Review: Sakis Tolis ”Among The Fires Of Hell” [Metal Hammer Records]

Review: Sakis Tolis ”Among The Fires Of Hell” [Metal Hammer Records]

- in Reviews

(Don’t) Sleep the Sleep of the Angels just yet!

I’ve admittedly not been too pleased with the more recent song collections of the mighty Rotting Christ, as their rather monotonous, ritualistic, almost barbaric approach to riff- and songwriting these days hasn’t exactly turned out to be my cup of tea. Adding to my neglecting stance, the increasingly obvious regurgitation of earlier riffs and lead melodies has been diluting the new material with strong feelings of “haven’t I heard this before, but better” throughout their last three releases. Still, with the announcement of mastermind Sakis Tolis’ solo debut album came excitement, especially since he was promising a return to a more gothic-tinged sound color, taken out of Rotting Christ’s highly creative mid-era.

My subconscious, lurking fear that this was going to be a lesser clone of Sakis’ main band had all but vanished by the time the third single was released on YouTube and after hearing Among the Fires of Hell in full, I can safely say that the raging fanboy of old writing this review has since been all over these new tunes.

Sakis’ ideas present here are definitely at home somewhere in the timeline between their 1996 blackened gothic masterpiece Triarchy of the Lost Lovers and 2002’s thoroughly experimental Genesis record. Both his guitar riffs and leads evoke the spirit of earlier material, touching the tail-end of the classic Hellenic black metal era (“Dawn of the New Age” and “Ad Astra” in particular feature guitars delightfully close to Non Serviam and the aforementioned Triarchy…), neatly woven together and tightly packed into modern production clothing, while his vocals and songwriting take many cues from A Dead Poem and its immediate follow-up Sleep of the Angels, albeit with fairly streamlined song structures reminiscent of classic gothic rock, complemented by a rather simplistic but powerful drum performance – courtesy of Nightfall’s current drummer Fotis Benardo – which is the only element that does not feel like it has a connection to Rotting Christ due to the more rock-oriented layout.

Among The Fires of Hell goes beyond just honoring the past though, since the lyrical tone is kind of philosophical, at times even articulately uplifting and self-empowering, positive vibes shining through the heavy fog of the current turbulent and depressing state of the world. Each song starts or ends with citations or emotional statements, delivered by either Sakis or guests which is a nice little detail that is not usually prevalent in Rotting Christ’s music. Also, “My Salvation” has more actual singing within a single song by Sakis than I’ve ever heard in his entire career and he does it very well, his typical Greek accentuation only further solidifying the impact of his voice – more of that in the future, please!

Still, you shouldn’t be diving into this one expecting a whole new musical affair, for reasons I told you previously (this was meant to be kind of a throwback-album, at least its general direction) but also because Sakis hasn’t managed to shake off riff recycling and repetition entirely. Some of his guitar work sounds a lot like the familiar ground which can be a bit irritating, assuming you are a big fan who knows most of his material by heart, but it’s executed so well that it can hardly be considered a major flaw. Repetition is only a factor in the closing track “Silence” which could have used a bit more than just two riffs and a couple of further fleshed-out vocal patterns for a greater impression.

Flaws aside, Among the Fires of Hell features a set of compositions that completely hold their own, walking tall alongside some of Rotting Christ’s best material of the late 90s and early 2000s.. Above all, Sakis’ debut solo effort simply shows us once again who’s been the mastermind of Rotting Christ all along, as well as him being a living cornerstone of Greek metal as a whole throughout the last three decades. Don’t ever stop!

Score: 88/100

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