Akercocke: Renaissance in Extremis

Photo: Tina K.

After a decade in waiting, progressive black/death metal connoisseur Akercocke, returns with an enticing album of brutal intentions and twisted machinations.


Renaissance in Extremis

Label: Peaceville
US Release Date: 2017-08-25
UK Release Date: 2017-08-25

Akercocke's reign of terror begun during the late '90s. Blending elements of black and death metal with a progressive-induced perspective, the band entered dynamically the extreme metal scene with its debut, Rape of the Bastard Nazarene. Despite the raw sound of the first album and the follow-up record, Goat of Mendes, both releases revealed a diamond in the rough. If the band kept working on its sound something truly magnificent would come forth.

That promise was fulfilled with a fantastic trilogy of releases, beginning with 2003's Choronzon. Production-wise the band made significant improvements, but more importantly, they began expanding their vision and scope. The progressive take highlighted not only by the technical aptitude of the band but with the inclusion of clean parts alongside the brutal outbreaks was apparent from early on. “A Skin for Dancing In” and “Breaking Silence” from Goat of Mendes were such majestic instances, but it was not until “Leviathan” from Choronzon was spawned that the full extent of this effect was displayed. This form of Akercocke reached its peak with Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone, easily one of the best technical extreme records of the '00s, while Antichrist, released in 2007, solidified the band's stature.

Unfortunately Antichrist also signaled the end (thankfully not permanent) for Akercocke, with the band slipping into the darkness for a decade. Other acts, featuring members of Akercocke, rose in its place in the likes of the Antichrist Imperium and Voices. Even though both were high-quality projects, and have gone to release strong albums, they were unable to fill the void left by the original pioneers. So thankfully, after a long wait, Akercocke appears again with original members Jason Mendonça, David Gray and Paul Scanlan returning alongside new bassist Nathanael Underwood and long-time Akercocke collaborator and live member Sam Loynes.

For Renaissance in Extremis, the band chooses to work with individuals familiar with its sound. The mastering process is handled by Alan Douches, who also worked on Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone and has mastered an abundance of progressive minded, extreme metal bands, in the likes of early Mastodon, Leng Tch'e, and Ephel Duath. But more importantly Neil Kernon is sitting behind the mixing desk, and apart from having worked with Akercocke during their best phase in Choronzon and Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone, he is someone that understands both extreme metal, having worked with bands like Nile and Deicide, but also progressive rock/metal, being part of releases by Yes, Shadow Gallery and Spiral Architect.

With the new album, Akercocke returns to a position of origin. The majority of the record reigns in heaviness and brutality, while the complex structures are relentless in their method. When it comes to the progression and layout of the music, this is one of the most technical works the band has released, and that says a lot. The guitar work is stunning in its intricacy and in the dual delivery of Mendonça and Scanlan, while Underwood and Gray produce a towering rhythm section with an uncanny layer of versatility. Notably, the performance of Gray behind the drumkit is awe-inspiring, as most of his appearances have been.

Despite the brutal sense, Akercocke has an uncanny ability to produce catchy riffs that grab the attention. “Enraptured by Evil” and “Scapegoat” from Choronzon, “Verdelet” and “Eyes of Dawn” from Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone are a few examples, and that is the case with Renaissance in Extremis. The instant “Disappear” begins you are hooked to this record, while this mentality appears throughout the album from the intoxicating “Unbounded by Sin” to the direct “Inner Sanctum”. These elements arise from the death metal leaning of Akercocke, while the black metal influence takes over a different manifestation, where instead of relying on the textural qualities of the genre throughout, the band takes on its atmospheric element.

Despite the overarching darkness of Akercocke's visions, there is also a tendency towards the lighter tonality. Phrases appear in the background of the opening track, presenting an almost playful characteristic but with the underlying twisted touch always present. Neither melodic nor dissonant, these augmentations can produce moments of grandeur and majesty, as in the ending of “Unbounded Sin”, but also radiating with a smooth and cool perspective, which is not that common among extreme metal bands. The start of “A Final Glance Back Before Departing” sees Akercocke exploring this side before unleashing a fury and mayhem without precedent.

The true extent of Akercocke's vision is revealed when the progressive dimension is considered. It is not uncommon for death metal bands to include prog elements, either in the form of highly technical playing, as in the later days of Death, or in prog rock renditions, as in the works of Opeth. But Akercocke displays a unique quality of their prog elements. “One Chapter Closing for Another to Begin” revolves around progressive rock concepts, with the playing and clean vocals hinting to that sound, but there is always an underlying dark concept that lurks beneath the surface. The inclusion of Loynes aids in that respect, presenting some moments of strange sonic dissonance, in the insane “First to Leave the Funeral”. This is where the sound of the band transcends the prog rock realm and dives into an experimental world, with the ending of “First to Leave the Funeral” and the beginning of “Familiar Ghosts” speaking to that fact.

Renaissance in Extremis is a pure Akercocke record, and it is great to see these guys back at it. Without missing a beat, Akercocke rejuvenates its progressive black/death blend, creating an enticing and challenging work of art. A listen to the album's closer “A Particular Cold Sept” will convince you on the potency of Akercocke's poison, crafting an impressive ambiance that brings to mind a fantastical, infernal jazz bar, or the waiting room from Twin Peaks. This underlying demonic spirit, hidden behind the death, black and progressive elements is what has driven them, and it is superb to see that it still pushes Akercocke to produce work of such high quality.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.