Rotting Christ – Sanctus Diavolos (2004) – Review

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Rotting Christ. Some already hate their admittedly contentious band name. Others continually take issue with their ever-evolving metal style. On top, they’re often labeled Satanists, and shunned by fellow musicians and states alike.

Fancy an example or two?

In 2005 Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine forced Rotting Christ off a gig in Athens, stating personal religious beliefs. Or more recently, in 2018, Sakis and Themis Tolis were arrested in Georgia after stepping off a plane. On grounds of satanism and – hold on to something – terrorism.

Yep, you heard that right. But then, it is also true that Sakis Tolis is active on many fronts of the occult metal scene, like his appearance on Deviser’s Black Mass. And that can give adepts of the nailed god a fright.

So, it looks like this specific horde attracts controversy like normal citizens a cold in winter. And for sure, a lot of the criticism originates from their somewhat pig-headed depiction of the Black Metal art, and Extreme Metal at large. Something the often virulent fan base does not react kindly to. Not to forget the openly communicated anti-Christian stance that people often take issue with.

But hey, this has worked out pretty well for them. Controversy sells, as Batushka just found out. And thus, Rotting Christ morphed into one of the most acclaimed and prestigious Extreme Metal bands the Mediterranean has to offer.

In other words, they truly are a multifaceted bunch. And have become one of our favorite Extreme Metal metallers from this corner of the world. With already quite a few appearances under their belt on the RockmusicRaider blog.

But the story is far from being told, and it is time to reach back into the past again. For one of the most substantial records that this band created so far. Because, in the unholy year of the Dark Lord 2004, their record Sanctus Diavolos made its appearance.

And it is a story well worth telling.

Already the album cover with its menacing devilish figure portrays this sense of abject aggression. This menace that will follow you through to the bitter end of the record. So, by the time you unpack the disk, the haunting will start.

Rotting Christ attack right off the bat with tightly structured, blistering riffs. Complete with juicy solos that pop up at the most inappropriate moments. Yet another inconsistency for a Black Metal album that the purists probably had hissy fits about.

Sanctus Diavolos embeds all of that on top of a truly menacing structure, with rasps that are neither Death Metal nor truly Black Metal in the Gothenburg sense. They just are, and their name is legion. A feeling of impending doom that drips with evil and dark urges. After all, the whole record speaks about Sanctus Diavolos, the sacred devil. The one that will (or wants) to take over the world. So, there you have it.

The purists – on the other hand – were probably hopelessly horrified by this spectacle of Rotting Christ darkly firing up symphonic elements and choirs into what many saw as a Black Metal offering. But fear not, if anything this sounds like the soundtrack Ave Satani of the movie The Omen gone awry.

Something lethal and malignant that morphed into a full-blown record. As if the creature of the movie Alien turned into soundwaves. Need proof, well then check out Thy Wings Thy Horns Thy Sin.

In a sense, Sanctus Diavolos feels like an unholy stepping stone. From Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, over the lengthy Khronos, Genesis – and now this. With exactly the kind of oomph that lacked on their newer concoctions Rituals and The Heretics. Because the latter ones got the crunch for sure down pat, but they taste like barley water on substance.

The album is also the only one featuring Gus G (Dream Evil, Firewind, Ozzy Osbourne, et al) aka Konstantinos Karamitroudis as a guest musician. And it’s a pity that they did not continue, because this guy would have been a pretty tight fit with Rotting Christ, considering. Also, this album is the first one without Costas Vasilakopoulos on lead guitar and Georgios Tolias on keys, which were – in turn – covered by Sakis Tolis.

Sanctus Diavolos takes off to a truly badass start. Visions of a Blind Order wastes no time to assert the territory it wants to occupy. Boom goes the sound with a trve Black Metal scream. Like a fucking artillery attack out of the blue sky. And I really appreciate that. There’s nothing worse than those senseless intros many Black or Extreme Metal outfits have taken an insane liking to lately.

The album gorges with energy, dark clear-voice vocals, monologues and ominous choirs that sometimes dispense an almost cinematic whiff of things. Also, the record boasts some extremely strong tracks like Athanati Este, the riffing of which will resonate into the future. You’ll find similarities on tracks like Demonon Vrosis on Aealo or – to a lesser extent – on The Sons of Hell from The Heretics.

All of that is of course not your snare-heavy true and tried Black Metal piece. Sanctus Diavolos exudes a distinct gothic flavor that mixes well with all that Dark and Black Metal so prevalent throughout the record.

But by Astaroth, we just could just not resist tracks like You My Cross. The one with its meaty beat, typical Black Metal drumming, and the cinematic chanting. As if the exorcist would be on the prowl again. This time to really set out and vanquish the Dark Lord.

And for those who opined that Rotting Christ can only do mid-tempo, check on Serve in Heaven. A friggin’ Metallica Thrash Metal crossover blend, with Sakis Tolis’ voice majestically propped on top of it.

But you truly want to stick around until Sanctus Diavolos – the title track – arrives on the scene. The one, which, despite bizarrely progressing in syrupy slow-motion, really pulls the rug from under you. This is Rotting Christ at their best all over again. And they want nothing less than to “tranquilize the human race”. A grande finale, if there ever was one.

So, by the unholy, sanctimonious bells of hell, Sanctus Diavolos can easily stand as one of the best, if not the best album of this band. It proved to be one heavy piece, so full of deliciously rotten metal, it almost despatches you to join the trickster in the 10th circle of hell.

A culmination of all things Rotting Christ so strong that it sent the RMR deck crew into an evil trance. From which they had to be brought back from with some very powerful spells. And a few garish promises the Lightbringer really liked.

It is that good.

Ed’s note: If you fancy that oldish feeling of dread, try some Septicflesh.

Record Rating: 8/10 | Label: Century Media / Sleaszy Rider  | Web: Official Site
Release date: 20 September 2004

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