REVIEW: Extortionist - The Decline


Idaho quintet Extortionist formed in 2013 in Coeur d’Alene, with the following year marking the release of their debut EP “The Black Sheep.” A few years and singles later, they would put out their first full-length album in early 2017 called “The Decline.”

I learned about Extortionist’s music through a compilation video back when they released “The Black Sheep.” Despite being initially drawn in by their dark, murky sound and creepy album cover, I walked away underwhelmed. It had its moments, but not only was it rather generic for a deathcore EP at the time, but the writing was pretty dull, and the sound-mixing was even more so; frankly, if I still gave numerical ratings, I'd give it a 5 out of 10, tops. Regardless, part of me was still interested in what direction the band would take after this debut, leading me to try their latest outing to see how their music may have evolved; As it turns out, “The Decline” is more than a sign of improvement; it's a deliciously destructive and dynamic record from start to finish.

Right out of the gate, the most remarkable aspect of “The Decline” is its marriage between brutality and gloom. Just one look at the less-than-cheerful artwork (Courtesy of graphic artist Hari Fadil and vocalist Ben Hoagland), depicting a distraught man slumped against a desk littered with pills, used cigarettes, and alcohol bottles, signifies that this album isn't exactly a cheerful one. There are plenty of bands of the same genre who go for this mood, but they tend to turn out more-or-less the same; either as slow-paced chug-drenched deathcore (i.e. Feign, Bodysnatcher) or as somewhat more fast-paced hardcore with higher-pitched screamed vocals (i.e. Sworn In, Graves). Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with this, but what makes “The Decline” stand out is that it lands right in-between both sides of the spectrum, with the heavy side being balanced out by the more emotional, angsty side, creating a mix that is all the band’s own.

There is no shortage of songs here that best demonstrate this deadly mix in action, right from the very beginning. The opener “Regression” creeps in with an ambient entrance before suddenly bursting into a tirade of aggressive vocals and equally potent instruments, perfectly setting the stage for what the audience is in for. What follows is “Guilt,” dishing out blistering, heavy grooves mixed-in with angst-ridden vocals (Featuring guest vocalist David Libert of Barrier), keeping a single, steady pace throughout without losing any of its violent momentum. Other highlights include the nightmarishly fast-paced “Animosity” and the title track, an atmospheric interlude complete with a monologue dwelling on loneliness and anxiety, followed by the appropriately explosive closer “Imbalance.” It's highlights galore in this record, and is hardly a dull moment that goes by throughout its running time.

Of course, no good album would be complete without good musicianship,; “The Decline” has that, too. Granted, the main vocals are a little monotonous, mostly just consisting of the same mid-to-low-range growls throughout; they sound good, but there is a noticeable lack of range. Thankfully, there are a couple of guest vocalists to help bring a little more variety to the table. As stated earlier, David Libert from Barrier lends his vocals in "Guilt," belting out screamed vocals expressing regret and self-loathing (“I would do anything to put my thoughts at ease!”). Adam Warren of Oceano also has a moment in the spotlight in "Malediction," dishing out his signature low gutturals during a sickeningly slow-paced moment part-way into the song. They’re great and fitting additions to the album’s vocal roster and help break the monotony a bit.

Meanwhile, the instruments (The guitars and drums, to be specific) also hold their weight rather successfully. The guitars aren’t anything that innovative when it comes to the deathcore genre, consisting of a lot of the chugs and brutal riffs we’ve come to expect of the genre; the good news is, however, that it doesn’t need to be. They have so much ferocity and are written into the music in a way that keeps the guitar-play from becoming stale and repetitive. It also helps that every now and then, there is a particularly impressive moment involving it, such as the brief melodies in “Neglect.” The drums are also very solid, boasting plenty of energy and some technical prowess while keeping the technique simple enough to absorb easily. 

Lastly, “The Decline” also has great production values, being recorded and mixed by Calvin Russell of DJSM Studios. He did a spot-on job bringing every vocal and instrument involved to life. Everything sounds crisp, clear and powerful, and a lot of the music’s haunting atmosphere derives from how full-bodied and heavy the instruments sound; this makes for a versatile sound that helps in making the album so memorable. Also helping this record are some of the post-production sound effects that reinforce the music’s dark and ferocious tone, such as the guitar stutters during the last third of “Animosity” and the high-pitch guitar shrieks in “Regression” (Although they can be a tad too loud at times compared to the rest of the song). To wrap things up, the mixing is certainly on-point here.

