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Acheron's debut, "Rites of the Black Mass" (released in 1992) is almost universally considered the magnum opus of Acheron's discography, with the band's limited (yet dedicated!) fanbase often hailing it as a minor classic of the Florida old school death scene, and perhaps an early antecedent of the "blackened death metal" subgenre. A lot of metalheads will probably complain that the music sounds simplistic and ultimately pretty dated in it's execution (mostly with the "intro" tracks), and I must admit that I was a little underwhelmed when I first heard the album as well...I was expecting something truly evil and depraved, on the level of "Onwards to Golgotha", "Acts of the Unspeakable", or the first couple Deicide albums. I have to be honest, though...compared to those albums, on the "creepiness" factor this album is on the same level as one of those plastic Halloween decorations you buy at the dollar store which has a smiling ghost saying "BOO!" or whatever. That said, I wouldn't say it's a "goofy" album or anything (well, not the songs at least...), and it's actually quite evil in it's own way. I guess it just appeals to the ear in a more direct manner, in-your-face and powerful. Don't expect some kind of ultra-pretentious, nihilistic, shit here...this is just really good headbangin' music...hard, fast, & heavy!
Much of this album exists at two paces. You've got your fast-paced tracks, like "To Thee We Confess" & "Prayer of Hell", which resemble early Death (or maybe "Where No Life Dwells"-era Unleashed?) with a nice aftertaste of old school (black metal-era) Bathory or even Venom. The other pace is your slower numbers, like "Unholy Praises" & "Ave Satanas", which will remind the listener of Obituary with maybe a little "Morbid Tales"-era Celtic Frost sprinkled on top, for good measure. But perhaps the most interesting, are the parts of the album that exist in the middle, which are actually sort of difficult to describe. The three longest tracks on the album, namely "Thou Art Lord", "Cursed Nazarene", and "Let Us Depart", are slightly less heavy, and more powerful and anthemic in nature, you may even pick up on a light (and I do mean light) sprinkling of classic heavy metal here, just with how these songs are structured and how they come together. "One With Darkness", for example (sort of an in between the slow and mid-paced style), combines an Obituary-esque riff with a rhythm which will remind the listener of something like Venom's "Countess Bathory" or Unleashed's "The Immortals".
Musically, don't expect any stellar musicianship here. Everything on this record is competant musically, but nothing awe-inspiring, except for maybe Vincent Crowley's quite excellent vocal work, this being his peak performance if you ask me, with some very powerful, deep demonic death grunts. The other two members on this album, are Pete Slate on guitars, and Jim Strauss on drums (who coincidentally I just met in person the day before writing this review). Both are very talented musicians, who sadly only ever appeared on this one Acheron release. Both have a pretty straight-forward, balls to the wall-style, but are also able to show off their talents, for example Pete performs a number of pretty decent guitar solos spread throughout the disc, like the one in "To Thee We Confess". What you can expect instead of flashy musicianship, are simply really powerful songs. "Thou Art Lord" in particular, has every right to be the signature song not only for Acheron, but for blackened death metal in general, it's so catchy and anthemic. "Unholy Praises" is a fucking monster, the first riff would easily devastate and burn any church beyond recognition. "To Thee We Confess" is a pure fucking rager, and features some vaguely second wave black metal riff/chord structuring throughout. The only real weak link is "Ave Satanas", and even that isn't really a bad track in any way, it just features a main riff which feels like "diet Autopsy" if that makes sense.
I think the real elephant in the room, when it comes to this album, are the interludes. It's likely inspired by Pestilence's masterpiece from the previous year, "Testimony of the Ancients"...but less artistic, and more...uhhhh....yeah. Basically each one consists of some "eerie", ambient keyboard melodies with some pitchshifted, Satanic sermons on top of them. Some are cooler than others, and none of them are really "bad". Honestly, I don't really find them annoying either, as none of them are particularly long (the longest is like 1:25 or something), and they do attempt to build up a sense of atmosphere which isn't really present in the actual songs (the production is excellent, but it could benefit from something a bit more raw and darker). At best, they are a fun, slightly campy addition that enhances the 'experience' of listening to this CD as a whole. At worst, they are just kind of silly sounding and, of course, easily skippable.
