Renaissance In Extremis

Akercocke

Today’s offering is from London-based black / death metal band Akercocke. The group was formed in 1997 with an initial line-up featuring guitarist / vocalist Jason Mendonca, guitarist Paul Scanlan, bassist Peter Theobalds and drummer David Gray.

Akercocke – Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene

Debut album “Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene” (1999) nailed the act’s colours pretty firmly to the mast with its mix of brutal death metal style riffing mixed with eerie horror interludes and a distinctly Satanic theme in the lyrics. The album didn’t boast the best production in the world so suffered somewhat from a muddy sound.

Akercocke – The Goat Of Mendes

The approach on second album “The Goat Of Mendes” (2001) was to refine things musically whilst ramping up the erotic content of the still- Satanic lyrics and the end result was a definite improvement on the debut. It was 2003’s “Choronzon” that first got me listening to Akercocke. This was a quite simple brilliant album, showing more progressive tendencies whilst still being chock-full of heavy riffing and yet more eerie interludes and film dialogue samples.

Akercocke – Choronzon

By now the band had a rising profile and were notable for being a black metal band who were dressing in suits rather than studs and corpse paint while hanging out with nubile lovelies – as perfectly demonstrated in their video for album highlight “Leviathan”.

The Devil Rides Out

To me that visual approach, together with the Satanism and sexuality of their songs gave them an air of having stepped out of a film such as the 1968 Hammer classic “The Devil Rides Out”. Despite what this might suggest, back in 2001 they’d given an interview in which they’d discussed their Satanism at length, saying that they weren’t “…preaching Hammer Horror Satanism…”.

Akercocke – Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

That same interview contained quotes from both Mendonca and Gray stating “….this band is all about Satanism, there could never be a non-Satanic Akercocke song…” (Gray) and “…no Satanism, no Akercocke…” (Mendonca). This is significant when we come to the new album. Before we get to that though there were a further two studio releases from the group in “Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone” (2005) introducing guitarist Matt Wilcock in place of Scanlan and “Antichrist” (2007) seeing Theobalds replaced on bass by Peter Benjamin. Both albums continued with the same subject matter and both showed further progression musically – though I do retain a fondness for “Choronzon” over all of their initial five albums.

Akercocke In 2007

The band essentially disappeared off the radar for the best part of the next decade, with only sporadic gigs followed by a period of practically no information surfacing prior to the band’s official breakup in 2012. Subsequently Gray issued new music under the banners of both Voices (with Benjamin on guitar) and The Antichrist Imperium (which also featured Wilcock).

Akercocke – Antichrist

Then, nearly ten years after “Antichrist”, came the news that Akercocke were reuniting – Mendonca, Gray and Scanlan together with new bassist Nathanael Underwood and keyboardist Sam Loynes. Gone are the suits and so is the Satanism (so much for “no Satanism, no Akercocke” eh?! ). Hmm…

Akercocke In 2017

First track “Disappear” begins furiously enough before transforming into a brief lighter mid-section and then back into the metal again. The musicianship is top class from all concerned, and Mendonca’s vocals take on a number of approaches throughout the record.

Highlights for me include “Unbound By Sin”, “Insentience” and the excellent closer “A Particularly Cold September”. This is recognisably Akercocke – less dense and brutal than the first few albums, certainly more death metal then black metal in style, and with the progressive elements again more evident – but Akercocke nonetheless. And on the musical front it is most definitely a success. Lyrically I’m not so sure.

Jason Mendonca

I gather that Mendonca struggled massively with mental health issues during the band’s time away and the track “One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin” references his moving on fro that bleak period into more positive waters – and this has clearly fed into his songwriting in a big way, with a lot of positive phrases to be heard on this album. I do, I most confess, miss the out-and-out Satanic wordplay that adorned their previous work but that doesn’t stop this record from being a very high quality progressive death metal release. Welcome back Akercocke…

“Renaissance In Extremis” tracklist:

1. Disappear / 2. Unbound By Sin / 3. Insentience / 4. First To Leave The Funeral / 5. Familiar Ghosts / 6. A Final Glace Back Before Departing / 7. One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin / 8. Inner Sanctum / 9. A Particularly Cold September

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Thrice Woven

I’m listening to quite a bit of extreme metal at the moment, partly getting myself in the zone ahead of the forthcoming Winterfylleth gig in Cardiff that I’m attending, but also because there are a number of significant recent and imminent releases in this area.