BOTTOM LINE: “The Black Sheep” may not have exactly been impressive, but its successor has definitely takes on that mantle. Even in a world where so many deathcore bands are working the same tired formula and churning out the same generic tunes, Extortionist manages to come into their own with tight musicianship and writing. Most importantly, however, the album’s biggest strength has to be its distinct balance between its sheer deathcore-style chaos and doom-laden atmosphere. It may not be the most original or innovative record out there, but this full-length release is an incredibly solid and entertainingly dark specimen that crushes any expectations, and then some. This is no decline.

"The Decline" was released on February 17, 2017 under no label.


COUNTDOWNS: Top 10 Songs to Play on Halloween

Halloween is well on its way! It's a time for trick or treating, dressing in goofy/scary costumes, going out for parties, and so on. For me, however, my time will probably be spent listening to some deathly tunes, and sharing them with you in the hopes that you'll enjoy them as much as I do, if not more! From chillingly atmospheric and eerie tracks to in-your-face bouts of brutality, here are fifteen songs that are more than fitting for the spookiest time of the year for your entertainment. Click on the images to listen to their corresponding songs!

With a name like Infant Annihilator, the last thing you’d should ever expect from this band is subtlety. Despite being almost twenty minutes long, "Behold the Kingdom of the Wretched Undying" manages to dish out a consistently exciting helping of wicked, brutal death metal, complete with Dickie Allen’s gruesome, inhuman vocals, blaring instrumental play, and energetic writing jumping between the (relatively) quiet and the loud. The song also features a sleuth of guest vocalists (Chris Whited of Lost Fortune, Bryan Long of Dealey Plaza, Dillon Becker of AnimalFarm, and Tyler Shelton of Traitors), helping to provide more dynamic and adding an extra layer of fun to the song as well; they almost give it this haunted-house-tour vibe, except instead of a haunted house, it’s an exhibit of some of the grisliest modern death metal out there.

“The Elysian Grandeval Galeriarch” was released on July 29, 2016 under no label.

I was debating whether to include either Gaza or their follow-up project Cult Leader on this list, since they have a near-identical sound and might as well be the same band. Ultimately, I decided to go for Gaza’s material, since their album “No Absolutes in Human Suffering” has a more eerie, downright terrifying feel to it compared to Cult Leader’s newest effort “Lightless Walk,” which comes off as a bit more angry and exhilarating. “Not with All the Hope in the World” is its best offering, bludgeoning listeners with roaring vocals and chaotic instrumentals. Even during the second half, in which the track transitions into a slower-paced march, is no less abrasive and downright apocalyptic. This song is one angry dose of nightmare fuel.

“No Absolutes in Human Suffering” was released on July 31, 2012 on Black Market Activities/Metal Blade Records.

Enterprise Earth's previous full-length "Patient Zero" currently holds the position as one of my favorite modern death metal albums ever released. Their newest single, however, definitely comes off as one of the band’s creepiest outings to date. The bone-crunching brutality and tight song-writing continue to thrive from the last studio record, but this song has a much more horror tinged to it than in most of the band’s other ones. Dan Watson’s monstrous vocals lamenting turning into some horrid monstrosity (“Deformed and destined to die…”) and the eerie-sounding, distorted guitar play in particular are what really sell the song as a brutal, haunting listening experience. The sound mixing could use a little more polishing, given that this likely isn't the final version, but it hardly matters; “This Hell, My Home” is nothing short of a haunting offering.

“This Hell, My Home” was released on July 15, 2016 on Stay Sick Recordings.

"When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean" wins the award for 'Creepiest Introduction for a Song I've Ever Heard in My Entire Life.' I kid you not, when I first heard that Irish funerary chant (Keening) setting the stage for the rest of the song, I had a hard time sleeping the following night (Probably because I listened to it right before I went to bed. Brilliant.). Of course, that isn't to say the rest of this eight-minute instrumental track is something to brush off either, being just as chilling and visceral as it began; darkly ambient noises and effects are layered with a rather simple but very effective beat between the guitars and drums, resulting a steadily-paced but staunchly atmospheric and genuinely haunting interlude that builds and builds. It's been a while since I last listened to "Mammal" in its entirety, but this track remains as frightening and engaging as ever.

