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Renaissance Men - 67%

Hellbent, May 20th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Peaceville Records (Digipak)

Despite their neverending and understandable popularity, a reunion is a tricky proposition for many bands. Metal’s capacity for nostalgia, and sometimes backwards-looking tendency means that the clamour for well-regarded bands to reunite rarely dissipates, and even increases over time. Max Cavalera and Andreas Kisser will never stop being asked about the prospect of bringing the ‘classic’ Sepultura line-up back together, even if the mostly mediocre output of both men since the mid-90s suggests that it would be unlikely that they would produce anything even approaching the godlike brilliance of Beneath The Remains or Arise. Similarly, a Pantera reboot would in all likelihood be hugely popular, despite the fact that 50% of the band, and probably the most integral 50%, are sadly no longer drawing breath. While a sub-section of their fanbase might be caught up in debating the validity of any claim to the name on the part of Philip Anselmo and whatever posse of hired hands he deigned to employ, the band themselves would be surveying such conversation from the upper reaches of festival line-ups across the globe. Translating a live reunion into new music is even more difficult, with perhaps only Celtic Frost, Cirith Ungol and Autopsy springing readily to mind as unqualified successes in recent years. The potential pitfalls of recording new music after a significant hiatus are legion, and even allowing for the initial excitement generated by the return of a classic band, many acts fall into a spiral of diminishing returns, even if the music itself stands up to scrutiny, as seems to be the case for the likes of At The Gates and Death Angel, to name just two of many bands that have reformed this century. Too slavishly following a template set down years or decades before runs the risk of a band becoming their own glorified tribute act, while failing to recapture the magic that was originally created by a certain set of circumstances that can no longer exist. Conversely, wholesale sonic revolution may be successful, and position a band as more relevant in relation to current trends, but it is more liable to alienate the very people that have been pinning their hopes on the reformation in the first place, as well as, in the eyes of some, tainting a legacy, or at the very least painting it in a different light. There is a reason why Emperor have been playing live for a decade since their original disbandment without venturing into the studio and, while this is an option for the truly legendary, when it comes to bands in Akercocke’s position in the metal hierarchy, there is little chance of living off the proceeds of festival appearances alone. It is against this backdrop that, following their own reconciliation, they reconstituted themselves as both a live act and as one that once again would release new, original music, delivering Renaissance In Extremis as their olive branch to fans disappointed by their dissolution five years earlier.

Akercocke’s previous album Antichrist, which felt at the time like something of a full stop to their career, bearing in mind the tight and focussed nature of a set of songs that consolidated all elements of the band’s sound, while at the same time toning down some of the more expressive experimentalism, was released in 2007. The band fell into inactivity following the touring cycle, and ultimately went their separate ways in 2012, a break-up which eventually spawned the excellent Voices, whose sound bears much in common with Akercocke, even if thematically and aesthetically there are some clear differences. If Antichrist was a full stop, then Renaissance In Extremis is the start of a new chapter, and the possibly overly literal title is a fairly clear statement of intent, albeit one that the album doesn’t quite live up to. While it certainly is a renaissance of sorts, it’s not exactly the exercise in extremity that the band might want you to think it is. Particularly in comparison to their first two albums, which were genuinely extreme in almost every respect, elements of the record feel almost restrained, and certainly less over-powering than the blasting behemoth that made the dizzyingly intense Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene. Let us not exaggerate – Akercocke have not been transformed overnight into Coldplay, but there is something more mannered and calculating about their attack, even if it still contains many of the constituent parts of their historical sound. The wild decadence that once characterised their music, however, allowing them to give free rein to the feral and ferocious part of their personality is no longer present, perhaps now considered by the band as the folly of youth.