Wolves In The Throne Room

In the near future I will be wrapping my ears around new albums from Enslaved and Electric Wizard, whilst on rotation at the moment are those from Cradle Of Filth, From The Dead, Myrkur, Satyricon, Leprous and Akercocke as well as the one I’m looking at today – “Thrice Woven” by American black metal act Wolves In The Throne Room.

Nathan Weaver & Aaron Weaver

The band was formed sometime in 2003 by brothers Nathan Weaver (vocals / guitars) and Aaron Weaver (drums / bass / keyboards) together with Nick Paul (guitars) in Olympia, Washington State – an area bordering the Pacific Ocean and Canada, and which is also rich with National Forests and Reservations.

By the time debut album “Diadem Of 12 Stars” saw the light of day in early 2006 Paul had been replaced by guitarist Rick Dahlin, who also appeared on second album “Two Hunters” (2007). Album number three, “Black Cascade” saw Will Lindsay taking Dahlin’s spot, but then the next two albums were performed entirely by the Weaver brothers. That said, there was some vocal assistance from experimental singer Jessika Kenney on 2011’s “Celestial Lineage” (as there had been with “Two Hunters”) and some supporting musicians on the experimental ambient style follow-up “Celestite” three years later. Sabbath Assembly singer Jamie Myers has also provided some vocals for the band over the years.

Kody Keyworth

Now, with guitarist Kody Keyworth joining the brothers (having previously served as touring musician), the band are to back to black metal with their sixth studio album, the aforementioned “Thrice Woven”. Guests on this one are Swedish singer Anna Von Hausswolff and Neurosis frontman Steve Von Till.

Anna Von Hausswolff

Wolves In The Throne Room do not take the traditional (or perhaps more accurately, the stereotypical) approach to black metal. Not for them does black metal entail the wearing of lots of black, with corpse paint makeup and all songs played at high tempo utilising masses of tremolo picking (although there is still plenty of the latter technique to be heard). That’s not to say, however, that the music is not intense – it is, but as part of an overall rather epic soundscape. The band themselves put it on their website their approach is to “…re-imagine black metal as an ode to rain storms, wood smoke and the wild energies of the Pacific Northwest…” 

Steve Von Till

The inspiration behind the band’s music, according to Aaron Weaver, is “the idea of uncovering the occult or the spiritual or the energetic reality of place. Being deeply connected to a place and creating music and art that rises up out of a landscape…” In this respect there are distinct parallels, I feel, with acts such as Saor, Fen, Altar Of Plagues and Winterfylleth. This is atmospheric black metal rather than what I’d think of as more progressive black metal, more akin to the approach of those mentioned above rather than, for example, the likes of Ihsahn.

Metal Hammer – Subterranea

I don’t recall how exactly I got into this particular band, but it was about three years ago I think. I suspect, as with many acts that are unlikely to get much exposure via the airwaves – even via dedicated rock stations – it would have been either via Metal Hammer magazine’s “Subterranea” section that highlights extreme metal artists or as a result of reading up on one such act and finding mention of another that I’d not yet experienced.

Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestite

Regardless, I have over that period of time become pretty well acquainted with the band’s back catalogue, enough that I was pretty excited when I heard that “Thrice Woven” was on its way (especially as it was a return to their black metal roots after the not entirely convincing left-turn that was “Celestite”). So, now the album’s here and I’ve had a few days to immerse myself in it, how does it stack up?

Wolves In The Throne Room – Born From The Serpent’s Eye

Pretty well, truth be told. The album’s opening number “Born From The Serpent’s Eye” begins gently enough with a folk-ish sound until the frenetic drums and tremolo picking kick in after around thirty seconds. The songs fairly barrels along then until the 4:24 mark when it abruptly stops (as does the official video). Then, after a brief pause the ethereal vocals of Anna Von Hausswolff appear, singing in her native tongue (I think) until just after the six-minute point when the band re-enter with a huge, almost doomy, riff as the track builds before the guitars fade and give way to Von Hausswolff and expansive keyboard sounds as the song floats away after nine and a half minutes.

