Rotting Christ’s basic sound is extremely masculine, even by metal standards. It’s precise and regimented. The band is in lock step and fit to fight. Even when they bring in contrasting elements, like reed pipes or female vocals, their warrior stance doesn’t flinch at all. The vibe on Aealo is inclusive— “Come, do battle with us. Together we are stronger.”
The opening title track is a mad rush of sound that reminds me of Hüsker Dü’s "New Day Rising" with its four-on-the-floor momentum. The wailing female voices add a disorienting twist that transforms the track into something truly novel. Above all, no matter how elegantly they’re constructed and adorned, songs like “Eon Aenaos” are catchy. Every last detail has been honed, right down to the guitar solos, which show some serious time invested in composing them rather than being tossed off to fill obligatory solo space. It’s impressive that the guitars are frequently playing three or four different lines at once, yet nothing is lost or muddled. I wouldn’t accuse Rotting Christ of “grooving,” but when they hook up the wah-wah pedal on “Demonon Vrosis” it’s hard not to get ensnared by the rhythms they lock into. “Noctis Era” is the album's ultimate anthem, with its Celtic-sounding guitar harmonies (you could play them on a tin whistle) mixing with band leader Sakis’ desperate screaming and “hoo! ha!” gang chants in the background. The guitar riffs are so simple that a beginner could pick them up. This all may sound like it’s a dumbed down play for accessibility, but there’s nothing dumb about it.
Guests contribute to the Rotting Christ arsenal. As co-vocalist on “Thou Art Lord,” Alan Nemtheanga is in his element. The track is the sort of battle-ready, passionate metal that his band Primordial trades in. Nemtheanga’s commanding voice provides a nice foil to Sakis’ rasp, making the track an album highlight. Diamanda Galas adds half-spoken vocals to a metal arrangement of her own “Orders from the Dead.” Some listeners may be turned off by her domineering incantations; others may find the track an impressive, imposing album closer.
I’ve never followed Rotting Christ’s career too closely, but I’ve gained a new appreciation of them via Aealo. Their eleventh release is a superb piece of work full of deadly intent, craft, and a cunning mix of elements, and I’d believe anyone who says it’s their best album to date.