All in all, I consider "Rites of the Black Mass" to be an essential, classic death metal album. It's something that all death & black metal fans should have listened to, at least once, because I feel like this album helped define what would go on to become "blackened death metal". It does seem to be somewhat polarizing, with some people really not liking it...which actually surprises me. Sure, it's maybe not as musically advanced as bands like Malevolent Creation, Death, or Morbid Angel (or even Obituary, honestly), but that's not what it's aiming for. It hits hard as a combination of classic death metal, with some touches of first-wave black metal, and it fucking rules. As I said earlier, don't expect some life-changing epic masterpiece for which you can write a lengthy pseudo-intellectual essay about it's "nihilistic qualities" or whatever. This is just a fun, powerful, brutal death metal CD, and should be treated and expected as such.
Bands like Acheron are a mystery to me. Do the guys really want to be taken seriously? With regard to the endless adoration of old fellow Satan, the band seems to be very narrow-minded. To name your work "Rites of the Black Mass" is no excuse for stupid lyrics, even though you can refer to the more or less strict (and senseless) concept. The "diabolic" intros border on parody and the relatively primitive song structures do not display an overdose of creativity. I am not against a certain quantum of primitiveness, by no means. But this work lacks more or less completely of any other features. Acheron are not able to deliver surprising breaks or charismatic vocals and the predominantly lame drums seem to be the natural enemy of dynamism. Especially the vocals fail to add value to the songs. The barking cough of the so-called lead singer is predictable and expressionless, not to mention the ridiculous spoken words sequences. The guitar leads leave me cold as well. Not least due to the absence of stirring riffs, the band does not distinguish itself from the legions of competitors.
One might think that the ten intros are the main problem of the album. Do they damage the flow of the full-length? Of course. But I am willing to turn a blind eye to this shortcoming while trying to accept this configuration as a part of the album's concept. One might also think that the flat and emotionless sound is the greatest weakness of "Rites of the Black Mass". But far from it. No doubt, the lacklustre production has nothing in common with my idea of a lively sound. Even the intros are not able to create any kind of atmosphere. Anyway, this album is a debut and I do not see a reason to hate newcomers for a bad sound. Finally, one might think that the group's shitty "ideology" (a big word for their lyrical bullshit) drives the album into the ground. Admittedly, I cannot understand their "poetic" (another big word) approach. But I am able to ignore this nonsense. What has really turned me against this record is the non-existence of compositional ideas. Acheron just wallow in their stupidity and do not realize that almost each and every song is just some kind of tediously structured noise with absolutely interchangeable lyrics. Songs like the slow-moving, uninspired "Ave Satanas" or "One with Darkness" - try to avoid its squeaking solo - work like an overdose of sleeping pills.
Long story short, this band has no clue and I am almost speechless. I have absolutely no idea why this amateurish album was released. One song of a mediocre band offers more ideas than this work in total. However, if you cannot stand the masochistic temptation to make yourself familiar with this collection of throwaway tracks, you should lend an ear to "Summoning the Master". Despite the noisy solo, it is slightly better than the other tracks and does not completely lack of inspiration. But do not expect a good song.
I've still got pretty vivid memories about Acheron from the earlier 90s, still in my teens, how they were supposed to be this totally evil death metal band attached to the Church of Satan who were writing some of the most insane shit out there. More than one acquaintance had made a recommendation of their debut Rites of the Black Mass, citing it as the most extreme thing since...Deicide. Once I was finally able to get my paws on the JL America issue of the debut, I learned better, because for all its pure intent and purpose, this album is actually quite unintentionally lighthearted due to the decision to alternate hammy, narrated ambient or symphonic pieces between each of the metal tracks...
Don't get me wrong, where it counts, this is a decent death metal effort with a solid old school tone, but it's hardly the harbinger of the apocalypse that I had expected. Bassist/vocalist Vincent Crowley was a former Reverend in the Church of Satan (and I mean 'former', he hasn't been involved with that scene for some time now), so the messages behind the album were influenced by Anton Szandor LaVey, and taken quite seriously by the author. Keys were provided by Peter H. Gilmore, another diabolist involved in such circles, and you've got the requisite Enochian Key-like chants (some Latin, some English) which sound as if they've been pitch-shifted down. These are probably the cheesiest thing on the album; even if you get used to them after many repetitions, they still render the Satanic themes into something of a cartoon cliche, and ultimate negate some of the menace Rites might have otherwise attained. Coupled with the pretty average Luciferian praise in the lyrics, the album doesn't read as if it's got much more depth than Venom or Deicide, it just sort of wears its concept boldly on its sleeve and then never does much interesting with it...