Imbolc Fire Display

Second track “The Old Ones Are With Us” is ushered in with narration from Steve Von Till. “Winter is dying, the sun is returning, ice is receding, rivers are flowing, the ground will be fertile, the seeds they awake, the ploughs will be charmed, fires are burning, the offerings are given, the old ones are with us, we are becoming…” he tells us over some acoustic guitar, monk-like chants and the sounds of a crackling fire before the band come in with a slow-paced number that relates the story of the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc, which marks the end of winter and start of spring. Von Till returns to sing briefly during an acoustic interlude halfway though proceedings, and this is a much more sedate and even anthemic sounding track than the preceding one.

Fenris Wolf (As Depicted In The Movie Thor : Ragnarok)

“Angrboda” is, at 10:02, the second-longest song on the record and sees the return of the tremolo picking approach. Named after “… a frost giantess who birthed Fenris Wolf, a beast who was destined to destroy the world and murder the gods…”. The track fades into a completely different vibe after the first five minutes or so with a deep rumbling under some very slow single note synthesizer work before the heaviness of the group is reinforced with another huge riff section. This leads to a sudden finish before the sounds of the sea and air introduce Von Hausswolff’s second appearance in the brief “Mother Owl, Father Ocean” – again sung in Swedish.

Pacific North West Coast

Finally, track five (the longest on the album at eleven and a half minutes) is the rather grand “Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon” which, after over nine minutes of ferocious black metal, gives way to the sound of the mighty sea for the final two minutes of the record. The lyrics apparently “…offer blessings to the waters of the earth as they flow from the high places to the source of darkness, the ocean…” The thing with this kind of music is that often the lyrical content is indecipherable unless you have them written down so the music has to do its job of taking the listener to where the artist wants them to be. “Thrice Woven” as a whole just does that. It may not be stylistically much different to the band’s previous black metal albums but it still feels like an evolution from those which went before. Given that the group is so concerned with the natural world I guess that’s the perfect way for their music to be.

Wolves In The Throne Room Live In 2017

There will be more boundary-pushing releases, and those that are more challenging than this one, but if you’re looking for one that will transport you and paint pictures in your mind then you could do far worse than checking out “Thrice Woven” – truly atmospheric black metal…

“Thrice Woven” tracklist:

1. Born From The Serpent’s Eye / 2. The Old Ones Are With Us / 3. Angrboda / 4. Mother Owl, Father Ocean / 5. Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon

Maria Wants To Be Friends. But Maria’s Dead. Isn’t She?

“1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there’s more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what’s known to Maria – or whoever’s pretending to be her – is known to all…”

The most recent book that I’ve read is “Friend Request”, the debut novel from British author Laura Marshall a book that is a probably best described as a psychological crime thriller.

The tale is told almost exclusively from the perspective of Louise Williams. In 2016 Louise is a forty-something divorced interior designer living in a flat in London. Mother to four year-old Henry, she’s still wrestling with some latent feelings for her ex-husband Sam and has a very small social circle – best friend Polly being just about it. When she receives a Facebook notification that someone wants to be friends with her she is utterly shocked as that person, fellow schoolgirl Maria Weston, disappeared during their leavers’ party in Norfolk back in 1989, presumed drowned having fallen from a cliff edge near the school.

What makes the request even worse for Louise is the fact that ever since that night she has felt guilt for her role in Maria’s disappearance. Now Maria is back – or is she? If not who is it really and what do they want?

Laura Marshall

Louise reconnects with her best friend at school, Sophie Hannigan, through Facebook, to find out if she’s also had a friend request from Maria. Sophie, along with Sam and his pal Matt were the only other people who knew what Louise had done on the night of the leavers’ party.

An imminent class of ’89 reunion gives the reluctant Louise chance to try to discover what’s going on, but if the meantime she gets ever-more creepy Facebook messages from Maria and she begins to really feel the stress of her guilty secret more than ever…

The action switches between 2016 and 1989 as we slowly uncover the layers of secrets and lies that have affected everything since Louise’s final months at school. In between there are occasional streams of thought from an unknown source, describing the relationship between a male and female – though the identity of those concerned doesn’t become clear until the climax of the book as there are a number of possible candidates.

