Rotting Christ is one of those bands that's been around for a good long while (their full-length debut came out in 1991), but that I've just never gotten around to checking out. The truth is, I probably dismissed them after hearing their name, not for its shock value, but because I no doubt assumed, "I'm pretty sure I know what they are all about." Such is life. More metal bands are recording these days than one could ever hope to investigate, so the best you can do is dip your hand in somewhat randomly and hope you pull a winner. Unless you are George of course, in which case you actually will investigate them all…or die trying.
I had to familiarize myself with Rotting Christ's back catalog, and it's a model of evolution. Over the course of 13 full-length albums, song structures tighten, production improves, and the band slowly hones down to the laser-like focus presented here.
Rituals, or to quote the cover accurately,* Rituals by Rotting Christ*, is an apt title. The songs come across more as mantras or chants than they do traditional verse/chorus/verse fare. The band settles into a series of serious, hypnotic, sometimes murky grooves, and adorns them with something better described as recitation than singing.
We're getting into rather strange territory in the metal world these days. Categorization grows increasingly more challenging as genres bend, meld, and generally wander off the beaten path. This record doesn't help much in simplifying things, but I don't think it would be inaccurate to call it black metal. Purists will put it on and immediately wonder what the hell I'm talking about; the production is crisp and shiny, and though it plods along at a medium pace, occasionally a complicated guitar lead surfaces and things feel downright technical for a moment or two. It's clear, though, that at their heart, Rotting Christ is very much a black metal band in the trüest sense. The fundamental structure of the songs is about as black as it gets. Dirty up the production, squint your eyes a bit, and you'll realize this album has more in common with something like A Blaze in the Northern Sky than is apparent on first listen. There's a kind of commitment here sadly lacking in many bands today. And though the whole Satanic panic thing is so far past old hat that it would take the light from old hat three years to get to it, it still works if you're willing to swing it from a slightly new angle.
One gets the notion that Rotting Christ is operating in a bit of a vacuum, and since they reside in economically depressed Greece, they probably are to some degree. There's really nothing else out there like this right now that I can call to mind, and by all rights, it really shouldn't work as well as it does. There just aren't enough loop-to-loops or sharp turns to hold the attention of the average metalhead, judging by what's popular these days. Rituals does work, though. On the metal map it sits roughly halfway between the points labeled "black" and "drone," and while it doesn't exactly give rise to a new genre, it does feel like it's sitting there almost by itself. Rituals is a sophisticated (gasp), potent work of belief, commitment, and patience.
I'm not sorry I dismissed Rotting Christ previously on name alone because I am afforded one of the great joys of music collecting – a joy that I experience less and less the more time passes…which is that singular experience of finding a band you didn't know about before with a whole shit ton of records to check out. Good stuff.