If Renaissance In Extremis can trace its DNA into the Akercocke genealogy, the album that it most clearly takes its cues from is their progressive death metal masterpiece, Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone. In some ways this is an enticing development – to this listener at least, that particular album was the perfect expansion of the Akercocke sound, retaining most of the fury and pulverising brutality of their earlier efforts, but also striking out unconstrained into intoxicating psychedelia, post-punk and dazzling technical prog-metal. It is also the most logical step that Akercocke could have taken at this point. Any attempt to in some way recapture and replicate the spirit and sound of the untrammelled ferocity of their debut would seem contrived, whilst pursuing something completely unconnected to their original wellspring of inspiration would call into question the reason for reviving the band in the first place. This connection to the band’s fourth album is obvious right from the spidery opening to the lead-off track ‘Disappear’, before it drops into the thrash-oriented gallop that forms the core sound of much of the record. A brief foray into the kind of seasick dissonant harmonies that they used to specialise in re-animates the corpse of millennial Akercocke, before the latter part of the track alternates between the kind of delicate post-metal that has now infiltrated most sub-genres of metal since Akercocke originally went their separate ways, and the kind of acrobatic guitar work that is more familiar territory for the band. At times, the dextrous twin leads elevate the track to majestic heights, and it is truly a thrill to hear Akercock back in action, but re-tooled in a way that ensures that they remain in at least touching distance of relevance, if indeed that is a concept of any real importance.

As we continue through Renaissance In Extremis, it is apparent that sonically, Akercocke have opted for a much cleaner, and less cluttered production that they ever have before. Although this makes a certain amount of sense, given the increasing reliance on the melodic guitar leads as the driving force of their sound, as opposed to the twisted death metal riffing of old, it does mean that, at times, proceeding veer into slightly sterile territory, and the compelling and other-worldly atmospheres that made the band such a unique proposition are almost totally absent. This is not to say, of course, that there are not still sections of the album that make it an essential addition to the die-hard fan’s collection. ‘Familiar Ghosts’ is mostly magnificent and arranged in such a way that it represents a totally transporting journey for the listener. It’s no coincidence that the track contains probably the most effective use of synths on the album; an insidiously catchy melody gradually building a complex harmonic relationship with guitars that deploy shards of unresolved, hanging chords, while David Gray find new uses for his drum ‘n’ bass inflected drum patterns, before white-hot blasts of chromatic dissonance bring modern Akercocke firmly back into the black metal realm that they used to previously inhabit so easily. In a wonderful juxtaposition of old and new, the closing part of the song then constructs a redemptive and euphoric conclusion from the wreckage wrought by the mid-section, perhaps musically mirroring Jason Mendonca’s own well-publicised mental health struggles during the band’s hiatus. Similarly impressive is the splendid ‘One Chapter Ends For Another To Begin’, which shows that the band haven’t lost their touch when it comes to assimilating newer developments in extreme metal, mining a seam of beatific and uplifting shoegaze against a backdrop of relentless blasting. The song also sports a plaintive vocal, working its way around an elegant melody, and it coalesces into their take on the kind of sound that Alcest have brought into the mainstream of late. It works beautifully, a left turn and novel compositional approach for the band, but not so out of step with the rest of the album as to sound irritatingly incongruous.

The track which is probably the best representation example of Akercocke circa 2017, however, is also emblematic of the drawbacks of the return of this superb band. ‘A Final Glance Back Before Departing’ again takes the band’s now core sound of fairly linear death/thrash as a starting point, and overlays fluent and extravagant lead guitars in a way that balances effortless technical mastery with pounding metallic riffage. Thematically and vocally however, the break with the past is difficult to reconcile with the beast that Akercocke once were. I’ve written previously about the fact that part of the beauty of Akercocke has always been the fact that not only is their music outstanding, but that they were also aesthetically complete, emerging fully-formed with a debonair image, an erudite and somewhat arcane lyrical bent derived from fascinating literary sources, using instantly recognisable artwork to tie everything together, ensuring that a common thread runs throughout their back catalogue, despite the evolutionary leaps made from album to album. On this comeback record, however, and never more starkly than on this track, the veil is unceremoniously lifted, and Mendonca’s lyrics are far more personal, but also more rudimentary and generic, deprived of the idiom of esoteric Satanism that the band were once so proficient in employing. Presumably, the band might argue that along with the ditching of the suited and booted image, it was necessary to remove the facade that they previously operated behind, and that the listener is now confronted by the ‘real Akercocke’. In so easily casting aside some of the elements that were so crucial to the Akercocke mythos though, the spell is broken, and instead the band become just another very good progressive metal band. Where Mendonca once used imperious vocals to sing of “the senseless vanity of the Nazarene”, his now tremulous voice sings accusingly “Don’t be fooled / Because I walk and talk”. It is undoubtedly courageous and admirable to become publicly so vulnerable, and in another context, such lyrical content could succeed with its naked honesty, but for Akercocke, it comes to close to calling into question some of the most precious aspects of the core essence of the band, and this makes the track, and to a lesser extent the album a difficult listen.

