The Heretics is the most recent album from black metal stalwarts Rotting Christ and was released on February 15th 2019 by Season of Mist Records.
The Heretics is the 13th studio album released by the band and one I've been keeping an eye on for a while now since the first single The Raven was released. I'm not too familiar with the band's previous works and the only other album I've listened to is Theogonia (2007) which I did enjoy and will need to give it another listen at some point.
For a bit of a background on the group, they are a Greek black metal band formed in 1987 and they are considered to be one of the first black metal groups in this region at the time, and are still regarded as one of the more influential bands as well. They have attracted a bit of controversy due the bands name and an incident which nearly resulted in them being banned from playing in Malta due to a fan putting one of their posters on the door of a catholic church. That did not go down well at all. Personally, the anti-religious stance of the band doesn't bother me at all and if anything only attracts me to them even more.
This year I am going to get a chance to see the band perform live twice, once in April at the Lord of the Lands festival and then again at Bloodstock in August, so it's a band I've been looking to get to know better so I can enjoy their performance a little more when the time comes. With this album's release I decided to jump in head first and I'm glad that I did.
Let's take a look and see how good this one is.
One thing to note before a delve into the tracklist is that this is a surprisingly accessible album. I know people seem to hate that term when it comes to metal music, but here it's definitely a good thing as this album is a great chance for anyone new to get themselves interested in the bands other material.
The first track is In the Name of God and is a great opener for the album. It starts with a spoken word intro which becomes a bit of a theme of the whole record which I'll get into later. This is a track that let's you know what you're getting into when it comes to the rest of the record, from what sounds like a haunting church choir in the background to the anti-religious message as the song appears to be mocking those that pray to God for the death of their enemies which is obviously against what their beliefs should really be:
O'Lord our God, help us to tear their bodies to bloody shreds with our shells.
Help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded.
The music helps to back this up to with the drums playing like a marching band from hell is on it's way to war with the world. Great start.
The next track is Vetry Zlye and I have no idea what that means. This might actually be the most accessible track on the record and it's one of the better songs. The haunting choir returns and this time we even have female vocalist to help the band out on the chorus which is spoken in a different language. It actually reminds me of Swallow the Sun's most recent album and works well because it's the only time she's used so it gives the song a more unique feeling to it and stands out from the rest as a result. This one also ends with spoken word, but again I'll get to that later.
Up next is Heaven & Hell & Fire, which is a bit of a mouthful of a title and hey! another spoken word intro! My favourite. Another good track here as we get something a bit different with that pesky haunting choir covering the verses, and Sakis Tolis's growling vocals taking care of the catchy chorus. More spoken word sections which 3 songs into the album are starting to get a bit tiresome, but some great guitar work brings it back around along with the fun chorus. Right at the end we get another bit of the bands seemingly controversial message:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the church
By any church that I know
My own mind
Is my own church
Next song is Hallowed Be Thy Name and no this is not a cover of the Iron Maiden classic, but is an original song and what might be my favourite of the entire album. It's quite slow and very atmospheric, almost like a church hymn in reverse. This is one I'd like to hear live because having the crowd sing along to the chorus could be a lot of fun. This is another one that seemingly takes a dig at religious warfare with the mentions of war and fire in between the chanting of a prayer.
Up next is Dies Irae, which disappointingly almost starts in the exact same way as the opener just without the spoken intro. I can't say too much about the lyrics here as only the chorus is in English, but just like Heaven & Hell & Fire, the verses are sung by that background choir with the chorus being an entirely spoken word section. This isn't a bad song by any means but is one of the more forgettable tracks that the album has to offer and comes across as filler. On an album that's only 43 minutes long, that's not a good thing.
Sadly things get a little worse on the next track I Believe as this is easily my least favourite song on here. It is a shorter song sure, but I just find it so uninteresting with the same riff throughout the full song and the whole thing is done in spoken word with some background singing that also doesn't change throughout. Definitely a track to skip.
Thankfully we pick things up again with Fire God and Fear, which ends up being one of the best tracks on the album. Another spoken word intro and this one brings us back to the anti-religious message:
Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.
The song keeps it's momentum going throughout, until it builds up to an absolute belter of a guitar solo that gives me goosebumps and is an album highlight for sure. This is more like it!
Up next is The Voice of the Universe and this is another that leaves a lot to be desired. It starts off well enough with a heart-pumping guitar and drum combination that feels like it's building up to something explosive but never really goes anywhere. The chorus in the middle does save it slightly as the sound picks up a bit, but before it can go anywhere more interesting we just go back to where we started and I'm left disappointed by a pretty mediocre track.
The penultimate track is The New Messiah and brings up back up to speed again. This is the shortest track on the album at 3:07 and I adore the background chanting of Neo-Messiah as it just sounds so satanic and I'll admit that it's fun to sing along to. Hopefully it's one they add to their setlist. While short, the album is surprisingly atmospheric and it's one worth listening to again. Even with yet another spoken word outro.
Finally we have The Raven which was the main single from the album and possibly the best song on here. The guitar riff is godly, and this is the one of the only times I enjoy the spoken word sections as the come from the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name and really adds to the atmosphere of the whole song. The instrumental sections are breathtaking and the guitar solo is just fantastic and I only wish there was more of this to find throughout the album.
Overall I had a lot of fun with this album and it's one I'll definitely be revisiting as time goes on. It does have it's issues like a few forgettable tracks and WAY WAY too many spoken word sections that almost get annoying as the album goes on, but there's a lot here to like too.
Like I said at the beginning, this is quite an accessible album for those looking to try the band out and there's a lot of songs on here I truly enjoy. There's more good than bad and that's enough for me to give it a recommendation.
Tracks to download: Hallowed Be Thy Name, Fire God & Fear, The Raven
If you have any albums you want me to review, let me know! I'm always keeping my out for new stuff to sink my teeth into and might revisit some older albums for some fun or to tie in with a new release.