Renaissance In Extremis by AkercockeRelease date: August 25, 2017
Label: Peaceville Records
Arising from the shadowy depths of an ill-fated hiatus that stretched into unbearable permanency, comes the great beast that is Akercocke. Extreme music has been mourning the loss of the dapper gentlemen of sin since 2012 and how the hordes have suffered with no release since 2007’s crushing Antichrist. Since their reunion London’s Akercocke have seemingly torn up the Satanic bible and have instead favoured a more progressive direction, no less diabolical but more focused and expansive, whilst keeping that carefully crafted Akercocke sound.
Akercocke have always been daring with their music, but with their returning statement Renaissance In Extremis they have pushed boundaries once more by fleshing out their progressive elements and toning down the bestial death metal of their early days. Before you panic, don’t fear, as genre fans tend to be stuck on what made a band great… or more to the point what ‘they’ thought made a band great, Akercocke 1997 to 2012 are very much alive. Those groove-laden thrashy riffs and Gray’s unforgettable drum rolls and blasts, chilling theatrics and atmospheres and moments of stark harsh darkness and contrasting elegant beauty.
‘Disappear’ is a clear statement of the bands new direction, opening with chaotic speed riffing and dissonant chugs with Mendonça’s unmistakably familiar growls crooning along to the groovy punch of the tune. Midway and that forebodingly dense hum is Akercocke through and through, leading into a soupcon of blast beats and wild solos. The track is a perfect mix of past and present bringing Akercocke out from the shadows with a wicked concoction of prog experimentation and scything blackened metal catchiness.
The opening melancholic riff to ‘Insentience’ is uncharacteristic of Akercocke, but speaks volumes about the direction of the album, with its songs steeped in catharsis and reflecting on human conditions, especially this beautifully written and played track. Thrashy galloping drums followed by mid-paced blast beats stir up the mood but it’s the final two minutes what make this song possibly the albums finest. Scanlan is on fine virtuoso form conjuring up some stunning solos that bring to mind classic rock to match your Satriani’s and Vai’s.
One thing that is abundantly clear is the improvement of production from album five Antichrist ten years previous with mix master Neil Kernon doing a commendable job allowing all instruments to be crystal clear. Applause in fact goes to all players. Joining core members Jason Mendonça and David Gray are returning guitarist Paul Scanlan and new bassist Nathaneal Underwood. The bass is audible and not drowned out like in many records and fits nicely into the tracks with Underwood providing expressive plucks. Jason Mendonça’s wide range of vocals is still impressive and is again one of many album highlights, from his signiture demonic grunts and sonorous spoken vocals to his emotive clean singing, which sounds better than ever. Scanlan’s stunning guitar work has been sorely missed since departing after 2003’s excellent Choronzon and Gray is as ever impeccable behind the throne.
The most ‘Akercocke’ track comes in form of ‘First To Leave The Funeral’ leading with its warped guitar work it, Mendonça’s howling scream soon launches the track into short bursts of blackened death metal and old-school shredding, reminding us of Akercocke at their most brutal. The progressive elements shine, but do not solely define the album as the old beasts are still brutal. Tracks like the Opeth-esque ‘Familiar Ghosts’ and the epic closer ‘A Particularly Cold September’ play on these prog themes and even more experimental music as is especially the case with the latter, with its dreamy and syrupy textures and playful vocals and synths, it may just be their most uncharacteristic yet enchanting track.
I can compare the arrival of Renaissance In Extremis to another album that was released this year after a similar gap, Black Hole Generator’s A Requiem For Terra. I went into that review expecting the album to be a certain way, but came out even more delighted by the change that time and maturity can bring. Renaissance In Extremis has the same effect and the resultant listen is a satisfying one at that. It may take hardcore fans a couple of listens to grow accustomed but I assure you this is down with, if not, Akercocke’s best work.
There are lines in ‘Inner Sanctum’ that read “Anger is just a symptom of the pain. Anger, in which so many years were lost”. I mentioned catharsis earlier, and these two lines sum up Akercocke’s return, where the album acts as an emotive release of the scars of years gone by, dealing with issues such as loss to name but one. With this more ‘human’ feel Akercocke will surely find a deeper connection with their fans.
This is Akercocke free of Satan’s leash, completely unrestrained and at their creative best, and not even a goat sacrifice in sight! Welcome back gentlemen. As ‘Unbound By Sin’ states “It’s been too long, too long away”.