The album ends strongly, and this is to its credit, with the penultimate track, ‘Inner Sanctum’, the strongest and most convincing song on the entire album. A concise torrent of technically adroit death metal, this blizzard of clever ideas incorporates a jaw-dropping instrumental passage that is as startlingly brilliant as anything the band have ever put their name to, augmenting an already superior song as a Caravaggio adorns a breath-taking Roman church. As the closing notes of the mostly excellent ‘A Particularly Cold September’ fades away, the listener finds themselves trying to resolve the perpetual conflict of the reunion album. It is of course pleasing to welcome back one of extreme metal’s most interesting and forward-thinking bands, and gratifyingly, they have returned with an album which holds its own in a changed musical landscape. Akercocke easily evade the kind of embarrassment that has afflicted many a band, and there is much to admire about their comeback. Conversely, there is no avoiding the fact that it is fundamentally not the transcendent experience that we are given to expect from a band of such talent and skill. It seem a little cruel, given Jason Mendonca’s aforementioned mental health battles, to criticise Renaissance In Extremis too severely. Its very existence is, in many ways, a triumph over adversity, and of course in no way diminishes the quality of everything that has come before it. However, in most of the respects that truly count, it ultimately pales in comparison to their monumental past works. Renaissance In Extremis is masterfully composed, well arranged, and impeccably performed, but the lack of the band’s trademark feral intensity means that it fails to make the kind of emotional connection that once came so easily, and instead exists as something to be admired from a position of detachment, a framed portrait in a fusty gallery. The unassailable self-confidence of the previous iteration of Akercocke has evaporated, and in their place a more diffident group, eminently capable of musical virtuosity, but lacking the singular and magnetic force of personality that once made them stand out so far from the crowd. Akercocke are an excellent progressive metal band, and Renaissance In Extremis is a good progressive metal album. For now, that is probably enough, although it does mean that Akercocke are just another band, one of the pack, rather than the trailblazing leaders that they were. Once, Akercocke gleefully sang in praise of the damned. In evaluating their reunion, it is impossible not to damn them with with faint praise.

First published here: https://alifetimeofmusic537956501.wordpress.com/2021/05/19/akercocke-renaissance-in-extremis/

A Promising But Flawed Rebirth - 75%

T_HORROR, September 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Peaceville Records

After ten years of silence, AKERCOCKE storms back onto the scene with renewed focus. The core duo of David Gray (drums) and Jason Mendonça remain -- and their chemistry is as strong as ever -- which makes "Renaissance in Extremis" feel immediately and obviously like an AKERCOCKE album. In tow are original guitarist Paul Scanlon, touring/live keyboard stalwart Sam Loynes, and new bassist Nathanael Underwood.

Despite the core musical approach being intact, some noticeable changes have occurred. The lyrical content no longer deals with sex and satanism but instead life experiences and sort of an uplifting attack on negativity. This shift in overall thematic approach is mirrored in AKERCOCKE's physical appearance (no more tailored suits and naked women) but more importantly in how some of the musical elements are structured.

For one, the guitar is not nearly as distorted as past releases. There's a little more breathing room and a bit of clarity now -- which does better to expose some of the less straightforward upper-register chord progressions at the expense of losing some aggression during the thrashier riffs. David Gray has also, for seemingly the first time in over a decade, put away the Little Tikes My First Plastic-Ass Triggered Drum Kit and has a MUCH more natural tone on all of the drums (though the kicks still sound artificial as fuck). I cannot overstate how much less annoying the drums sound now, which is great as David Gray has always been a truly exceptional drummer and continues to push the envelope stylistically (not necessarily speed-wise) on this release. Overall, the end result is the album actually sounds like a REAL band playing their instruments together, which can't really be said about some of their over-produced, over-manufactured tones on previous albums like Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone. The added amount of dynamicity exposes natural nuance not seen in the past few albums, even if a couple thrash and death riffs on this album lose a bit of punch.

