Acherontas – Faustian Ethos (Formulas of Reptilian Unification Part III) (2018) REVIEW

Occult black metal devotee Acherontas (Nikolaos Panagopoulos), like so many black metal musicians inspired in the early 90’s, harbors no fear of the unexplored and never overthinks his output to the point of tedium. Each of the project’s seven full-lengths offers a divergence from the expected and ‘Faustian Ethos’ is perhaps the least expected movement since their inception. In forming Acherontas in 2007 Panagopoulos shuttered his previous project Stutthof and carried Legion of Doom guitarist Demogorgon along for the first Acherontas album. Sensitivities arose in mainstream sects of black metal around that time, as they’ve likewise arisen more recently, and though Acherontas had worked with NSBM oriented musicians and record labels in the past the project is apolitical and focuses on occult mysticism and ancient philosophy. I know it doesn’t matter to most folks but, I think this type of misconception is too often blinding to folks who are better off reading tabloids instead of listening to black metal music.

My dedication to this band’s discography has been fairly inconsistent despite attempting to listen to every black metal release from Greece possible. I only caught onto their sound with their ‘Ruins of Edom’ split EP with Nightbringer. The two bands complimented each other so well that it was an incredible surprise for 2012. Each group has their own grasp on orthodox black metal’s semi-melodic intent and Acherontas has a characteristically epic and ominous sound that never lacks in the details. I’d more or less unknowingly entered into the band’s spiritual exodus of the early 2010’s that saw the band incorporating irreligious sentiments and an examination of society’s most abhorrent addiction in the form of manifest destined religious domination. I more or less worked my way backwards in their discography starting with ‘Amenti – ​​Ψαλμοί αίματος και αστρικά οράματα’. As a result my frame of reference for Acherontas‘ sound begins with one of their more confident and stylized performances.

The ‘oriental’ and middle-eastern melodies and classic Greek black metal style of ‘Amenti…’ prepared me to expect this as their gimmick in sound but in fact, as I said before, Acherontas has the mind of Týr and sets out to explore and absorb influence from every dark corner of the world and thusly reflects upon most every album differently. The early thread of personality as Acherontas began was chaotic atmospherics, pretense, and tremolo-picked aggression that centered around mid-to-fast paced melody. Their 2007 album ‘Tat Tvam Asi​-​Universal Omniscience’ had a cavernous production sound and a style that ventured from ‘symphonic’ black metal epics to sweeping melodic black metal riffing. Re-staffed and reborn, aggression was the focus on ‘Theosis’ in 2010 and it remains one of my favorite Acherontas releases for it’s pure ‘guitar album’ feeling and clear production that does not lack in terms of atmosphere. Each record since has given a high concept treatment to obscure occult spirituality and while I personally don’t always understand what the hell they’re conveying I have come to expect a certain consistency and epic feeling from Acherontas across seven full-length releases and about as many split releases. Some of my preconceptions are justly subverted on ‘Faustian Ethos’.

For all of the praise I’d toss at this project’s first four full-length release most of them feel scatter-brained and I’m not sure they struck gold until ‘Ma-Ion (Formulas of Reptilian Unification)’ with their strong use of ritual ambient sections. The restful moments enhanced the already epic style of orthodox black metal they’d been perfecting. At 70+ minutes it was too much of an album but the follow-up ‘Amarta अमर्त (Formulas of Reptilian Unification Part II)’ in 2017 remedied most of my complaints with a shorter playing time while also dropping some of the quieter moments. I honestly bought the album for it’s cover art and don’t find myself listening to it often because no one part of the experience draws me back in the same way their ‘Amenti – ​​Ψαλμοί αίματος και αστρικά οράματα’ album did when I first discovered the band. So. in approaching their seventh album ‘Faustian Ethos’ I made a concerted effort to avoid comparing Acherontas to Acherontas as ‘Faustian Ethos’ was touted as a bit of a departure from their previous efforts.

Listening to roughly seven hours of a black metal band’s output to prepare for their latest full-length can sometimes be completely irrelevant and that is the risk that I take being so thorough in my research. Essentially all I gleaned is that the spoken-word sections are perhaps less frequent here than the last couple Acherontas records. The conceptual and lyrical focus shifts towards the Western world of philosophy and Faust as a muse is exceptionally relevant as humanity devours itself, for it’s own sake, around us. The main reason that ‘Faustian Ethos’ appears so soon after ‘Amarta अमर्त (Formulas of Reptilian Unification Part II)’ pertains to both being written/recorded within relative unison and kept separate for theme and style. At a very base level the album sounds like Acherontas but does not resemble their previous albums. It does function as the end of the ‘Formulas of Reptilian Unification’ trilogy and is technically titled ‘Faustian Ethos (Formulas of Reptilian Unification Part III)’.

The introduction of Lychgate drummer Tom Vallely into the fold does in fact give the album an entirely different sound. The stripped-down approach to instrumentation doesn’t rely on ritual ambient sections, keyboards, or otherwise for interludes or distraction. In this sense the seventh album from Acherontas is their most orthodox production, yet strays far from predictable composition. The strangely crawling, almost pensive atmosphere of the record is almost instantly in effect as the spoken/whispered sections in each song echo above snaking black metal riffs. Some influence of classic rock/metal guitar work inserts itself into every song, I’m not sure if this is a different inspiration or due to the inclusion of Indra from Naer Mataron on guitars, but the lead guitar work is perhaps the best part of ‘Faustian Ethos’.

What frustrated me out of extended listening spells was absolutely the spoken word sections of the album. I found myself stymied by their unimaginative rhythm guitar work and the effect clashed terribly with stronger purist black metal tracks like “The Old Tree and the Wise Man”. It is only really problematic on the title track and part of “Decline of the West – O Iereas kai o Tafos” but I am always at odds with an album where I have to skip a song in the middle. It is a relatively small issue that only demarks 15% of the album’s overall statement and “Sorcery and the Apeiron”, “The Alchemists of the Radiant Sepulchre”, “Vita Nuova” and “The Old Tree and the Wise Man” resurrect 90’s black metal so beautifully that the album is saved in my mind by it’s high concept and occasionally sharp riffs. I’d love to have seen the classic rock/heavy metal guitar work take even more precedence but I appreciate the relatively straight forward approach from Acherontas on this record. I’m not sure it will blow newcomers away but long-standing fans and followers should find worth in ‘Faustian Ethos’ sizable deviation from expectations.

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Artist Acherontas
Type Album
Released May 18, 2018 [Europe] | May 25th, 2018 [North America]
BUY/LISTEN on Agonia Records Bandcamp! Follow Acherontas on Facebook
Genres

Rising with tremor and trepidation. 3.5/5.0

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