The Porcelain Throne: Rotting Christ (The Season of Mist Present)
Welcome back to The Porcelain Throne with this, the final installment in my interminable deep dive into Rotting Christ’s discography. You’ve made it through two parts already, so you might as well keep reading.
We last left our band of heroes as they completed phase two of the main quest on Century Media. After ten years, six albums, and a cut scene, RC packed their supplies for a smaller label, Season of Mist, they felt would provide more individual attention and to share a label with Mayhem. Season of Mist also allowed RC to record in Greece instead of travelling throughout Europe to different studios. Sakis began using local studios and mixing and mastering the albums himself.
Other than new music, RC’s time on Season of Mist was accompanied by a deluge of re-releases, boxed sets, and compilations. Around this time, RC had saved enough money to purchase the rights to their old music from Osmose and Unisound. The early demos and other hard to find recordings from obscure corners of RC history were now available. It was a hipster collector’s dream come true.
Most importantly, the Season of Mist era starts off with immediate success and the best record in the RC catalog. What has happened for the remainder of their time at Season of Mist is up for debate. Many critics see this era as a victory lap for RC, one that sees them resting on their laurels after a long and successful career. I don’t fully subscribe to this position, but do agree there is a marked drop in the level of experimentation from Theogonia onward, preferring to focus on certain parts of the Theogonia sound, rather than wholesale reinvention.
But for the most part, following the formula produced very good to great results (Aealo, Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού). It wasn’t until the last two albums that RC began either recycling too many riffs (Rituals) or simply losing the spark like they’d done once before on Sleep of the Angels (The Heretics). Let’s get to it.
It’s not often that a band drops a few early-career classics, goes through several reinventions, and then peaks on their ninth album. But here we are. Theogonia is a great record and, to this fanboy, close to perfect. Sakis’ songwriting is at its best and most mature, layering and interlacing a diverse array of concepts into a cohesive, distinctive sound.
From the darkest depths of Sanctus Diavolos comes a more grandiose, epic feel using folk components blended with classic tension-and-release song structures. RC drops the heavy Benedictine choir presence from the previous record in favor of traditional Greek folk choir as accent, rather than centerpiece. Though the mood is largely much different, some elements of Sanctus Diavolos still remain, especially in the shadowy track “Enuma Elish” that brings in some dissonant pieces to augment its blackened core.
Theogonia also emphasizes one of my favorite parts of the RC repertoire: the wah pedal. RC had tinkered with wah effects as early as A Dead Poem and even brought the retro, rolling sound on Sanctus Diavolos. But until now, RC buried the wah effect in the back of the mix, almost like they were embarrassed of it. Not here. That beautiful Hendrix-ian wah-wah-wah comes front and center, and it owns. First track “The Sign of Prime Creation” begins with the standard Non Serviam Opening™ before transitioning into a wah-laden lead groove to create a magically innovative moment for black metal. You never knew you needed this in your life, but you do.
Some additional Theogonia components giving this record a fresh feel for RC include At the Gates-style metalcore riffing (“Gaia Tellus”), vicious breakdowns (“Phobos’ Synagogue”), melodic power metal fretwork (“He, the Aethyr”), and leaning more on sections with traditional black metal tremolo rhythms offset with counterpoint leads (e.g. “Helios Hyperion”, “Rege Diabolicus”). All of this may sound like a mess. I assure you, it’s not. Putting together so many disparate elements into one album and having it makes sense is no easy feat. They did it.
There’s really too much happening with this album to fully address it in limited space. Suffice to say, you should listen to it if you haven’t before. And if you have, listen to it again. And then a few more times.
With all of the diversity and experimentation of Theogonia, RC settles down on Aealo to focus on a single concept: a warrior’s experience in battle. Not in the troop-worship sense that plagues so much war-themed media, but a focus on the contradictions of war messaging, the power relationship between those fighting versus those ordering, and the overwhelming fear of being in battle. The album’s theme is nicely married to the stylistic choices expressed in the music, which frequently employ marching and galloping rhythms interspersed with semi-automatic beats and chugs to generate a martial atmosphere.
Greek all-female choir, Pleiades, used sparingly on Theogonia, is fully unleashed here with haunting polyphonic melodies that add a surreal feel throughout the album. They give the Non Serviam Opening™ of Aealo a new twist with, instead of Sakis’ howling scream, Pleiades’ ululating vocal stylings laid over the customary furious blast beats. Because Pleiades is a major part of Aealo, your enjoyment will largely depend on your tolerance for their vocal brand, as well as increased use of bagpipes/tsampouna, and stock samples of anguished screams (you’ve heard all of these in movies or video games, though I’m a bit disappointed they didn’t use the Wilhelm scream at least once). Personally, Pleiades are a welcome presence, the sample use less so. YMMV.