The improvement in sound quality is matched with some of the band's best songwriting of their career -- at least at the start of the album. The moody, gothic cleaner sections are more potent and cathartic than ever and are sandwiched satisfyingly within the sheer amount of catchy, smooth riff progressions that run the gamut of extreme metal flavors. Jason Mendonça contributes those immediately apparent and unmistakable AKERCOCKE tones -- not sure exactly what chord shapes they are -- while Paul Scanlon adds some great, blistering solos and furious riffing on top of some very solid basslines. The compositions are certainly progressive, and contain a good amount of technical showmanship (especially on drums), without ever getting wanky or overly-indulgent.

This is at least overwhelmingly true for the first fifteen minutes of the album, but the consistency starts to falter as the album proceeds into its latter half. At first, it seems as though AKERCOCKE's newly hewn wisdom will finally allow them to avoid some of their notorious, painful songwriting mistakes found throughout their back catalog. But disappointingly, a noticeable shift occurs over the running time of the album -- there is more time given to odd sonic experimentation, strange vocal deliveries, quirky song structures, and verbose song titles -- not that any of these elements are objectively poor decisions. However, in practice, they are not particularly successful and the more interesting compositional flairs are overshadowed by some of the hideous and even hilarious musical decisions that are increasingly made in the second half of the album.

This not exactly fair commentary for the songwriting though, as the real culprits turning some of the more curious compositional choices into groan-inducing passages are the upfront vocal deliveries by Jason. These are the ultimate downfall of the album and the major overwhelming detractor of the musical experience, which is otherwise packed full of great instrumentation. The contrast between the impeccable musicianship and the quasi-inept vocal delivery is astounding and fairly bizarre given a band of this talent and caliber. The vocals could be described as "honest" -- which is true enough and somewhat fits the approach of the album -- but truthfully it borders more on "amateur."

The harsh vocals are fine enough -- there are a few passages with that great death metal snarl and black metal rasping that was cultivated throughout the band's history, alongside some decent shouts. But once melody is thrown into the mix, the musical experience enters a realm of crudeness and awkwardness. To provide an example, multiple listening sessions with various friends have all had the same outcome: great enjoyment at the start, transitioning to eventually being asked to stop the album somewhere around the fifth song. The most obvious element to blame is the increased indulgence in laughable clean vocals and "semi-melodic" harsh yelling which falls horribly flat. Take "First to Leave the Funeral" as an example: the initial "semi-melodic" yelling passage is fine enough (quirky, even) but a return to that style around 2:45 is far, far more terrible. The album then spends the rest of its time trying to dig itself out of that pit -- but often just digs itself deeper. This vocal style provides the worst of both worlds -- melodic enough to be jarringly off-key at times, but not harsh enough where the lack of projection is acceptable. This delivery rears its ugly head throughout the album, and the few successes fall to the wayside thanks to the frequent attempts that just make a mockery of the great underlaying instrumentation.

In addition to those semi-clean vocals, there are plenty of genuine clean vocal passages throughout the album, which should come as no surprise to AKERCOCKE fans. But what the hell happened over the hiatus? Jason's delivery is weaker and feebler than albums past. While this adds a tiny bit of charm (the aforementioned "honesty") to some of the moodier gothic sections, for the most part it just reeks of somebody who sucks at singing and can't project their voice. Instead of this style being sprinkled about the album, there are entire songs that focus almost entirely on clean vocal passages ("One Chapter Ends...") and the end result is you have to listen to some amateur vocalist sing poorly (with an annoying warble) for minutes at a time on top of some high-caliber musicianship. It's just ugly, and while some listeners find it acceptable, one can't help but feel the frequent half-assed attempts at singing do the band's instrumental mastery a MAJOR disservice.

