Over the past decade Acherontas has become one of the more prominent names in Greek black metal, owing this to a more ritualistic and dense approach that incorporated ambient passages as well as the frequency of released material. There has been a full length from the group every few years, with 2020’s Psychic Death - The Shattering of Perceptions serving as their eighth overall. Where some of the mid-period efforts like Ma-IoN (Formulas of Reptilian Unification) incorporated a significant amount of ambient into its sprawling hour plus material, in recent years Acherontas has noticeably focused more on its black metal roots and doubled down on aggressive and atmospheric riffing. While this effort doesn’t drastically reinvent the band’s playbook, it does provide some of their strongest hooks to date and proves to be more diverse than your average black metal album of this type.
There is still a healthy dose of atmosphere that feels like it’s going to sweep you away into murky darkness and a distinctively Greek sound to the guitar leads, but quite a bit of Psychic Death recalls some of Acherontas’ earlier efforts with how aggressive it is. The first two tracks pick things up quickly and burst forth with monstrous instrumentation that seeks to overwhelm you with dense blasting and regularly changing ideas that provide natural twists and turns as you make your way through. It’s an approach that works in the group’s favor this time around as the immediate blast to the face draws you in, and the later melodic touches that drive many of the songs forward provide lasting hooks that will keep you coming back. Acherontas hasn’t completely done away with spoken word or ambient breaks, but they’re a bit more condensed this time around and V. Priest seems to have channeled these elements separately with his Shibalba project in recent years, leaving the primary focus here on the harsher and otherworldly riffs. It takes a few songs before the melodic elements start to kick in, and when they do on the title track you’ll notice the way they flow outwards has a bit less in common with dark ambient and more in common with 70s progressive rock. Both this song and “The Offering of Hemlock” provide some of the most entrancing and mysterious melodies this group has offered to date, letting them linger for just the right amount of time before launching right back into aggressive instrumentation. Admittedly it may not deviate significantly from what Acherontas has channeled all along, but the leads stick with you and the two halves equally explore mellower and haunting textures alongside the usual violence and jagged edges of the genre.
V. Priest’s vocal style has reflected the same contrast between the harsh and melodic aspects of the instrumentation throughout each of the band’s albums, and with the clarity to the production on recent efforts it’s allowed his voice to absolutely tower over the recordings. For the uninitiated, the vocals initially come through as raspy growls where each word cuts like a well-sharpened dagger but quickly open into shouts, chants, and spoken word sections that amplify the thick atmosphere considerably. While the softer, spoken word elements were a point of contention for some on the group’s longest albums, here everything feels compact and never stretched out further than it needs to. Every element to the performance feels calculated and suited to whatever speed the rest of the band is going, and the amount of variation between the pitches gives a lot more depth than is typical for black metal.
For me Acherontas has been one of those bands where particular songs stood out and the overall ritualistic and murky atmosphere was appealing, but whole albums have never fully clicked. This time around that changed and despite spanning almost an hour in length the material provides plenty of twists and turns that give each song an identity of its own. While the melodic flourishes on the later tracks really set things apart, even the more straightforward black metal songs early on have strong enough riffs to stand out in their own way. Coming through as a truly refined listen that enhances the strengths of the band’s previous efforts, this is another noteworthy effort in a crowded year. Psychic Death - The Shattering of Perceptions is available from Agonia Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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