“Mammal” was released on May 17, 2011 on Profound Lore Records.

Dimmu Borgir is one of the first symphonic metal bands I ever came across next to Nightwish and Shade Empire, and I still find a lot of their songs to be very entertaining to listen to. "Gateways" is among their numbers, but unlike the other entries on this compilation, it has a much more cinematic approach to the 'frightening-the-listeners' routine. The grand, chaotic orchestra and atmosphere make for a compelling listen, and Agnete Kjølsrud's wicked-witch-like style of singing make the track all the more creepily entertaining. "Gateways" is a perfect fix for those looking for haunting music delivered in such an epic fashion.

“Abrahadabra” was released on September 22, 2010 on Nuclear Blast Records.

This track is by far the oldest entry on this list, but even over a decade after release, it's aged very gracefully. Although I could never get into Behemoth as much as other fans, "Slaves Shall Serve" is definitely one of my favorites, amounting to a destructive specimen of raw, ritualistic metal. It makes its grand entrance with a Sumerian chant, sounding like it's being recited by demons, before exploding into an unrelenting whirlwind of death metal; complete with ferocious musicianship and a thick, resonant atmosphere, this song is quite the fearsome beast. It has an overwhelming sense of apocalyptic dread throughout, thanks to the instrumentation, production, and writing combined, thus making it a perfect addition to any metal fan's Halloween playlist.

"Demigod" was released on October 25, 2004 on Mystic Production.

A few years back, I listed doom metal group Evoken's latest full-length "Atra Mors" as one of the best albums to grace 2012; After re-visiting its title track, I was reminded why this was the case. It has a slow pace and goes for over ten minutes, but these aspects shouldn't scare listeners away; what is scary about this track, however, mostly stems from its creepy build-up throughout and ghastly, dreadful ambiance. Listening to it feels like standing in some foggy landscape on a cold, rainy day; it's a chilling listen from start to finish. For a little quick trivia, "Atra Mors" is a Latin phrase that translates as "black death" (My couple of years of Latin classes in middle school paid off!); a more than appropriate title for music so dark and despondent.

“Atra Mors” was released on July 31, 2012 on Profound Lore Records.

I listed Gnaw Their Tongues' "Abyss of Longing Throats" as one of my top albums of 2015, and that position more-or-less stands; its second track, "Through Flesh," remains one of its biggest highlights. Looking at this... charming cover artwork alone should give you a decent idea of what you're in for; bleak, visceral music meant to chill listeners down to their very core, and "Through Flesh" is a very remarkable example of that. On top of the one-man band's signature sound of creepy, atmospheric black metal mixed with distorted noises, some orchestral elements, mostly strings, also play a crucial role in delivering its frightening effect; the resulting track actually gives off an 80's-horror vibe that's very intriguing to listen to. Whatever the case, this song isn't exactly for the faint of heart.

“Abyss of Longing Throats” was released on August 7, 2015 on Crucial Blast Records.

Not too long ago as I'm typing this, I wrote a review for Yuth Forever's most recent full-length, praising it for its impressive writing, musicianship, ferocity, and so on. With that said, while the whole record has this eerie feel to it, "Inseparable" is definitely one of its most haunting offerings. From the tortured mid-pitch vocals to the heavily distorted guitar-play to the rather unsettling lyrics pretty much bordering on Stockholm Syndrome ("Because one plus one makes two, and I hate being alone; But at least, misery, I’ve got you"), this song is not exactly for the faint of heart. That isn't to say it's purely doom-and-gloom, however; the energy and groove that it boasts not only make for quite the creepy listen, but a very fun, gripping one as well. I highly recommend checking out the whole album, but for this occasion, "Inseparable" takes the spotlight.

“Skeleton Youth Forever” was released on June 3, 2016 on Prosthetic Records.