As for the intros and interludes themselves, I rather enjoyed the the mixture of infernal organs to a more perturbing, psychedelic use of ritualistic or martial sounding synth pads that Gilmore brought to the album. There's a fairly stark contrast against the meatier, straightforward death metal content, but as someone who revels in old videogame soundtracks, formative ambient works and other atmospheric records I've got no problem with the lo-fi sounds involved. As for how they 'flow' with the harder tracks, that is certainly a bone of contention, for they rarely provide much of a compliment or transitory motion to the work as a whole. As a result, it feels more like an experimentation akin to Pestilence's Testimony to the Ancients and its jazz fusion interludes: consistent in of themselves, but not so much with the death metal content. You could play all 10 of these in a row and they'd give you about 10-12 minutes of apocryphal ritual horror you might have expected from a cult 80s flick, good for a gag, but they're not really necessary. I could picture hanging a speaker out my window and then trolling the trick or treaters and (especially) their parents with these, but I'm not exactly 16 anymore.
Rites of the Black Mass has since earned a bit of a 'black metal' tag, but apart from a few of the snarled vocals (which are likely more influenced by Deicide and Carcass), the association is nothing more than a thematic and lyrical one, since musically what we've got here is pure death metal with a few traces of doom relegated to specific riffs. I guess if we're to consider the Czech band Root black metal, then it's not such a big deal to speak the same of Acheron. Aesthetically, the two bands share a lot in common, but when it comes to the actual construction of the riffs, I was generally reminded of early Floridian peers like Death and Obituary, or perhaps some Autopsy and Master. Very vile, simplistic tremolo picked sequences and chord progressions are used to good effect, but you can also hear a metric fuck ton of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost influence in pieces like "One With Darkness", where they churn out those deadened swaggering chords, or some Sabbath/Candlemass groove to "Ave Satanas".
There's quite a variety in terms of pacing and architecture, and all the metal cuts are decent, even if they were hardly unique in their day. The production isn't quite pristine, but it's decent for Morrisound in the early 90s. There's a slightly muddy tinge to the guitars which creates this potent miasma of darkness but holds up even when the notes hit higher registers. Lead passes are quite sporadic and creepy throughout, even when they risk a bolder melody. The bass is very much audible, plugging and pumping away with a fat Faustian tone, but it generally sticks to the same note patterns as the guitar. Drums on this were contributed by James Strauss, who has since gone on to perform with the Pennsylvanian band Sathanas in the 21st century; basic, charging rock rhythms complemented with a few double bass rolls, this record is hardly going to win an award for the extremity of the beats, but since it's not a very fast or complex creature, such weren't required. As for the vocals, Vincent had a timbre comparable to Tardy, Van Drunen, or Reifert if a little more blunt and less grisly; again, nothing remotely unique, but there are occasionally some snarls, rasps, and deeper gurgles to add another layer of repulsion, and Mike Browning of Nocturnus also shows up for some backing barks.
In retrospect I'm surprised to say that this is probably my favorite of Acheron's recordings. The band has meddled with other ideas and slightly altered its sound since the early 90s, but I find Rites of the Black Mass to bear an authenticity to its composition that is still pretty fun to break out once in a blood moon. It's nothing exemplary in terms of how they've put together the songs, but with 20 tracks (half intros, half metal) there is quite a lot to digest, and if you can get over the silliness of the narrator during the interludes then you'll find a kindred spirit to Slowly We Rot, Severed Survival, Scream Bloody Gore, Master and The Rack, only spiced up as if it were the soundtrack to some long lost Hammer Horror flick. It wasn't written or played for laughs, that much is certain, and though I have a healthy respect for The Satanic Bible and some of the philosophical motives behind it, I just can't help cackling at how over the top it seemed (and still seems).