Marshall has written a vivid and compelling story which touches on themes including peer-pressure and bullying at school, the nature of distant and superficial “friendships” via social media with those we haven’t seen for many a year and how we view / they present their lives as well as how well we can ever truly know anyone and whether, at heart, everyone is really just looking out for themselves – even within intimate relationships.

In some ways reading this book reminded me a little of “Weirdo” by Cathi Unsworth, with the flitting backwards and forwards from present day to school days and the particular pressures of secondary school life. That said it a very different tale and one that’s been told very effectively. Highly recommended reading…

Solennial

Sophie Day

A recent musical discovery for me has been West Midlands-based doom metal outfit Alunah, via their latest album “Solennial”. The band was formed in 2006 by vocalist Sophie Day along with her husband David Day (guitars), Jake Mason (drums) and Andy Barnett (bass).

Alunah In 2008

Barnett had been replaced by Gareth Imber by the time the group’s debut album “Call Of Avernus” was recorded and released in 2010 and was to appear on second album “White Hoarhound” (2012) as well before departing and being himself replaced by current bassist Daniel Burchmore. “Awakening The Forest”, the band’s third album, surfaced in late 2014.

David Day

March 2017 witnessed the release album of number four, the aforementioned “Solennial” – the groups’ first with label Svart Records (home of Trees Of Eternity and Jess & The Ancient Ones amongst others). The record was recorded at Skyhammer Studios by producer Chris Fielding who has previously worked with artists including Winterfylleth, Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Electric Wizard.

Jake Mason & Daniel Burchmore

As with so many bands within the doom metal scene, Alunah clearly take inspiration from a fellow West Midlands act – the rather well-known Black Sabbath. However, whilst other groups of their ilk are content to use said inspiration as a template from which they seldom deviate Alunah have over the course of their previous three records sought to expand their own sonic palette.

Alunah In 2014

“Solennial” begins with a gentle and soothing “The Dying Soil”, as a cascading guitar part and barely-there drums lay a backing for Sophie Day’s delicate delivery of lyrics concerning the transition from Autumn to Winter. This introduction gathers in eerie intensity until coming to an abrupt conclusion as the fuzzy guitar tones of David Day usher in “Light Of Winter”, a song that shows the band’s pagan leanings as it concerns Alban Arthan – a Druidic festival at the Winter Solstice.

Alunah Live In 2017

“Feast Of Torches”, the second longest track on the album at a little over seven minutes, has more variety within its duration. This, and the vocal delivery brought to mind the sound of Blood Ceremony to me. This is underscored really by the psychedelic passages that occur throughout the album.

Thornborough Henge

“The Reckoning Of Time” has a fluid and melodic guitar solo amongst some nice light and shade before the monolithic riffing returns with the fabulous “Fire Of Thornborough Henge” – a song inspired by the fire festival of Beltane being celebrated at Thornborough Henge, a monument in Yorkshire spanning built approximately five thousand years ago.

Alunah In 2017

The next number “Petrichor” (which means the earthy scent produced with the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather) is another track with a nice balance of light and shade but is itself eclipsed by the rather good “Lugh’s Assembly” which addresses some Irish mythology concerning the pagan God named Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu who seems to have also been Queen of the Fir Bolg. Whatever the story it’s a great tune!

The Cure – A Forest

Finally we have a cover of “A Forest” – originally recorded by The Cure way back in 1980. The intro riff here is a slowed down version of the original which retains a gothic rock quality but that quickly gives away to doom riffing at funereal pace and a masterful reinterpretation of a song that – as with many of those preceding it – is concerned with the natural world around us, specifically forestry, and ancient lore.

David Day & Sophie Day

Performance-wise, the drums and bass of Mason and Burchmore are perfectly suited to this material, underpinning everything with unfussed economy, with the spotlight falling onto the two Days with the huge riffs providing a great counterpoint to the often ethereal quality of the lead vocal delivery.

Doom metal certainly isn’t for everyone, but Alunah’s sound is undoubtedly at the more accessible end of the spectrum with the aforementioned comparison to Blood Ceremony indicating that they are closer to that band’s doomy psychedelia than, say, the heavy intensity of Electric Wizard and I believe that most metal fans would find a lot to appreciate with this record…“Solennial” tracklist:

1. The Dying Soil / 2. Light Of Winter / 3. Feast Of Torches / 4. The Reckoning Of Time / 5. Fire Of Thornborough Henge / 6. Petrichor / 7. Lugh’s Assembly / 8. A Forest

It Was Their Worst Nightmare. Now It’s Their New Home.

