Full length number 19 from overkill certainly makes a splash in the energy stakes, I mean there's some modern thrash bands that are a good two decades younger than Overkill who can only hope to achieve the levels of spunk that New Jersey's finest produce here. That in itself is an achievement, for a band of Overkill's stature and reputation to be able to still sound relevant four decades into their career is no mean feat. Even in the albums weaker moments it never gets redundant and the energy levels remain high. There's a real sense of a band in a state of some renewed vigour, helped in no small part by the addition of Jason Bittner on drums. The former Flotsam & Jetsam skinsman is nothing short of superb throughout "The Wings of War" and seems to have squeezed a little extra out of the rest of his peers.
The album kicks of with a great build to opening track "Last Man Standing" and for the first 4 tracks of the album the Overkill crew stomp, bash and groove their way to a solid level of consistency. The lead work is of particular note and Blitz sounds as sneery and scathing as ever. The album is well produced and mixed too with all parts of the thrash machine audible as the five piece hammer away at your skull with the usual blend of chugging riffs and infectious anthems.
There are weak moments as mentioned but they are more a victim of how good the strong tracks are. In it's own right "Distortion" is a solid enough - if not slightly varied a journey from the last offering - but it just doesn't stand up well against a "Bat Shit Crazy" or a "Head of a Pin". As the album draws to a close you get the increasing impression that the last few tracks are rescued really by some great solos and stomping skin work which is a shame because trimming of a couple of tracks may have made this less obvious.
It is fair to say that the Greek stalwarts of the Black Metal scene now have a sound that rarely ventures into the territory so well tread on "Thy Mighty Contract" and "Non Serviam" but it is also fair to say that "The Heretics" sounds from start to finish like a band who firmly stamp themselves on the metal map for 2019. What album number thirteen from Rotting Christ does is take a measured approach to variation and repetition to build a memorable and lasting experience.
The sound itself goes from dark and brooding metal and hard rock to almost Gothic metal proportions. Yet at the same time that familiar melodic warmth remains in situ throughout. More often than not there's that big soaring melodic riff riding the vocals like a surfer with his board. "The Voice of the Universe" does this superbly as does "The Sons of Hell". The overall feel the record as a whole leaves me with is one of ritualistic allure, tracks like "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and "Fire God and Fear" build well like powerful incantations being cited from voluminous tomes, flooding forwards intermittently with flowing dark melodies.
It does remind me a lot of Behemoth ("The Satanist" Behemoth, not last years pompous bollocks Behemoth), with the theme of religion so heavily referenced but at the same time it feels like a much more cohesive effort than recent Behemoth keeping a level of consistency and restraint to the songwriting which holds the attention well. Only once does the album visit anything like Black Metal on "I Believe", here they base a poem by Nikolaos Kazantzakis at the centre of the chaotic and frantic pace and sadly it fails miserably on my ears, coming across as just filler. My only other criticism is that it does get a bit samey in places (namely the intros to each track). Otherwise it is a perfectly respectable piece of dark metal. C'mon, we can't this black metal anymore folks.