While most of Aealo is very good, some songs are real bangers. “Thou Art Lord” is an epic trad track with galloping rhythms and massive stature. “Demonon Vrosis” brings back the wah pedal from Theogonia with some strong grooves, a long heart-felt solo, and loads of tension building up to a satisfying resolution. There’s even light background picking at one point that is straight from Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.”
Closer “Orders of the Dead” is an overwhelming experience and I find myself having to be in a particular state of mind for it. The song is a cover from Diamanda Galas and features her on vocals. If you aren’t familiar with Diamanda Galas, she has an unnerving, bellowing soprano delivered in a spoken word, performance art kind of way. The song itself is a fucked up story about Turkish genocide of Greeks with epic trad metal melodies providing background support. It’s a powerful conclusion for the record, even if I can’t always listen to it.
The only downside of the record, other than stock samples, is Sakis’ vocals. They’re more hoarse than they’ve ever been, and in some songs he may be trying to drive his rasped range beyond its capacity (especially “Fire Death and Fear”). Given that Sakis has been pushing his vocal cords non-stop for over twenty years, both in the studio and in front of audiences, it’s unsurprising they would start to give out. People get old, man. Cut the guy some slack.
Split with Negative Plane (2012)
In between full length albums, RC was contacted by an acquaintance, Mikael Häll, to contribute a song that would accompany the release of his dissertation as a book. Häll’s book was your usual coffee table fare: an analysis of stories about folks having sex with ghosts and demons in the 17th and 18th century. Sakis liked the subject and agreed to contribute a song.
RC gave the label “Naturdemonernas lockrop: I 1000 djävlars namn,” a raucous, thrashy, first-wave black metal-style song sung entirely in Swedish. Splitmates, Negative Plane, had a completely different idea about what this project was about; they thought it would be a low-key background accompaniment to read the book by and that it would feature a large group of other artists. Consistent with the expectation, Negative Plane submitted a calm instrumental ditty. They were bewildered when they found out this was released as a 7” split instead of a compilation and that their instrumental track was accompanied by an incongruent high-energy thrash track. Being not mad at all and just laughing actually, they released this statement.
Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού (2013)
On this release, RC continues to hone the sound of Aealo through a combination of different emphases. Where Aealo dealt with war, Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού is a journey through various mythologies, and has song titles and some lyrics in Greek, Latin, Romanian, Russian, Mayan, and Sumerian. The theme is carried through the album by focusing on ritual invocation tracks like those first heard on Genesis.
Though we’re still on the Aealo train, that didn’t keep RC from improving and making an even better version of it. Much like Genesis took the Khronos concepts to another level, RC does the same here. The tone is set immediately on opener “In Yumen-Xibalba” which starts with an anti-Non Serviam Opening™, firing off two minutes of atmospheric doom complimented with ritual chanting, slow scrapes, and undulating bend releases. It’s a broodingly haunting start. But the fury isn’t far behind as it next erupts into energetic blasts, marching chants, and tremolos before cruising in for a comfortable mid-tempo landing. In one opening song, RC runs the gamut and it’s one of my favorite RC openers.
The good times don’t stop after that as Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού bursts with energy and purpose on every track. Even with the madness and hypnotic nature of some songs, like on pounding closing track “χξϛ – 666”, it feels like RC is having the time of their lives on this record. A good swath of the record rocks the fuck out with up-tempo, boisterous grooves (“Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”, “Iwa Voodoo”, “Ahura Mazdā-Aŋra Mainiuu”) and infections rhythms (title track, “P’unchaw kachun – Tuta kachun”). And you know you’ve got a great record when even the bonus track kicks ass. “Welcome to Hel”, available only on the limited editions, shouldn’t be missed. It’s a fun epic black metal romp that pairs well with “Gilgameš”, the other black metal-styled heavy hitter on the record.
As far as changes go, there’s a couple to be found even if the record doesn’t veer too far off the Aealo path. If you didn’t like Pleiades, you’re in luck. We’re back to the Benedictine style chants of Sanctus Diavolos, which will continue through their latest album, The Heretics. Sakis also brings technical fireworks to his solo on album standout “Русалка” (seriously, this song is fucking great). RC has never been a band that showcases bombastic displays of technical prowess, but Sakis really brings it here with a melodic combo of whammy work, fast arpeggios and scale runs. It’s so out of character that I had to double-check the guest appearance notes to make sure it wasn’t someone else. Shredder from Lucifer’s Child and Chaostar, George Emmanuel, had joined the band around this time and I thought for sure it was him.