“A young woman wakes up in a cold, dark cellar, with no idea how she got there or who her kidnapper is. So begins her terrible nightmare.

Nearby, the body of another young woman is discovered buried on a remote beach. But the dead girl was never reported missing – her estranged family having received regular texts from her over the years. Someone has been keeping her alive from beyond the grave.

For Detective Inspector Helen Grace it’s chilling evidence that she’s searching for a monster who is not just twisted but also clever and resourceful – a predator who’s killed before.

And as Helen struggles to understand the killer’s motivation, she begins to realize that she’s in a desperate race against time…”

The most recent novel that I’ve read (just finished, in fact) is “The Doll’s House”. This is the third book in the crime thriller series starring lead detective DI Helen Grace from London-born author M.J. Arlidge, and follows on from “Eeny Meeny” and “Pop Goes The Weasel”.

I must confess that I’m falling behind the author a little here, as he has already had books four, five, six and seven published – so I’ve got some serious catching up to do at some point!

MJ Arlidge

When I read the second novel I felt that the standard has slipped slightly from the debut, so I’m glad to say that overall I think the quality has improved once more with “The Doll’s House”. That’s not to say that it’s perfect. As the book raced to its conclusion we found our heroine in a life-or-death situation that had distinct echoes from “Eeny Meeny” and aspects of Grace’s internal battle with her superior officer were again somewhat familiar.

In addition, some of the sub-plot stuff relating to the Southampton-based police officers’ personal lives, just didn’t really grab me – oh, and we are still no closer to finding out what happened to the character Robert from the previous book, despite the suggestion that we may get somewhere with that during the story.

On the plus side the baddie is convincing and his motivation – which takes some time to uncover – is believable for a clearly damaged individual with the issues described. Also, the clever way in which he manages to keep his victims “alive” after he has dispatched them is a neat twist that one can imagine being all too easy to replicate in this day and age where folk can conduct that majority of their communications via text and social media platforms.

Despite the above-mentioned reservations I found the plot of the story to be very good and the delivery of it generally very good too and so would recommend it to previous readers of the author’s work and other fans of good British crime fiction…

It’s Not The Size That Matters… It’s How You Use It

A few evenings ago my wife and I watched “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”, an action comedy film from director Patrick Hughes (“Red Hill”, “Expendables 3”).

Ryan Reynolds

At the beginning of the film we meet bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds – “Criminal”, “Self/Less”) – a man at the top of his profession until one of his clients is assassinated right in front of him…

Gary Oldman

Two years later we find the International Criminal Court in The Hague conducting the trial of the dictator of Belarus Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman – “Child 44”, “JFK”). Witnesses are being killed off and the prosecutions hopes of conviction rest of the evidence of an imprisoned hitman.

Salma Hayek & Samuel L. Jackson

Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson – “Django Unchained”, “Kingsman : The Secret Service”) is the notorious hitman in question and agrees to testify in court, in exchange for the release from Dutch prison of his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek – “Americano”, “Everly”).

Elodie Yung & Ryan Reynolds

Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung – “Gods Of Egypt”, “G.I. Joe : Retaliation”) is tasked with leading the convoy taking Darius Kincaid from England to the Netherlands. When the convoy is attacked en-route – in Coventry, no less – only Kincaid and Roussel survive and, realising that there must be a traitor within Interpol, the agent calls her ex-boyfriend Bryce to protect Kincaid and get him to The Hague to testify…

Samuel L. Jackson & Ryan Reynolds

The movie has some decent action sequences and enough tension when required but the main attraction here is the comedy. The chemistry between Reynolds (with some priceless facial expressions) and Jackson is spot on with some very funny lines and scenes and it is this that really makes the film such an entertaining experience. Hayek gets to swear at her prison guards – and everyone else – a great deal, but her role is definitely that of support, as are those of Oldman and Yung. No, the stars of the show are without doubt those two adorning the movie poster and they definitely lift this film. Reviews for the film seem to have been routinely poor, but for us this was a very well-spent two hours viewing…