I've only gotten around to listening to experimental duo Anaal Nathrakh's music very recently, namely their newest material from their full-length album "The Whole of the Law." After listening to singles such as "Depravity Favours the Bold," however, I can definitely see how the band has gained such a large following over the last decade. The song's blend of black metal, grindcore, and even tinges of industrial/electronic noise render it as very loud and chaotic from start to finish, but nevertheless highly engaging and somewhat terrifying. The shrieking vocals mixed with rapid-fire instrumentals, static-like sound mixing, and pummeling electronic sound effects make for a track that's sure to pulverize your speakers into oblivion. It is not one to chock up to easy listening.

“The Whole of the Law” will be released on October 28, 2016 on Metal Blade Records.

And so ends the list for some of the best songs to blast on your speakers during this holiday... for now. There is absolutely no shortage of metal and hardcore songs that are easy candidates for such a compilation, but these ten in particular are among the most highly recommended. I know I'll be running through these songs tomorrow (while drawing things in architecture school), and hopefully at least one of them will stick to you if you haven't checked them out already. Whatever the case may be, have a safe and Happy Halloween, folks!


REVIEW: Yüth Forever - Skeleton Youth Forever


Yüth Forever formed in 2009 in Oswego, Chicago, starting off under the moniker Villains. They released two full-length albums, “10 Code” in 2010 and then “Freudian Slip” in 2014, before changing their name and signing to Prosthetic Records (Trap Them, Last Chance To Reason, InAeona). They would then go on to release their third full-length album in the summer of 2016 called “Skeleton Youth Forever.”

I discovered Yüth Forever years ago, back when they had just released “10 Code” under the name Villains. They immediately caught my interest after I stumbled across their song “Directions to Servants,” thanks to its distinct, distorted hardcore sound. In hindsight, while “10 Code” and “Freudian Slip” aren’t exactly fantastic, they are very solid records that showcase a lot of the band’s potential. Said potential would be fully realized with their newest effort “Skeleton Youth Forever,” an album that demonstrates the band’s energetic sound and complex writing at their best to date.

The first thing that struck me while listening to it is that the band seems to be taking on a much groovier sound than before. This is a great direction for them to head towards, as the music can hold onto its dark, dissonant atmosphere and tone while being energizing at the same time. A great example of this would have to be one of the first songs off the album, “People Pleaser,” which boasts these funk-like grooves combined with distorted guitar-play and lyrics dripping with anger and insecurity (A point I’ll get back to later in this review).

“Bitterromantic Pt. 3” is another example showing off this dynamic. This is definitely one of the most flowing songs out of the whole album, transitioning between grooves and dark, low-tuned riffs remarkably smoothly. In fact, in an interview with Chugcore Productions*, vocalist Devin MacGillivray stated that “Bitterromantic Pt. 3” was one of his favorite ones to write because of how well it flows both musically and lyrically, and it definitely shows; the song is very impressive, both energetically and technically. Instances like this show off a dynamic between grim and exhilarating that plays an extremely crucial part in making “Skeleton Youth Forever” so entertaining.

Another important element that makes the album so great is the instrumentation. The guitar and drum-play are remarkably complex and well-performed, and have really come a long way since the release of “10 Code” about half a decade ago. At the same time, however, they don’t fall into the common trap where it feels as if the musicians are just showing off; they’re integrated into the album very nicely, dishing out the raw emotion and energy that they're meant to bring. Well-written and executed, the instrumental prowess in “Skeleton Youth Forever” does not disappoint.

If I had to pick out one significant “problem” with this album, however, it would be the vocals. Granted, Devin’s screamed vocals do deliver in the energy department just fine, and there's nothing inherently bad about them, but they’re also a bit too monotonous. Considering how incredibly dynamic, explosive, and versatile the instrumental performances are in this album, they do come off as a little underwhelming. They consist purely of mid-pitch screams and yells, and after a while, their novelty does start to wear a tad thin. Again, not that there’s anything particularly wrong with how they’re delivered, but some more variety would have added a little more intrigue.

