Thursday, February 5, 2015

Acherontas - Ma IoN (Formulas of Reptilian Unification) (2014)

Hellenic black metallers Acherontas have yet to waste my time with any of their full-length records, yet I'd be hesitant to claim that they'd fully knocked one out of the park. Until now. Efforts like Theosis and Amenti flirted with greatness, but Ma IoN (Formulas of Reptilian Unification) immerses us within a fully realized, matured sound that offers paeans to both the gnarled, grisly black metal tradition and the occult atmospherics that have long lingered in the eaves of celestial darkness that populate their discs. To wit, it's not a massive stylistic departure, rather just a refinement of those present contrasts in the earlier material, but a damn good one. If it seemed like there was this ceaseless tirade of quality amidst the Greek scene in 2014, with killer sophomore albums by newish bands like Thy Darkened Shade, Hail Spirit Noir and also a career effort from the legendary Varathron, then this quintet of extremely seasoned musicians has seen fit to 'extend the reign', perhaps not on that same level of dominance, but extremely close...

The two deciding factors on why I enjoyed this more than their other albums are just how far they've come along with the ambient components and frisky leadwork, the former imbued with all manner of raw percussion, vaporous swells and pads, brooding chants, articles of ethnic antiquity. The solos in tunes like the intro "Fires of Prometheus" are just amazing, slicing and frivolous exhibitions of chaos that remind me of death metal cult classics like that first Nocturnus album, only embedded within chord progressions that are purely black metal circa older Bathory, Mayhem, Marduk, etc. There is a constant, unhinged feeling throughout the record due to the abusive charisma of vocalist Acherontas V. Priest, whose garbles and grumbles function both when they're straightforward and ugly, and also bouncing off the vaulted ceilings of the recording thanks to some tasteful reverb. Many of his lines might fall within the same wheelhouse of structure and tonality, but I found it nearly impossible to predict what syllables he was going to spit in any succession and thus the album, while possessing a solid rhythmic backbone, feels fresh and sporadic (not unlike that latest Varathron).

Riff phrases are nearly as psychotic, shifting between banks of turgid, bleak chords and flightier ascensions into tremolo pickings to accompany the blasts. Percussion is everywhere on this disc, from thundering toms to hissing cymbals and it all contributes to a sense of this black vortex which does a service to the excellent, alluring cover art. Bass lines swerve and cavort among the sickly coupling of the beats and guitars. But what's better, once the band segues into this completely dusky, ethnic piece like "Convolut-ion, Manifestat-ion, Secret-ion, Karma-Iravatl the Thunders Emerged" it really fits into the patchwork nature of the ritualistic concepts. I was ensnared by every single dark ambient distraction on the entire effort...even when they're placed back to back like "Permutations in the Aetheric Void" and "Shaman and the Waning Moon". Fortunately they'll often toss of a few of the grimier black metal rasps or whispers in among these to keep the experience coherent.

Now, I'll be honest, I haven't the fucking clue what the band is on about most of the time...the '-ion' suffix gimmick is an interesting one that had my head reeling. I am just not ancient enough. I know it scares me, and I would not want to be abducted by these guys while I was on a summer vacation in Crete or Mykonos or somewhere. Is this entire album just one massive love letter to the Gorgons? A serenade for the serpentine embodiment of the Medusa? It certainly turned me to stone, no easy feat when you consider that with 70 minutes of material this could very easily have gone off the rails. Oh, it does, it does so with pride, all the while plummeting with a cackling joy into the Underworld it longs for. At times calming, at times frenzied, a night storm sweeping across the Aegean, the best of Acherontas yet.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

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