As we get to the end of the album, AKERCOCKE really starts throwing a plethora of questionable ideas at the wall. This is best culminated in the closer "A Particularly Cold September." The song goes as follows: a decent enough ambient clean guitar section for a couple minutes, a bit of somber spoken word, then...saxophone? Is that a trumpet after it? Weird, but not terrible. Next, try not to laugh at the band's stupidest progression ever written, with a ridiculous and amateur vocal delivery followed up by some keyboards and some tempo changes. The song then proceeds to go nowhere (finally dipping into a bland distorted guitar passage after over four minutes) -- which kind of invalidates the point of having such a long ambient intro -- then, towards the last half of the song, we get a bit of a reprise of the earlier chord progressions (including that truly awful vocal passage), and another break featuring some...timpani...and finally a classic prog outro with three solid minutes of Satriani-lite guitar shredding -- perhaps the only truly enjoyable moment of the song.

It's amusing how large the contrast is between that last song and the first song on the album, which is why this is a bit difficult to rate. The first song, along with the next two, are incredibly solid, interesting, and well-performed on top of excellent flow in the riff writing department, while avoiding most of the vocal pitfalls. This is where one can see great promise for AKERCOCKE in the future. These songs are worth revisiting for additional listens, while the rest of the album falls increasingly flat. The band still has a major problem with indulging themselves in poor compositional choices, which has plagued every single album in their discography -- but it's clear the elements are all in place to truly deliver a consistently focused, well-performed release in the future. "Renaissance in Extremis" is not it.

Brilliance in musica - 93%

TheFaceofEddie, September 30th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Peaceville Records (Digipak)

Contorted in brilliant shapes, Akercocke continues to shirk the norm and search for disconcerting and unappealing ways to offend the senses. Crashing from OSDM to lilting emotion the legendary Brits continue to prove they can do it all and willingly cram an albums worth of musical genius into each track. Throughout the album I have difficulty identifying a repeated riff or an overdone phrase, the changes are innumerable yet not disconcerting. Where Renaissance in Extremis could have felt like a million ideas stitched together in a haphazard pattern, Akercocke have the natural ability to weave conflicting ideas into a brilliant, cohesive singularity. There were moments of true beauty and disquieting comfortlessness, mere seconds removed from one another.

Every instrument had a voice, the precision of the drums and their moments of excellence adding and subtracting when moments presented themselves, the bass was clear and definite, finding a home on each track and doing more than following the rhythm, breaking free to showcase its own powerful voice. The guitars shot from crafting rolling soundscapes to awe-inspiring tech deth sweeps back to gorgeous soundscapes of individuality and wound masterful solos.

I came away from Renaissance in Extremis feeling as though not a note of it had been written down or planned, it was like a beat and rhythm had been started then allowed to weave and wind to their hearts content. A conglomeration of nonsense, bent, not painfully, just uncomfortably, Renaissance in Extremis is pure greatness.

Akercocke's Renaissance - 96%

xxld1k, September 29th, 2017

I will review this intended for existing Akercocke's fans as it makes many mentions and comparisons to their past work. Akercocke's comeback album, Renaissance In Extremis brings a beautiful slab of progressive extreme metal that they have been yearning for since mid-career. Yes, we know they they toyed with progressive elements in their music since their debut, Rape of the Bastard Nazarene, but this is the sound they were looking for ever since their third album, Choronzon. Jason Mendonca, vocalist/guitarist/co-founder, has held contempt over their 2007 release, Antichrist where he felt they couldn't get their sound right with too many pure death metal tracks. (Thanks for their then guitarist, Matt Wilcock.) I personally, find Antichrist to be one of their strongest albums in terms of progressive metal and their brand of black/death metal, until RiE came around.

Lyrically, Renaissance In Extremis marks a move away from Satanic themes to more personal, introspective lyrical themes. No mention of Lucifer or Satan here and instead comes despair, darkness, and pain.

