Sunday Old School: Black Metal History Month Part 2. Rotting Christ
Band Photo: Rotting Christ (?)
As you may have noticed last week, Metalunderground.com has brought back Black Metal History Month, a special time when we devote February to looking back on some of the most influential and important bands in the history of black metal. Part of the aim this year, not just for Black Metal History Month but for the Sunday Old School column overall, is to read up on bands from as many countries as possible. The first instalment of this year’s Black Metal History Month saw the column look at a band from Poland for the first time and this week, Sunday Old School will be making its first trip to Greece, as we go through the life, music and controversy of Rotting Christ.
The band was formed in 1987 by vocalist/guitarist, Sakis Tolis and his brother Themis on drums, along with bass player, Jim Patsouris and despite the style they would soon become known for, began life performing a mixture of death metal and grindcore. They would only release one record while performing this style, in 1988, when they teamed up for a split EP with Sound Pollution. By 1989, the group had turned to a very dark and harsh black metal sound, which was demonstrated on their first demo, "Satanas Tedeum," a release which saw them make their mark as one of the pioneers of the second wave of black metal. They signed with a local record company in 1991, the same year they released their first EP, "Passage to Arcturo" before releasing a 7" single, "Dawn of the Iconoclast."
With these releases under their belts, they had gained enough recognition to sign with an international label. Initially Rotting Christ looked set to head to Norway, where the black metal scene had really taken off, to sign with Deathlike Silence, the label owned and run by Mayhem guitarist, Euronymous, however this never materialised due to the murder of Euronymous by his former bandmate, Varg Vikernes. Instead, they joined forces with Osmose for their debut album, "Thy Mighty Contract," which was released in November 1993 and was received well enough to earn them a spot on the "Fuck Christ" tour with Immortal and Canadian black metal outfit, Blasphemy, where their performance was met with even more positivity, leading the label to release a new 7" single, "Apokathelosis," after which the company parted ways with the band. Rotting Christ decided to head home for their next label, signing to Greek company, Unisound, who released their sophomore full length, "Non Serviam" in 1994. However, signing with a small label back in Greece did not allow the album to be released as far as they had hoped and so many countries did not stock the album until many years later.
To get their music heard, the band would have to sign to a bigger label, an opportunity which soon arose when Century Media became interested in the group. So much so that they signed Rotting Christ on a six album deal. Their first release through Century Media came in 1996 in the form of, "Triarchy of the Lost Lovers," which introduced a gothic tinge to their sound and became a critical success. They soon hit the road and trekked across Europe along with Swiss act, Samael and Portuguese band, Moonspell for two months, after which they added a second guitarist, Kostas Vasilakopoulos, who made his recording debut with the band on their 1997 album, "A Dead Poem." Although the album, like its predecessor, received some highly positive reviews, it is perhaps the least black metal sounding album in the bands catalogue, displaying more of a doom metal direction, along with acoustic guitars and even bringing in elements of traditional Greek music. The success of the album allowed them to embark on a headlining European tour, where they were joined by Old Man’s Child and Sacramentum.
The touring, along with the critical success of the previous two albums, ensured that a continent wide fan base had been solidified by 1999, the year in which they released their fifth full length album, "Sleep of the Angels," which returned to the black metal sound somewhat, although it was still a very slow affair. It wasn’t quite as hailed as their last two records, but was successful enough to book them a slot on a huge European tour which also featured American death metal favourites, Deicide and Polish blackened death metal outfit, Behemoth, as well as enabling them to perform in the United States for the first time in their career. Their visit to the United States even earned them a mention in the political world, when Presidential Republican candidate Gary Bauer cited the group as the type of music people should be wary of and labeled Roting Christ as, "Anti-Catholic." Nevertheless, they were allowed into the United States without much incident. In spite of the heavy touring, Rotting Christ were able to find the time to record and release a new album, "Khronos," a little over a year after, "Sleep of the Angels" hit the shelves. It veered the band closer still to their earlier black metal sound, though it still featured many doom and gothic elements, in addition to bringing in some experimentation with industrial music.
