Of any metal band who has been toiling away in the underground to impressive results, few deserve to be huge more than Greece’s Rotting Christ do. Yeah, their clumsy (i.e., misleading) moniker might conjure images of crust-caked, demo-only death-metal bands of the late ’80s/early ’90s, but Rotting Christ’s catalog, which spans an entire decade, is rarely matched in terms of dark elegance, sincere adventurousness, and never-too-highbrow sophistication. Although last year’s supremely goth-tinged Sleep of the Angels endeared itself well to critics previously unfamiliar with the group, it inconspicuously lacked the forward-thinking panache that classics like 1993’s Thy Mighty Contract possessed, sounding like the times had caught up with them (or the other way around?) instead of being years ahead of the game — something the latter undoubtedly was.
Thankfully, and keeping apace with the sterling levels of quality they’re renowned for, Rotting Christ return with Khronos — like Thy Mighty Contract, another album many years ahead of its time, both in terms of composition and the melding of metals (namely, those of black, death, and doom). Not coincidentally, then, it makes sense that the band similarly stripped their increasingly slicker sound down to a rawer, almost minimalist construct more befitting of their frosty, netherworldly atmospheres. Save for the living-after-midnight “Lucifer Over London,” little of Khronos adheres to either conventional verse/chorus structure or hypnotic trance-sprawl, the band eschewing both for a technique used most eloquently by Bethlehem: introduce a motif, expand it to its fullest capacity (but never bombastically step overboard), then move on to another and thusly follow suit or, conversely, return to a previously-introduced one and contort it a bit. Basically, beauty lies in simplicity, and that beauty is in abundance on Khronos.
However, such simple beauty/beautiful simplicity wouldn’t work if said motifs weren’t worth a damn. Guitarist/vocalist/sole-songwriter Sakis has seen a slew of six-stringers come and go, but he seems to have met his match with Kostas, who’s played on the last few R.C. platters. Granted, Rotting Christ’s leads have always been great [radical] now they’re downright integral, working as any given song’s most evocative element (particularly on “Glory of Sadness” and “If It Ends Tomorrow”), somehow finding an invisible balance between Bethlehem’s suicide-prone starkness and some lost Therion record Christofer Johnsson has yet to unleash on the public. And speaking of “lost” somethings, keyboardist George (creative pseudonym, no?) delivers on equally evocative levels, especially when he’s chasing the ghost of the Moody Blues in their prime, coloring Sakis and Kostas’ contributions in otherworldly shades of (blackened) ambience.
While Sleep of the Angels may have introduced Rotting Christ to a growing number of new fans, it wasn’t the most flattering — nay, accurate — of introductions. Rather, Khronos should’ve done the introducing, to both the band, and to the future of black metal.
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