Renaissance In Extremis marks the return of original guitarist, Paul Scanlon, who brings the shred to this new album. The solos in this album is enough for a guitar freak to love. Every song showcases the strong connection between Paul Scanlon and Jason Mendonca to create interesting melodies and riffs in the softer to the most extreme moments of the album. (and when I say extreme, expect the typical Akercocke extreme). I like to think that the 13 years since Paul Scanlon's departure and Jason Mendonca's almost 10 years since the making of AntiChrist has allowed them to refine their skills as guitarists and create something using the maximum of their abilities; and it definitely shows. The death metal riffs that Akercocke are known for are here in full swing as shown in the beginning of "Disappear", throughout "A Final Glance Back Before Departing" and "Inner Sanctum". Also on full display is Akercocke's familiar black metal-type riffs. A notable mention of this is the excellent black metal track, "One Chapter Closing for Another to Begin" complete with Jason's notable vocal shrieks. (Which are as great as ever) and excellent blasts and grooves from drummer/co-founder David Grey.

Which brings me to the drummer, David Grey. David has been in the band since the beginning and him and Jason are great friends who have a musical chemistry that they have mentioned in interviews. Grey brings all the notable Akercocke drumming back along with a few new tricks coming in play to the slower sections throughout the album. Making a comeback are the little toms he starts his fills with which I find is very distinguishable in an Akercocke song and some of my favorite in the genre. Grey and Mendonca are really on the same page in the entire album really making all the atmosphere they are going for come out 100%.

Mendonca's vocal range is fully on display in this album. coming back are his notable death metal growls, which I think are some of the best in death metal, and as mentioned above, his black metal shrieks. Also on display is his standard singing style that was shown during "Intractable" off their past album, Words Go Unspoken. Most surprisingly on RiE, however, is the amount of his shout he has toyed with in the past. Most notably in past songs such as "My Apertous Angel" and "The Dark Inside", which only occurred for brief moments, he brings this style to a number of songs on the new album. A few other styles that may surprise you will show up as well; I counted about 5-6 distinct vocal styles on the new album, all coming from Mendonca's talented mouth.

One aspect of RiE that cannot be overlooked is the phenomenal performance from newcomer bassist, Nathanael Underwood. My god...you can listen to this entire album and only concentrate on the bass riffs and grooves this guy creates. The superb production on the album really allows the bass guitar to shine as Akercocke has definitely shown in the past. Most notable, I think, is on "Insentience" and "A Final Glance Back before Departing" (yes, the "black metal" track). This is a really treat for bass lovers in metal.

Overall, RiE really encapsulates all of Akercocke into one album. Maybe its the new record label change to Peaceville but they were really allowed to take the next step in their songwriting they they have been yearning for in the past 3 albums. On first listen, I wasn't hooked as much as I am now; it took about three listens for songs to start creeping into my head during the day. Listen to this damn album now!

10 year wait - 94%

Death_Welder, September 6th, 2017

10 long and grueling years for Akercocke fans, starting with a long hiatus, Matt Wilcock leaving the band, then an official breakup. We did get Voices and The Antichrist Imperium out of it which is a decent consolation prize, but as fun as they both are to listen to, it ended up being like Diet Akercocke and Akercocke Zero. After years of desperation, googling, forum searching for any shred of info, it happened. The band announced a reunion and even gave us a brand new song, Inner Sanctum.

The album itself is thoroughly Akercocke, in the same way each of their previous have been. They always make a point to place each record in a different realm, and Renaissance in Extremis easily accomplishes that with a certain quirkiness that was always present in their music but it's out in spades now. The first couple minutes of the album's closer A Particularly Cold September will take you for a wild ride including saxophones playing before charging through their signature blend of death/black metal. The entire album is such a start and stop mixture of progressive, death, thrash, black, and plenty of melodic moments with glorious hooks that are surprisingly light and catchy. Speaking of black metal, it has taken a back seat on the last few albums but it is almost more prevalent than death metal on this release, the main riff of One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin being a beautiful example.

One thing long time fans will quickly recognize is the complete absence of Satanism, favoring more reflective and even positive themes, coupled with an almost My Dying Bride-like sorrow and glorious melodic structures. Renaissance in Extremis sits in a realm where it changes from sunshine to thunderstorms almost instantaneously, beauty and tragedy, tension and release. Jason Mendoca's vocals are the driving force behind this, employing all sorts of screams, shouts, growls, cleans and others that don't even have a proper adjective. On future releases I hope for a little bit more of their heavy and brutal/evil side, but the catharsis here is undeniable and therefore welcomed.

