Akercocke – “Renaissance In Extremis” (Peaceville)
If you were in London during the burgeoning 90s as bands like Cradle of Filth, The Blood Divine and Hecate Enthroned brought forth a new British extreme metal scene, then the likes of Akercocke would soon follow amid a trail of bloodshed and brutality but also a quintessential English beauty! In their own right, Akercocke developed a cult following over the course of 5 successive albums, each one only serving to catapult the band onto more awards, larger tours and even greater recognition. Seemingly on a roll, the truth couldn’t have be further when the band released “Antichrist” in 2007 and sparked outrage in Northern Ireland, even having to appear on TV to defend their right to play a gig in Belfast. Thereafter followed extensive periods of inactivity, with the band almost fizzling out as they announced their break up in 2012. Hugely lamented especially given the way the band went out, a reunion show at last year’s Bloodstock Open Air was viewed with trepidation – not in the least by the band themselves! However, the faithful had not forgotten, and it soon became evident to all that Akercocke were sorely missed and a comeback was long overdue. A successful headline tour followed, the impetus of which paved the way for this 7th album, timed as if perfectly being a decade since their last release. What grabbed me immediately about the 9 tracks on “Renaissance In Extremis” is how close to the band’s prior material it sounds – I mean, I’d expect some sorta ring rust given the years of inactivity, but the 9 tracks here sound like they were recorded back then? Well, funnily enough, that’s not too far from the truth! According to the band, the songs herein have their foundations in old unreleased material that was written back in 2008, along with ideas accumulated over the years by guitarist Paul Scanlan. Joined by founders Jason Mendonca and David Gray, Akercocke have returned – and in the same fine English style that all fans have associated them with! Suavely mixing black with death metal and progressive elements, the sheer diversity inherent in each song is breathtaking. From blistering opener ‘Disappear‘ with its bombastic brutality contrasting superbly with ambient prog melodies and David Gray’s technical drum work incorporating plenty of drum rolls, the tempo of the song gears up and down effortlessly while taking the listener on an emotional rollacoaster of epic proportions. Equally, the vocals lend to different styles from the stressed tones of Jason Mendonca to background screaming on the moody but dramatic ‘Insentience‘ with again, another genteel prog passage albeit with darker tones mid song where Scanlan shines with some virtuoso soloing providing some brief uplift to the gloom. Continuing with the heavy prog-gasmic ‘First to Leave the Funeral‘ the insanity reaches almost cacophonic levels as screams, growls, creepy keys, prog harmonies and bludgeoning brutality are all delivered in rapid fire succession – a truly aggressive assault on the senses! With the metal reaching its max on ‘A Final Glance Back Before Departing‘, the twin fretboards of Mendonca and Scanlan are burning from the power riffing, techno warbling and relentless cranking out of yet more dark and prog melodies, while this time the keys provide the soothing ambient relief towards the end accompanied by some soulful guitar. Closing off with ‘A Particularly Cold Sept‘, its somber acoustic style guitar tones are jaw droppingly shattered by a trumpet, before a heavy Rush style with cosmic moog and futuristic guitars comes into play before the rocket fire of blast beating and guttural death growls mixed with hoarse vocals and spiralling guitars speeds you through a black hole of insanity before reaching the ambience of another galaxy. A truly impressive release created from the heart, with the purity of the music foremost made all the more so by an awesome return to fine form.