The past several albums from Greek metal OGs Rotting Christ have seen a really fascinating bifurcated progression – on the one hand, the band has introduced a wide variety of new instruments, sounds, and musical motifs, fracturing their core sound and exploring new textures and ideas; on the other hand, the songwriting at the heart of the Rotting Christ project has been streamlined, whittled down to its irreducible essence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy continues both of these trends, but along the way, it also produces more than its fair share of majestic, compelling heavy metal.
Album opener “In Yumen – Xibalba” seems at first glance to mostly represent the streamlining trend – once the song eases past the chanted introduction, Themis Tolis’s drums issue forth in sprinting blasts that provide the principal momentum for Sakis Tolis’s use of a very minimal set of chords. But ooh, sister, those chords? They effortlessly mine deeply resonant emotional progressions without ever sounding particularly forced or conventional. Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy is probably not quite as dynamic as the last two albums (particularly career highpoint Aealo), but it trades in that unpredictability for a sturdier anthemic through-line – which model you prefer will largely be a matter of personal preference.
The album is regal and triumphant, but always sorrowful. The symphonic undertones of “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos” buttress a sturdy heavy metal marching tempo and bold choral vocals. Musical pipes are used on the title track, which otherwise succeeds (like so many latter-day RC songs) because of its muscular and memorable rhythmic base. (See “Gilgames” for another example of these spirited rhythms functioning as the primary musical motif.) “Cine iubeste si lasa” is another highlight, opening with piano and a keening female vocal – when the heavy section kicks in, it’s with the sort of midpaced drive that makes it impossible not to pump your fist so high and hard as to knock a hole in the ceiling, and maybe all the damn way up to the blighted firmament.
Rotting Christ long ago transcended (or at least sidestepped) anything remotely sounding of black metal. Hell, at this point, they’re mostly just an extremely passionate heavy metal band. But still, they know how to magnify and project black metal’s sense of drama and bombast like few other bands. The slowly tumbling harmonized leads during the midsection of “Gilgames” call to mind the churning waters of the pre-Biblical flood described in that ancient epic. “Rusalka” has a great fiery solo trade-off section that further hints at the band’s desire to communicate the stirring truths of human experience through arena-shaped moves, and “666” is a perfectly-pitched closer, a slow-driving but hard-hitting valediction. (Note: The vinyl and digipak bonus track “Welcome to Hel” is not a Venom cover, but it is another tantalizing addition to this stalwartly excellent album with rapturous guitar work and a feisty, ascending climax.)
More than any other single adjective, this is a supremely classy album. Every surface is burnished, every gesture meticulous, every emotion telegraphed with an immaculately composed desperation. If that sounds like a recipe for an album of stunted, bloated posturing, well, it certainly could be in the hands of lesser craftsmen. The men of Rotting Christ are true professionals, though, and every moment of Kata rings bell-tone pure and true because the sweat and toil of decades’ worth of hewing massive gnarled branches off the great tree of heavy metal life still gleams on the brow of these brothers. Embrace them as such.