Akercocke - Renaissance in Extremis
Peaceville Records
Progressive Death/Black Metal
9 songs (54:16)
Release year: 2017
Akercocke, Peaceville Records
Reviewed by Goat

After a decade-long absence, it's truly good to have Akercocke back. Although side-projects and related acts like The Antichrist Imperium and Voices have helped dull the ache, the original will always be the best, and reuniting Jason Mendonça with David 'Blast Vader' Gray and former guitarist Paul Scanlan (who was a vital part of the first three 'Cocke albums) was a great move. And while the Satanism, suits, and long hair may have been replaced by introspective, upbeat lyrics, leather jackets, and downright trendy haircuts - it seems every British man over 40 hits the Dad patch in one way or another! - it’s clear that the Akercocke that we know and love from the last decade is back. True to the band's style, this isn't a repeat of past glories, but instead an interesting, forward-looking album that is at once wholly unique and different from anything they've done in the past. Opener Disappear is the closest to the band as we last knew them on 2007's Antichrist, a mainly death metal oriented song that is dominated by technical riffing and Mendonça's deep growls - up until the two minute mark at least, when there's a break for an ambient section, then moving melodically towards realms progressive, widdly soloing and lovely clean singing rounding things out before a return to extremity beckons.

As much as I miss the sexual deviancy and wine-sipping misanthropy of the old albums, there's no denying that Akercocke 2017 are still a glorious listening experience. The lineup is rounded out by Sam Loynes (of both The Antichrist Imperium and Voices) on keyboards and Nathaniel Underwood (of prog-deathers Dām/Damim, another band that's been quiet for ten years and due a renaissance of their own) on bass, and the group as a whole are wonderfully together. Songs are well-crafted if not quite up to past glories, which still equals great quality. Unbound by Sin is a spiralling, riff-driven prog death number that builds upon itself wonderfully, throwing in some Gojira-esque noodling and focusing on vocal hooks to create a song rather than a mere riff salad - "it's been too long", indeed, as the chorus says. Insentience tones things down considerably, led by the clean vocals in the verses and an altogether softer approach that is closer to gothic rock than death metal, despite misleading bursts of riffage near the start, built upon in the following First to Leave the Funeral which then shoots off into blackened territory with shrieks and blastbeats. Sadly, it's also where some of Mendonça's 'clean' singing starts to sound a little over the top and exaggerated, the first occasion I've had as a long-term fan of the band to agree with his detractors. The quality of the song overall is enough to wash away these doubts, but it is a flaw that needs highlighting...

It's a rare flaw, thankfully. Familiar Ghosts tends towards the atmospheric with nicely-integrated electronics and a vibe like latter-day Cynic reintroduced to death metal, whilst One Chapter Ends for Another to Begin is a rarity: black, atmospheric metal with almost entirely clean singing, bar some background snarls. Inner Sanctum, the first track to be released from the album, is a compelling death metal pounder driven by alternating bellowed and sung vocals and plenty of guitar pyrotechnics, but it's finale A Particularly Cold September that really made an impact on me. Starting like a latter-day Iron Maiden track, plucked guitar strings and spoken vocals suggesting a prog metal epic is forthcoming before gentle saxophone and electronics wrongfoot you; a thrash break, then a death metal burst, finally allowing the guitars to widdle away into heavy metal heaven. It makes for a great closing piece but sums up my main issue with the album - having good ideas but not always managing to combine them into cohesive, memorable songs. Back in the day, I seem to have been a rare reviewer in wholeheartedly praising Antichrist, but it did absorb its surprise musical elements without making them feel like random whims. Renaissance in Extremis isn't quite as well put together, but is very well-crafted and avoids enough pitfalls for this, again, to be a minor issue. I've missed Akercocke enough that I could ignore greater flaws, and so their return is triumphant indeed.

Killing Songs :
Disappear, Unbound by Sin, One Chapter Ends for Another to Begin
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Akercocke that we have reviewed:
Akercocke - Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Akercocke - Choronzon reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
Akercocke - The Goat Of Mendes reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
Akercocke - Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene reviewed by Goat and quoted 58 / 100
Akercocke - Antichrist reviewed by Goat and quoted 91 / 100
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