That isn’t to say there is no abundance of intrigue in this album’s sound, mind you. “Skeleton Youth Forever” proves otherwise, with lots of great atmosphere and writing emanating throughout the record’s running time. Going back to the dynamic between dark and vigorous, A few other examples I haven’t mentioned yet are “Growing Pains” and “Villains,” the last one being an obvious callback to the band’s previous moniker. The former is one of my personal favorites off the whole record, with the creepy groove about a minute into the song latching onto the brain like glue thanks to the vocals, rhythm, and instrumental layering.
Not only that, but the music also gives off a very engaging and rather haunting atmosphere. More than ever, the musicianship, sound mixing, and post-production effects all have their hand in creating this eerie and somewhat industrial ambiance; this album almost feels like a soundtrack to some violence-ridden city slums. This is brought on by tidbits such as the guitar distortion and the electronic sounds and effects (i.e. The guitar/electronic stuttering in tracks such as “Bitterromantic Pt. 3” and “Inseparable”), which really help in pulling the audience into its rather unsettling ambiance. This even applies to the album’s interludes (i.e. “Do You?” and “Innocence”), showing how much attention to detail the band has put into pretty much every crevice of this record.

“Skeleton Youth Forever’s” lyrics also hold their weight rather well. Just like with the band’s previous records, they focus strongly on themes of hatred and social anxiety. For the former, “Growing Pains” digs into family troubles, with the song ending with the chilling line: “Don’t think about me too much; After all, I’m only your son.” As for the latter, tracks such as “People Pleaser,” “Inseparable” (Which might as well be called “Stockholm Syndrome: the Song”), and “S.Y.F.” dwell on topics such as loneliness, love, insecurity, and addiction. They’re basically what you’d expect from an angry, dissonant hardcore album, but they still work, especially with such energetic vocals screaming them out loud.

BOTTOM LINE: As good as Yüth Forever's older works are, they've always felt like they were missing some of the punch to make a serious impact; there was something there, but it just wasn’t completely brought into the light yet. This has changed thanks to “Skeleton Youth Forever,” with its powerful musicianship and tight song-writing launching it to its position as one of the better albums to be birthed this year. Heavy, complex, and oozing with angst, this record is not one that should be brushed off from the get-go. It might not be for everyone due to its noisy and off-beat nature, but “Skeleton Youth Forever” is very much worth checking out.

“Skeleton Youth Forever” was released on June 3, 2016 on Prosthetic Records.
*Interview with Devin MacGillivray, courtesy of Chugcore Productions (Quote about “Bitterromantic Pt. 3” is at 03:56): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oGcrcUvuaY


REVIEW: Lacuna Coil - Delirium


Italian rock-stars Lacuna Coil formed in Milan back in 1994, but their moniker remains well-known. Their fusion of gothic metal and alternative rock has become a staple in the music world, and they’ve grown to be one of the most famous of their kind; albums such as “Karmacode” in 2006 and “Dark Adrenaline” in 2012 have scored relatively high positions on rock charts worldwide, and the band itself grown a massive following over the decades. In 2016, their eighth full-length record “Delirium” would be added to their long-lived collection.

Lacuna Coil has always been a mixed bag in my eyes. Singles including “Trip the Darkness” and their cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” are rather solid, and their music had this interestingly dark atmosphere to them overall. On the other hand, their last full-length release “Broken Crown Halo” was a complete drag. The musicianship was dull, the production was weak and blurry, and the songs themselves were utterly soulless and forgettable; simply put, listening to it was a chore. Now that their latest album has hit the shelves recently, I figured I should at least give the band another try, and gave the record a couple listens. Although it is a notable step up from some of the band’s previous work, it still leaves a lot to be desired.

For starters, aside from the vocals, the musicianship is very lacking. The guitars are particularly bland; they're quite generic and repetitive, mostly consisting of one-dimensional djent-like riffs and chugs with little energy or ferocity to them. Once in a while there’s a guitar solo inserted to breathe more life into the music, but even then, they sound so pedestrian in context of the heavy rock genre that they have no effect. The same goes for the drums; I actually played through a few of the songs on my electronic kit, but after about thirty second, I found myself getting bored. Not that the percussion has to boast any complex patterns and whatnot, but just like with the guitars, they sound so flat and simplistic that they leave little to no impression whatsoever.

