Acherontas still struggle to shake off a questionable legacy (not helped by calling your previous outfit after a concentration camp) but nonetheless have managed to position themselves at the centre of the occult black metal movement with an output that has been increasingly adventurous as it has been persistent. Never content with half measures, the band – which describes itself as a coven – is a collection of individuals that comes together with front man Acherontas V Priest to produce a sound that is far more exploratory than the average black metal album, etching sounds that sometimes take on an otherworldly aspect. Even more so with their last album, which was almost a prog stretch too far for me, and while I’m not averse to a bit of spoken-word epicness, drilling down into mystic black metal is where it’s at and where Faustian Ethos picks up the reins.
In fact this is without doubt Acherontas’ most rabid and intense work to date – and perhaps even its best. A whirlwind of sound that leaves the plodding Hellenic 70s guitar work of last year’s Amarta eating dust. The ferocity of the first two tracks reminds us that this is a black metal band to its core as the coven (including members of Devathorn, Macabre Omen, Lychgate and Naer Mataron and with Rotting Christ guitarist George Emmanuel on mixing and mastering duties) takes on the task of raising the pressure to eyeball-bleeding levels. There’s no doubt the spell has also begun to be cast, but it’s when third track Aeonic Alchemy breaks in that the pressure valve is released just enough to introduce some subtlety into this latest adventure. By the time the title track arrives just before the halfway mark, with its drugged-out, heathen, orgiastic liturgy, it feels dangerously like this latest album may have delivered its climactic payload too early.
I read somewhere that this Faustian Ethos was produced from tracks laid down while making the previous album – which presumably took a different path in the final cut by the sound of this. Nothing sounds more unlikely than to suggest these tracks were the result of overspill, however – quite the opposite, in fact. The final four of the eight tracks sees Acherontas at its claustrophobic and blasphemous best – belting out its unholy sacrament with sheer blissful abandon. Penultimate track Decline of the West – O Iereas kai o Tafos is the only point that Faustian Ethos threatens to descend into the kind of functional ceremony that the previous two albums could be argued to have indulged themselves in a little too much. In fact the only criticism I’d have of this is that it takes fewer risks than some of its predecessors despite its glorious song writing. The latter being very much in evidence in the sombre and soaring final track Vita Nuova which signs off with the lingering feeling that Acherontas have unleashed something truly special here.
Whatever you read into the concept of the Faustian Ethos (and there are some sadly screwed up theories out there in bonkers internet-land about the European birthright and the hunger for knowledge) there is clearly a strong identifier for the Acherontas project. According to Goethe at least, the Faustian theory is that in order to learn and develop fully, we have to flirt with ideas that may be dangerous otherwise it’s all a bit pointless because we never really challenge anything or anybody and shy away from the really important questions. But all the while, we also need to ensure that we hold on to a ‘higher purpose’ or all hell breaks loose. Faust’s pact with the devil is only really triggered when he gives in to evils deeds.
I think, in this case, we can forget the ‘higher purpose’ in the traditional sense. But, whatever else they might be up to, Acherontas albums are clearly sublimely ritual in nature and their religious affiliations are hardly open to question. In that respect, I can appreciate the boundary transgressing nature of black metal which brings into question doctrines many take for granted. What we do know for sure is that Faustian Ethos is a full-on occult black metal spell that may even make you wonder if there is something to this wicked spell weaving stuff the band spouts. There are some undeniably mind twisting moments here that could be interpreted in many ways but doubtless prove once again that Acherontas is an uncompromising black metal force carving its own path.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)