Being a close follower of death metal during the 87-92 days I also got my hands on this album. It featured none other than ex-Nocturnus member Vincent Crowley so I had no doubts about the purchase. All in all I must conclude all these years later that it is a funny little album but far from memorable.
Acheron presented us straight forward death metal with hints of Master/Deathstrike and a hardcore punk attitude towards simplicity and drive. Like those other Americans Deicide the lyrical emphasis was on satanism instead of gore. The term ‘blackened’ is a newbie term so I will not use it. In those days this was just satanic death metal. And in fact it still is.
The album is more about the message and intensity than it is about musicality and nuances. Don't expect something similar to Nocturnus!
The simplicity of the album is slightly corrected by the use of intros between all the songs. While in essence this seems a good idea it also tends to break the albums dynamics just like Pestilence’s Testimony of The ancient. The album could have done with only half of the intros really.
The vocals are very generic but do the trick. The session players Slate & Strauss play their parts with ease (it is obvious they can do a lot more than this) so the album does not sound forced.
Yet, because of the very ‘decent’ clean production the aggression of the material suffers and the simplicity of the songwriting becomes too obvious. The album could surely have done with a more brutal sound. Vincent Crowley is one ugly motherf**ker and this album should have been just like that.
In conclusion: this album is not what it could have been. And it came two/three years too late to leave a real impression on the scene.
The funny thing is Acheron had stronger demos then their debut would have you think. The Acheron demos evoked a dark emotion through the riffs and overall song writing (which reminded me of Morbid Angel at times).
Instead, Rites of the Black Mass attempts (and for the most part fails) to create a dark atmosphere with ambient and satanic chanting tracks that often, if not always, feels disconnected and out of place. While the meat of the song writing is very average simplistic Death Metal at an average pace. The riffs are at times catchy, but mostly wonders in circles like a wounded animal. Sure the solos here and there bring some life into a otherwise uneventful album, but solos do not make a Death Metal album. Rites of the Black Mass's problems also are compounded by the dry and tame production. The vocals are not as powerful and evil sounding as, lets say, Altars of Madness or Dawn of Possession... not even close.
What the album does offer is Satanism and more Satanism. Baphomet check, inverted crosses check, occult lyrics check and double check. Vincent writing is the strong point and he is a knowlegeable source of LaVey(an) Satanism, but this is not a book review. The main draw for most people interested in Acheron is the imagery and content. Under all of that lies some average sounding Death Metal with some underwhelming production values. Rites has its moments, but you are better off with Acheron demos or some of their later albums.
These guys look like a hair metal band, but they play crushing early blackened death metal?
Who the heck is JL America/Turbo Records anyhow?
My first impressions of this one by Florida's Satanic death metal masters Acheron.
There are several things which make this album uncomfortable to most modern death metal fans. Beyond the above sentiments, of course. First, and probably chief of these, are the intros by Peter H Gilmore. All synergy with the Church of Satan aside. These scattered bits of ambience by Gilmore are, more or less, there to set the tone of the concept. Not a difficult concept. An actual - CoS approved - black mass set to record.
Acheron represents in this, an early blackened death metal band writing anthems reiterating the concepts of the ambient portions. Tuning and defining them further.
When I got this album back in 1994 it was entirely different. Sure you had bands like Possessed, and the Norweigan black metal scene at this point had sort of run its course. Though none of the bands that preceeded Acheron had done the devil's music with so much honesty.
Perhaps the second blow for Acheron. Nothing here is built on pure fantasy. Sure it sounds a lot like Deicide in many respects. Deicide pulled lyrical concept from movies like Evil Dead *"Dead By Dawn"*. Most other bands at the time tried not to come off as being preachers. Even within the extreme metal genres. Acheron, on the otherhand, ARE here to be preachers. This is as close to a Satanic gospel record as there is out there.
This concept is a bit difficult for the more "mainstream", heavily christianized conscience of the death metal crowd. This is true as much in those times, as it is today. Acheron's "Rites Of The Black Mass" finds itself more at home among fans of black metal than death metal for that reason as well.
The openly Satanic stance, made all the more punctualized by Crowley's involvement in the CoS. The dirty guitars. Which seem to be almost formless, untill the bass and drums shape them into a chaotic, at times droning, frenzy. The Deicide style vocal. Most notable on tracks such as "Ave Satanas" and "Thou Art Lord". Topped off with a dirty production that isn't the worst out there, but dirty nonetheless.