Speaking of sound, the mixing in "Delirium" is watered down and somewhat uneven at times. The album was produced by Marco Coti Zelati (The band’s guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist), and while his mixing in here is an improvement over “Broken Crown Halo” (Which had Jay Baumgardner [Seether, Papa Roach] as its producer), it still comes across as muddy and a bit off. The guitars sound especially buzzy, particularly during their chugging moments and lower-notes, examples including “The House of Shame” and “Ultima Ratio,” and the drums have no meat to them; they lack resonance. On the plus side, however, the vocals are rather crisp, albeit a little too quiet on occasion. More on those later, but in the meantime, the mixing comes off as murky and somewhat colorless.

This leads into to the biggest problem with “Delirium:” How uninspired and passionless it is. Although said problem isn’t quite as prominent here as it was in the band’s previous release, it’s definitely still here. There’s this painful lifelessness to the music that makes it incredibly difficult to get any sort of emotional impact out of it. The musicianship, production, and writing all feel so tired and cookie-cutter that personally, I felt almost nothing after listening to it. Even the majority of the song names themselves are blatantly generic! Titles such as “You Love Me ‘Cause I Hate You,” “My Demons,” and “Bleed the Pain” are beyond stereotypical, and the music itself doesn’t help matters any. Lacuna Coil’s age really seems to be getting the better of them, with their music’s severe lack of energy and creativity weighing their craft down tenfold.

To be fair, however, this isn’t to say that the album doesn’t have a few glimmers of light to it. For an example, the pre-chorus melody in “Broken Things” does bring about this gloomy, potent ambiance that the record is clearly trying to conjure up, courtesy of the guitars and vocals. The choruses in “The House of Shame,” “Delirium,” and “You Love Me ‘Cause I Hate You” wield decent hooks as well; Cristina's voice is especially smooth and elegant in these particular scenes, and it really helps dish out the music's emotional weight. I just wish the rest of the album held at least just as much energy and emotional atmosphere; it's heart-breaking to see what could have been an impressively dark and ambient piece instead come out so tired and toothless.

In addition to that, one of “Delirium’s” key saving graces are the vocals. Both the male and female vocals clearly have more energy put into them than the guitars and drums. Andrea Ferro’s vocals also holds up quite well, an example being in “Broken Things,” where his roars immediately set the dark tone for the track, followed by Cristina’s softer but no-less potent singing to help carry the music’s bleak and somewhat industrial atmosphere. Although they’re not enough to make up for the album’s mountain of flaws, they prove to be a major redeeming factor of aforementioned album, at the very least.

BOTTOM LINE: While “Delirium” fares better than its predecessor, it’s still a very slightly-above-average record at best. At its worst, it comes off as bland and ordinary, and that's sadly the realm the album dwells in the most. Granted, there are some moments of emotional power and noteworthy writing, but those don't happen often enough for them to make up for the rest of the album's exhausted pallor. Lacuna Coil’s fire is dangerously close to burning out for good, and it’s going to take a giant leap forward in order for them to be able to stand the test of time for much longer. Until then, maybe if you’re a serious fan of the gothic or alternative rock genres and are very forgiving and tolerant, this might be worth a shot. Other than that, it’s not awful, but there are so many other releases out there that are more deserving of your time; I’d give this one a pass.

“Delirium” was released on May 27, 2016 on Century Media Records.


REVIEW: Rotting Christ - Rituals


Greek metal giants Rotting Christ formed in Athens back in 1987. Over the decades, they have gained a massive following, with records such as “Theogonia” in 2007 and “Aealo” in 2010 being hits among audiences. Later on, 2016 would witness the release of their twelfth full-length album called “Rituals.”

Rotting Christ is a band unlike any other I’ve heard before. A few years back, my older brother showed me two of their songs, “Aealo” and “Enuma Elish.” At first, I didn’t think much of them, since they were a bit too unpolished and somewhat unorthodox for my taste. Over time, however, aforementioned songs began to grow on me, and I became very interested in what they had to offer. I would eventually write a review for their previous full-length “Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy” back in 2013, praising it for its uniquely raw and theatrical sound. So naturally, when I found out the band was releasing a new album early this year, I was very interested in hearing what they were putting out next. What I found is that “Rituals” not only surpasses any of the band’s previous efforts, but it also may be the best record to grace this year.
Upon my first listen, what immediately struck me about it was just how enormous it sounds. This is thanks to both the musicianship and the sound production. For the former, elements such as the warrior-like incantations and vocals in “In Nomini Dei Nostri” and “Apage Satana,” the marching drums and percussion (Especially in songs such as “Ze Nigmar” and “Kom Om Pax”), the soaring guitar riffs, and so on, make for this grandiose aura that few bands I’ve ever listened to could achieve. Other bits, including the haunting bagpipe melodies in “Tou Thanatou” and the intense shouted chants in “Elthe Kyrie” by theater actress Danai Katsameni, push things even further, adding more to the album’s highly epic atmosphere.

