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.
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.
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.
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”.
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…”.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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