Fans who had hoped that the black metal sound would return to the forefront of the bands minds were relieved in 2002 when their seventh album, "Genesis" was released, bringing their old style back prominently, although they kept some of the melodic areas of their recent work. This vibe continued on to their next album, 2004’s, "Sanctus Diavolos," which was recorded as a three piece after the departure of Vasilakopoulos, although it did feature a guest solo from Firewind and future Ozzy Osbourne guitarist, Gus G. on the opening track, "Visions of a Blind Order." Following the release of the album, the band found a new second guitarist in Giorgos Bokos. Whilst touring for the album, Rotting Christ encountered perhaps their most high profile clash, when Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine refused to share a bill with them, citing their anti-Christian lyrics as his reason and saw many in the metal community side with the Greeks on the issue, including Anthrax and Nuclear Assault co-founder, Danny Lilker.
After a partnership with Century Media which lasted ten years, Rotting Christ decided to seek pastures new and soon inked a deal with French label, Season of Mist, whose first act to re-release the "Non Serviam" album so that fans could finally get their hands on the record, in a two CD package which also featured the "Passage to Arcturo" EP. One year later, Rotting Christ released their first album of new material for Season of Mist, entitled, "Theogonia." The album stands today as perhaps their very best and certainly one of the most praised outputs in the history of Rotting Christ. Its melodic black metal fused brilliantly with an expansion on their Greek music dabbling really paid off and earned the band a number of awards from metal publications. Interest in the band was at an all time high and the label capitalized on this with the release of a compilation album, also in 2007, named "Thanatiphoro Anthologio" and a 20th anniversary DVD, "Non Serviam – A 20 Year Apocryphal Story."
Topping such a great album is no enviable task but Rotting Christ gave all they could for the 2010 album, "AEALO," which boasted some fantastic guest performances from Primordial vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga and Greek-American performer, Diamanda Galas contributing vocals to the band’s cover of her song, "Orders from the Dead." Overall, the lyrics on the album were much less to do with the religion bashing one comes to expect from many a black metal band and instead took a look at the history and tragedy of warfare. Whilst not quite as revered as, "Theogonia," it was still received well by fans and most critics. The band planned to tour quite heavily in support of the record and did perform a number of shows across Europe, particularly in Poland, however a broken leg suffered by Sakis meant that they were forced to cancel their tour of South America, as well as their scheduled festival appearances.
For a short time, Rotting Christ consisted solely of the Tolis brothers, who recorded the next album as the only official members, though they did bring in some session musicians to help complete the record before confirming George Emmanuel as their new guitarist and Vaggelis Karzis on bass. The album in question, "Katá ton Daímona Eaf_toú," was released in early March 2013 to a mostly positive response. It was another lyrical journey through history, focusing on the Greek, Slavic and South American tribal cultures and mythologies. The title itself was taken from British occultist, Aleister Crowley and translates roughly as, "Do what thou will." Since then the band has been touring in support of the album, having recently wrapped up a tour of Japan, it seems that the European festival circuit will be the next port of call for Rotting Christ, with summer appearances in Germany, Romania and Latvia already confirmed, with more surely to follow. Where they go from here remains to be seen, but the Solis brothers and all who have worked with them have assured a place for Rotting Christ in the annals of metal history, unleashing a slew of aggressive and provocative albums over more than twenty years that continue to garner new fans to this day.
Rotting Christ - "Dive The Deepest Abyss"
Rotting Christ - "A Dynasty From the Ice"
Rotting Christ - "A Dead Poem"
Rotting Christ - "After Dark I Feel"
Rotting Christ - "In Domine Sathana"
Rotting Christ - "Sanctus Diavolos"
Rotting Christ - "Keravnos Kyvernitos"
Rotting Christ - "X ? S (666)"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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