum to the previous album. I believe that it is not as good as Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού, but I know many people who think this is better. I’d suggest listening to both, then buying them both. What Rituals does provide, is evidence of the song-writing prowess of Sakis, a man who has gained experience, album by album, finally stepping out of Mutilator’s shadow, ultimately exceeding the early Rotting Christ output.
In 2019, Rotting Christ unleashed the utterly compelling The Heretics, a mesmeric album full of quotes, riffs and superbly delivered material. The Heretics is a culmination of every Rotting Christ album that precedes it. Blastbeats, riffs, imagery, atmosphere, choral chanting, it has it all. There are too many songs to mention, as each song brings its own juice to the album, be it ‘Heaven, Hell and Fire’or the Edgar Allan Poe influenced ‘The Raven’. This is, simply put, a stunning album. It does not matter if you love the early Black Metal band, or the mid years gothic tinged, through to the melodic band we know now, The Heretics is just about perfect. 10/10
- The DevilsHorns must listen – Non Serviam
- Find out more – Book, Non Serviam – The Official Story of Rotting Christ by Sakis Tolis and Dayal Patterson
- Off the beaten track – buy Under our Black Cult the definitive early years compilation featuring early Demo’s, EP’s and Live albums.