My friends, enjoy and drink deep the sweet nectar of the Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού flower because we’re about to experience some lean years. After an incredibly good run of records, gravity was bound to take hold sometime. I just wish the descent down wasn’t so sharp. Here we go.
Rituals was met with disappointment from fans and critics. Justifiably so. Rituals is, unfortunately, the weakest album in the RC discography and a recycle of Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού. Now, I’m not necessarily against releasing consecutive albums that sound similar. Realtushka just did the same thing with Litourgiya Redux. RC did this before with Non Serviam to Triarchy and that’s one of my favorite album duos ever. The difference with Rituals and Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού is the shamelessness of repetition.
Where bands with large discographies can usually get away with stealing their older riffs, it’s a lot harder to do when the material you’re ripping off is from your last album. For example, “זה נגמר -Ze Nigmar” is “χξϛ – 666” and “Devadevam” is “In Yumen-Xibalba”. But RC didn’t just take from their own catalog. They also decided to remake Celtic Frost’s “Innocence and Wrath” and call it “Konx om Pax”. Then there are throwaway tracks like the needlessly tedious “Apage Satana” and the out-of-place rocker “For a Voice like Thunder”.
But because we’re talking RC, they never completely disappoint even on a record of Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού B- Sides. “In Nomine Dei Nostri” is a strong ritual invocation starter. “Elthe Kyrie” unleashes a great driving epic that competes with the best RC tracks. And the album closes out with a moody, driving, doom-laced platter in a cover of “The Four Horsemen” by Aphrodite’s Child. Feel free to add those tracks to a playlist, especially “Elthe Kyrie”. Also feel free to ignore every other track on here.
Before finishing up the Rituals section, I thought about getting defensive and trying to Justify My Unflushed Shit. I even had a draft worked out. Ultimately, I couldn’t do it because this album just isn’t good. Even legends have off days.
The Heretics (2019)
With the bar set incredibly low after Rituals, RC didn’t need to do much to improve and quell fears that they fell off the face of the planet. The Heretics mostly succeeds in that endeavor, though anyone hoping for a wholesale makeover will be sorely disappointed. There are no rebirths here. Instead, RC delivers a solid, if unspectacular, effort laid over well-trodden ground.
Stylistically, RC is still in a holding pattern, slowly circling the ritual flavors of Aealo and Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού. You’ve got your invocations (“In the Name of God”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Dies Irae”, and “The Voice of the Universe”) and pounding grooves (“Heaven & Hell & Fire” and “Fire, God and Fear”). Every once in a while, they throw a change up, like the Darkthrone-esque “Πιστεύω – I Believe”, the Non Serviam-lite “The New Messiah”, and the somewhat goofy dramatic reading of “The Raven” over riffs to close things out. But we’ve been here before and there aren’t any particularly strong tracks to recommend. There is no “Elthe Kyrie” or “After Dark I Feel” that shine through on other lesser RC records.
This all combines to make a perfectly serviceable album. While I don’t have the overwhelming urge to skip any tracks, I also don’t have the urge to return to any of them, either. If this were an album made by any other band, it would be good. The arrangements and songwriting are all crafted with care similar to any RC release. But when you are gods, mortal work is not enough.
Duality of the Unholy Existence split with Varathron (2019)
Two-track 7” with old friends, Varathron. The RC track “Spiritus Sancti” sounds exactly like a mash up of “The Fifth Illusion”, “Wolfera the Chacal”, and “In the Name of God”. Karhu covered it on this very website not too long ago and I don’t have anything to add to his spot-on take.
So that’s it, fam. If you’re still here, thanks for sitting through 7,000+ words about a band I love to pieces. If all of these albums weren’t my kids, I’d offer you a ranking of RC albums. But since I am a good father and would never dream of doing such a thing, I will refrain. So kids, there’s nothing else to see here. You can go to bed.
Non-kids, hello. Here is the definitive, 100% correct, tiered ranking of albums in the discography. While reasonable minds can disagree about what falls where, they’d be wrong because this is perfect and I am infallible when it comes to this band so I don’t want to hear it.
Tier 1 – Theogonia, Non Serviam
Tier 2 – Sanctus Diavolos, Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού, Triarchy
Tier 3 – Aealo, A Dead Poem, Genesis
Tier 4 – Thy Mighty Contract, Khronos
Tier 5 – The Heretics
Tier 6 – Sleep of the Angels
Tier 10 – Rituals