As much as we may joke about heavy metal being a form of religion, the parallels between the emotionally potent ceremonial aspects of worldly faiths and the overwhelming power of heavy music at its most sincere and commanding are obvious.
Few bands have tapped into the spiritual roar of metal’s cerebral wing with more skill or belief than Rotting Christ, and from its title upwards Rituals once again proclaims the Greek veterans’ mastery of grand statements and the hypnotic power of sonic communion. Building on the explosive Hellenic template that was conclusively laid down on Theogonia in 2007 and expanded on 2013’s Katá Ton Daímona Eaftoú, the band’s 12th full-length album is nothing short of a pitch-black colossus: the never-ending battle between fragile good and enticing evil, and the vast expanses of anger, fear and existential disquiet that lurk between them, has seldom been so meticulously explored or expressed. With a huge and vivid production job that makes every song sound like an anthem for the end of the world /and/ a call-to-arms from fathomless depths of mortal defiance, Rituals draws the listener into the eye of the spectral storm via grandiose riffing, quasi-choral chants and the persistent slash‘n’stab of riffs hewn from the charred flesh of the wilfully possessed.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine what else Rotting Christ could have thrown at this project. From the mesmerising refinement of Sakis Tolis’ songwriting to numerous wildly charismatic guest turns from the likes of Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes and Samael’s Vorph – on the spinetingling For A Voice Like Thunder and the chilling Les Litanies De Satan respectively – Rituals is a heavy metal album powered by thunder and lightning, brutal dark and dazzling light, as Rotting Christ’s fearless humanity pushes them to the brink of transcendence. But while certain like-minded bands would lose their finest ideas amid a maze of cracked mirrors, Sakis and his comrades remain devoted to metal as a end in itself: witness the brief burst of Maiden-esque harmony midway through Tou Thanatou and be thankful that this brilliant band continue striving to say the unsayable while never forgetting that metal’s own ritual is as real and enriching as any other.