The schtick here works almost like b-grade horror. Which is to say, something that's so inherently wrong about the proceedure gives it its own unique attractiveness.
From the opening moments of the first intro, to the closing final notes of "Let Us Depart" this album stands and falls on its own merits. Though it's never boring. Unlike many of their peers, and indeed unlike the albums which would follow this one.
When the pinnacle of a bands career is the first album, perhaps that's a hard sell. Though, this deserves attention, as well as praise.
Any one of these things may be a detractor for other bands. Here, they are all working together to form a cohesive voice for Acheron. Something that is missing on the later albums. It personally retains the same kind of death metal mastery that Deicide's early work did. Highly worth the price to seek it out, or find it for download it before you buy it. Either way, a great work that's sure to get under your skin - for better and for worse.
I prefer the early demo material to this album, but this is still some great Satanic Death Metal. No it is not "brutal", yet has an evil atmosphere both by production and structure. Want great production listen to some (c)rap metal band. Death Metal should be dark dirty and possessed!!! The speed of the album varies and the vocals are not guttural but mostly dry, deep, and shouted. Nothing in “The Rites...” is ground breaking but that does not mean it is not good. There are several tracks of cult gatherings and summoning that are descent and add a demonic touch, though not necessary. If you crave cult satanic sound then this is a moderate dose of it! Sorry... no devastating riffs or mind blowing song writing, but good morbid (prod) atmosphere, intentional or other wise.
Unfortunately Acheron has become parody of it self. Stupid gimmicks like; vampires and sex has made the already plastic sounding new albums even worse! Early Media attention over the satanic connection of the band has gone to Crowley's bald head and has made the music take a back-seat to trends. Another Death Metal band that should have called it quit$$$!!!
This is the first full length of cult Satanic Death Metal legends Acheron. I managed to score this gem in a trade for Akercocke's 'Goat of Mendes' album, at first I debated whether it was actually a good trade or not, but 5 years later I am quite certain I got the better end of the deal.
'Rites Of The Black Mass' is a prime example of early 90's American Death Metal, it's taken me a long time to form a solid opinion on this release but these days it sits high with some of my most treasured albums. This is straightforward death metal, recorded in a raw sounding fashion which the typical Death Metal fan would probably dislike. Of the 20 tracks present, only half of them you could consider "songs", the remaining ten are pieces composed by Peter H. Gilmore I believe, reminding me of a Black Mass in a late night B Grade film.
Onto the music here, the album is mostly mid paced with some slower doom-esque sections. Most tracks are only built on a few riffs, and structured in 4:4 fashion, which can be a bit draining after repeated listens. The songwriting reminds me alot of Immolation's 'Dawn of Possession' album at times, which is surely a plus for Acheron. Vocalist Vince Crowley has a distinct, yet monotone, voice for this type of music, quite good, but let's face it , he's certainly no Glen Benton. The drum production could've been better in my opinion, the kicks are a bit "pitter patter" sounding, the actual playing however is very competent.
A special mention goes to the second last track "The Enochian Key", a great piece with some truly diabolical vocal work.
(Re-written 16th July 2007)
The bad: this album has 20 tracks in total, but only 10 are the normal death metal you expect to hear. The other half is composed of bad ambient tracks that don't do much for me, so the hell with those.
What this album has for praises to the Master and general Satan worship, it lacks for general songwriting abilities. The riffs can be classified into three cathegories: fast trem picking, slower open chords riffs and even SLOWER doom-ish passages. Despite having very slow riffs, this ain't Black Sabbath. The riffs aren't powerful, nor crushing, nor devastating. They are dark, yes, but they don't kick your ass mercilessly. It doesn't help that this album has one of the weakest guitar tones i ever heard. No high end, and the low end is blurry, ending up sounding like wind passing through a pipe.
The good: fortunately, this album has a competent lead guitar player that throws a cool solo every once in a while, without relying almost completely on whammy bar masturbation like most modern brutal death metal do. And there are some good sounding riffs every once in a while, but those won't come frequently. Highlights? "To thee we Confess" and "Prayer of Hell" are the better, but that really doesn't say much. Even if you like death metal, you must approach this with caution.