Nathanael Underwood, who is unknown to me, does a great job on bass and it is audible throughout the album, most notably during the intro for A Final Glance Back Before Departing. Akercocke super-fans may recognize Sam Loynes on keyboards due to the fact he was a touring member of the band before their 2012 breakup, as well as being the guitarist and vocalist for Akercocke cousins Voices and The Antichrist Imperium respectively. Paul Scanlan is of course a welcome return, but as always the real stars are Jason Mendonca and David Gray. The synergy those two have is what ultimately makes this band so special, their singular vision and immense talent. My favorite thing about Akercocke has always been how it doesn't really seem like it should work on paper being so off-kilter, and while the playing isn't the most technically amazing or fast, they damn sure know where to put each note at the perfect time to craft a work of art. This is a more than welcome addition to their legacy however, as it is yet another road the mighty Akercocke have now traveled. At any rate, my hopes are high for their future and possibly getting another album, or 2 if I'm feeling greedy.

The Triumphant Return of Akercocke - 95%

incredula, September 1st, 2017

No suits? No Satan?? NO PROBLEM!!! After 10 agonizing years of silence, Britain’s finest progressive blackened death-merchants Akercocke have dusted themselves off and returned with a vengeance. ‘Renaissance in Extremis’ the groups 6th full length, their first since the release of ‘Antichrist’ way back in 07, is quite possibly their most focused effort to date and is due for release on August 25th A quick glance at the group's press shots and one will notice the absence of bathykolpian females, expertly tailored suits and Hammer Horror aesthetics but fear not dear reader ‘Renaissance in Extremis’ is 100% Akercocke.

‘Disappear’ opens proceedings and within seconds one is pummelled into submission. A violent 30 seconds of blasting and a brief solo courtesy of returning, original member Paul Scanlan make way to a galloping trashy riff and we’re off. 7 minutes of gloriously crafted progressive death metal in the midst of which we are treated to a haunting 80’s style passage reminiscent of the more gothic moments of The Cure.

Vocalist/guitar player Jason Mendonca has spoken much since Akercocke’s reformation about bringing a sense of positivity to the band’s sound and especially to their lyrical approach. This is apparent in ‘Unbound by Sin’ and the truly phenomenal ‘Inner Sanctum’ (a song about cognitive behaviour therapy) proudly encouraging us in the former to “achieve your goals” and that “the sanctuary is in my mind” in the latter. The marrying of metal and positivity hasn’t always worked (see St Anger) with such aforementioned topics often running the risk of sounding clichéd or preachy. Not so here and when coupled with moments of blistering musical aggression and fearless experimentation Akercocke convey these themes masterfully.

‘Familiar Ghosts’ opens with the sound of waves gently breaking upon rocks, a subtle riff and lush orchestration. Here, Mendonca’s clean vocals sound especially powerful as he switches from a melodic croon to a more vicious growl. ‘First to Leave the Funeral’, a track that will certainly appeal to long-time fans, bears all the hallmarks of what has made Akercocke one of the finest progressive metal acts in world today. Multiple tempo changes, breaks and quick fire drumming (David Gray showing why he remains one of the best in the business) and even some hammered dulcimer for good measure. Again Mendonca shines as he wails “Place my hands, gently over your ears to save you the sound of screams!” 

The album’s 9th and final song ‘A Particularly Cold September’ is a dizzying mix of delicate finger picking, soft jazz saxophone and old school death metal. Think ‘In the Court of The Crimson King’ meets Death ‘Leprosy’. But Akercocke don’t just stop there, adding some “classic rock” style guitar work to the final third of this absolutely mammoth track.

‘Renaissance in Extremis’ showcases an Akercocke reinvigorated, no doubt aided by the addition of bassist Nathanael Underwood (Dām/Damim), with each member bringing their absolute best. Expect to see ‘Renaissance in Extremis’ atop many an end of year best of list as this is not only the front runner it is also one of the finest records they have ever released.

Originally written by Shane Bermingham for RockMuzine.Com