As for the sound production, "Rituals" also stands tall and heavy in how it’s mixed. Courtesy of frontman Sakis Tolis and producer Jens Bogren (Katatonia, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Draconian), both the vocals and instruments sound incredibly meaty and resonant. To elaborate, they’re very tight, solid, and have an incredible amount of punch to them. At the same time, however, they also have an incredible amount of ambiance to them as well; as previously stated, everything in the record sounds huge, and because of that, it’s easy to become wrapped up in the music's environment in just the first few seconds of listening (Which is pretty much what happened to me). Both the instrumentation and sound mixing work together perfectly to make for a formidable powerhouse of atmosphere and brutality.

On top of all that, "Rituals" also proves to be not only cinematic, but quite blood-pumping as well. For instance, it opens with "In Nomini Dei Nostri" making its entrance through an intense vocal chant ("Hail Pan, Hail Lilith, Hail Na'ma...) before exploding into a maelstrom of blistering guitar riffs and blast beats. It grips the audience instantaneously and gives off a perfect first impression for what they're in for. The steam doesn't stop there, however; tracks such as "Kom Om Pax" and "Elthe Kyrie" are especially exhilarating with rapid-fire pacing and ferocious musicianship. Songs like these would be great to play during some huge, medieval battle due to how large-in-scale and darkly invigorating they are.

This isn’t to say that the more slower-paced tracks aren’t just as empowering. Songs such as "Ze Nigmar" and “Apage Satana" are the forerunners of this point. Both songs, though clearly distinct from one another, do follow a similar speed and structure; they have a steady, march-like rhythm that comes off as very ominous and no-less explosive. For the former track, the bending guitar notes help give the song this rather sludgy vibe to it that lays the atmosphere thick on the audience. As for the latter, the ritualistic chants and percussion definitely give it this tribal-like environment, coming off as both intimidating and compelling. This proves the album's great sense of dynamic and power, which is a key aspect of what makes it such an impressive effort.

Another important characteristic of “Rituals” is its impressive sense of simplicity. In an interview with Outburn Magazine (Issue #83, to be specific), Sakis Tolis said that “[he] tried to express [his] feelings with fewer riffs and paid special attention to atmosphere.” The songs aren’t overwhelmingly technical in how they are written, but they are no less deep and effective. Each song has few riffs and a rather steady but progressive structure, but are still very dynamic and exciting both as individual tracks and as a whole collection of tracks. The music’s power lies in its ambiance and instrumental prowess and layering, and that’s all the record needs to deliver its effect.

For an example, “Kom Om Pax,” as stated earlier, begins as a rather slow march composed of steadily-paced drums, vocal choirs, and almost doom-like guitar riffs. The chaos, however, really hits over a minute into the song, with the remaining time occupied by a whirlwind of chanting vocals, blast beats and chugging guitars. That’s really the song’s structure in a nutshell: It starts off slow, but soon shifts into a much faster velocity. There’s no sort of overly complicated writing to the track, but here’s the thing: It doesn’t need it, just like all the other songs here; its incredible detail and ambiance are more than enough to carry its weight. I always admire it when an artist, band/musician, etc. can achieve an emotional effect using little, and Rotting Christ is a shining example of that.

BOTTOM LINE: “Rituals” is a phenomenal album in pretty much every facet. It utterly dominates in terms of both vigor and atmosphere, and the musicianship, production, and writing all pass with flying colors. Each song has something different and stimulating to offer, but as a singular piece, they work off of one another greatly, making for a very dynamic and impressive release. It's definitely an easy contender for album of 2016, and anyone looking for something raw, epic, haunting, and all-around empowering will no doubt get their fix here. “Rituals” is a musical triumph.

"Rituals" was released on February 12, 2016 on Season Of Mist.