Book VI of Virgil’s Aenid tells of the river Acheron, where the unburied dead roam the shores and beg Charon to ferry them across the tumultuous muddy waters to reach the underworld. A staple in ancient Greek culture, it was dubbed the River of Woe in early mythology, named the River of Hades in Homeric poems, and described by the encyclopaedic Byzantine Suda as “a place of healing…cleansing and purging the sins of humans.” Acherontas, along with founding and sole original member Acherontas V. Priest draw their name from a small, now-defunct Greek municipality named after the legendary river, and deliver a record of near-mythical proportions on their fifth full-length Ma IoN (Formulas of Reptilian Unification).
Like Virgil and Homeric epics, Acherontas aren’t in the business of keeping things brief, and Ma IoN clocks in at a whopping 72 minutes. Opening with the surprisingly great intro track “Fires of Prometheus,” Acherontas transitions quickly from ambiance to aggression to ambiance again, replete with a short-lived but skin-flaying lead and some excellently unorthodox clean vocals that, true to the forethought signified by Prometheus’ name, aesthetically sets the stage for the band’s entwining vicious second-wave influenced black metal and ritualistic atmospheric movements. Unlike 1349’s “Tunnel of Set,” Acherontas makes use of chimes, tribal-sounding drums, odd wind instruments, and what sounds like a traditional Greek lyre, creating a demented cult-like atmosphere that sucked me in more than Demonoir’s straightforwardly spooky interludes.
Ma IoN gets truly exciting when Acherontas go for the throat with sharp and focused black metal chaos. Incorporating the jangly and twisted riffing that characterized Mayhem’s Blasphemer era, the burly melodicism of Ofermod, and the stunning lead work of classic Dissection and fellow Greeks Deviser, Ma IoN is chock-full of black metal highlights. “The Awakening of Astral Orphic Mysteries – Behind the Eyes of Irida” sees Priest and Saevus H. weaving serpentine melodies that alternate between Hellish, depressed, and oddly hopeful progressions; intentional or not, this reflects the main interpretations of Acheron, and Gionata Potenti’s often blasting drums bring to mind the deep underlying whirlpool of Acheron that Virgil described. “Therionic Transformation” is a massive success, walking the razor’s edge of lethal and melodic with eight and a half minutes of captivating riffs, great leads, and a varied vocal performance that come together to make one of my favorite black metal songs of the last few years, and it would’ve been an astounding finale with its overall quality and powerful end note.
Unfortunately, Acherontas decided to make “Therionic Transformation” the second-last song on Ma IoN, and while actual closer “Orgiastic Feast of Flesh, Beheld Thine Vicissitude” is unsettling, it’s the most ordinary atmospheric song here, sounding like Gnaw Their Tongues covering a “Tunnel of Set” interlude; sadly, this ends Ma IoN with a ghastly and unnerving whimper instead of a triumphant bang. Criticisms aside, it sounds great on a fidelity level, as the dynamic production allows for each chime, string pluck, chant, and drum hit to be heard in the atmospheric sections, and having such an open and dynamic sound is definitely responsible for their immersive nature. The black metal songs sound great too, and being able to make out what everyone was doing at any given moment added to my enjoyment of the record by showcasing the subtleties and depth of each composition.
Acherontas have crafted a long and involved album with very few missteps. The vast majority of Ma IoN’s atmospheric sections are captivating and unsettling and the black metal on display is consistently top-shelf material that’s written and performed with great attention to detail, rewarding close and repeated listens. Give this ritual a listen, you won’t regret it.