Amongst the many things that The Internet has ruined, there is the sense of mystery that used to surround bands and their releases. Back in the day (circa '00), The Internet was a thing, but the idea you'd use it to find out every detail of your favorite bands personal lives while simultaneously downloading their ripped studio demo was not. We had to wait patiently for news of new album titles and future tour dates through word of mouth, print magazines, or most treasured of all, the hallowed halls of our local independent record store, were the employees seemed to possess a kind of Delphic omniscience across all genres of underground music, from alt-country to black metal. Back in those heady times, there was no band more enigmatic in the extreme music scene than England's Akercocke.
These guys were the real deal, appearing on stage in suit and tie while proudly claiming themselves to be devil-worshipping country gents. The band managed to draw a vast fan base into their alternate reality over the span of their five album career, their carefully cultivated image standing as stroke of genius, creating a perpetual "are they or aren't they?" intrigue over just how seriously the band took the subject of devil worship. Whether they lived in manor houses and sacrificed virgins or not ultimately became irrelevant, as their audience chose to suspend disbelief in favor of a Mulderite approach of, "I want to believe"
After the release of their fifth album, Antichrist, in 2007 (and arguably at the height of their powers), the live shows suddenly stopped and the band ceased all activity. There was no press release, no onstage meltdown, no seismic argument over stolen ritual daggers—just silence from a band that once dominated the UK's extreme music scene. The story seemingly ended there—until 9 years later in 2016, when the band suddenly returned to live performances and announced that new music was in the works. The release of their new album, Renaissance in Extremis, is now imminent (it's out August 25 via Peaceville), so it seemed like a good time to find out what happened to the band, and why 2017 is the year of the Akercomeback.
"Broadly speaking, it was circumstance," explains vocalist Jason Mendonca. "Circumstances changed and I think, individually we're all in a position where we all have enough time to devote to the band to give it the kind of love and attention that it needs and that was certainly a factor that was lacking prior to the reformation. There wasn't time or certainly wasn't time to do it properly, and I think now there is, which is fantastic!"
Renaissance in Extremis is the sound of a band confident in its own development. It combines all the elements of technical precision and progressive song structures that long-time fans will know and love with a new found sense of maturity. In particular, the Hammer Horror lyrical shtick of previous albums is gone, in favor of a bolder step towards a more personal and expressive lyrical style.
"I think that with the time we were away it's only logical that we would have changed and grown as individuals," Mendonca says. "One of the things that we discussed when we put the band back together was that it was important not to repeat ourselves—which is something we'd always tried to do throughout the former career of the band—and so it was logical too that the lyrical content should change and grow as we had. It was important for us not to be parodies of ourselves and rehash ideas that we'd covered quite extensively in the past, and it added a new challenge as well to incorporate different themes and ideas to accompany the music that we've put together."
With lyrics focusing on personal loss and grief, it's tempting to think of the album, if not as a concept album, then at least an album with a concept. However, as is typical for a band that has always shunned the obvious route, this is not the case at all.
"I think the way it was all put together was not to have any deliberate contrived idea [or concept]; if the way it reaches you is that there's a theme, then I think that's quite nice," explains drummer and founding member David Gray. "It's a coincidence. I think it's fair to say that with the reboot of the band, we did lots of things differently, and I think the correlation of those different elements and those slight shifts in modus operandi have all contributed to making this album sound the way it does."
As well as the change in lyrical approach, there are subtle differences within the music itself. While songs are recognizably Akercocke, there's a level of experimentation at work that places Renaissance in Extermis far outside the boundaries of a formulaic "comeback album." One of the key changes for Akercocke was shifting their tried and tested recording methods. "
"This is the first album where we didn't record at our headquarters, Goat of Mendes studios," Mendonca explains. "The only thing that was recorded here were the vocals, while all the other albums were recorded here in their entirety. We worked with someone else to record the drums which is something we'd never done before; we'd always done that sort of stuff in house."
While the question of where an album was recorded might sound trivial, it's more evidence of the band's latest incarnation being unafraid to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new. The result of this can be heard throughout the album, in any number of passages that sound as far away from typical "death metal" as is possible, while staying within the broad confines of the genre. This experimentation can also be heard in the myriad instruments, such as horns and electronics that litter the album, that would not normally be associated with the genre.
David touches on this sense of experimentation and why it's so important to the band.
"I think we've never felt the need to keep it, 'this must sound like death metal' for it to be included," Mendonca reflects. "We've always kind of just strayed out and done whatever we thought was necessary to communicate the message and the creative thrust of the song. I think that with music, in the same way we don't feel like we can't play clean guitars and grooves with the instruments, we don't feel that we have to be restricted there either. We've never limited ourselves to the restrictions of bass, drums, guitar and vocals. We've always been of the mindset that if a song needs some additional colors or textures, to make that happen."
Outside of the music, the biggest difference in Akercocke 2017 is the complete absence of the band's most famous patron. For a group that once proudly and vocally declared their love of Satan and boasted of performing occult rituals in the English countryside, it's strange to see no mention of Old Nick on Renaissance in Extremis.
"I don't know if you remember, but when I was younger, Possessed released an EP called The Eyes of Horror," Mendoca says. "It's absolute genius—the sound was better than ever, the playing was better than ever, the songs were better than ever. When I listened to the whole thing for the tenth time, I realized there's no Satan in it at all. It's one of those things that I think you almost don't really notice because they were such a heavily Satanic band— that was one of the reasons why I loved them—but there was no mention of any devilry at all and it [felt] like, this is them just doing what they do and moving forward. I think, really, we've just recorded our Eyes of Horror."
Akercocke on tour w/ Hecate Enthroned:
13/10/2017 Glasgow - Audio
14/10/2017 Sheffield - Corporation
15/10/2017 Milton Keynes - The Crauford Arms
20/10/2017 Belfast - Voodoo
21/10/2017 Dublin - Voodoo lounge
22/10/2017 Nuneaton - Queens Hall
27/10/2017 Manchester - Rebellion
28/10/2017 London - Underworld
29/10/2017 Colchester- The Arts Centre