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Have you ever wondered what Suffocation, The Sisters Of Mercy, Bathory and Theatre Of Tragedy would sound like if they got together to jam after attending a black mass, clad in fancy Armani suits? If you have, first, I want some of whatever you are smoking, and second, you can find the answer in Akercocke. While most posers nowadays remember them mostly because of their fancy suits, this London band’s irreverent blend of death, black, gothic, and progressive metal is something that has been sorely missing in metal since the band fizzled away sometime around 2012. Thankfully, the band reconvened and is due to release their sixth full-length album, Renaissance in Extremis, later this year.
Akercocke rose from the ashes of Salem Orchid, a London death metal band with a distinct Gothic aesthetic that broke up quite acrimoniously in 1992 after recording a handful of demos. Four years later, drummer David Leslie Gray and guitarist/vocalist Jason Mendonça rekindled their friendship and decided to resume where their old band had left. Taking their name from the talking monkey in the classic Faust novel (the Robert Nye version, not the Goethe one that most are familiar with), the pair recruited ex-Church Of Satan bassist Peter Theobalds and former Creaming Jesus guitarist Paul Scanlan to complete the lineup. A promotional demo was recorded in 1998, and the following year, the band released their debut.
The Rape of the Bastard Nazarene (1999)
Released on the band’s own label, Goat of Mendes Records, the subtly titled The Rape of the Bastard Nazarene finds the band playing a not yet fully developed hybrid of death metal and Killing Joke-esque post punk. Operatic female vocals are abound on this record, perhaps inspired by fellow Englishmen Cradle of Filth, who at the time were perhaps the most commercially successful extreme metal band in the underground. While an overall enjoyable record, it definitely feels lacking when compared to the band’s subsequent accomplishments. Most of the time, the band alternates between brutal death metal and moody post-punk, and the transitions aren’t always smooth and can be awkward, like in “Marguerite and Gretchen.” Also, the interlude tracks don’t serve much purpose other than for toying with unconventional sounds, so I reach for the “skip” button. Due to the band’s signature style not being fully developed yet, the most enjoyable songs on this release happen to be the most straight up death metal tunes, like “Nadja” and “Zuleika.” However, traces of Akercocke’s future greatness can be heard on “Il Giardino di Monte Oliveto Maggiore” (The Rape was remastered and re-released in 2005).
The Goat of Mendes (2001)
After signing with Peaceville Records in 2001, Akercocke returned with their first truly great album, The Goat of Mendes. The band’s style is more fully evolved in this release, adding several elements of black metal and seamlessly transitioning between the brutal heavy parts and the more melodic, atmospheric sounds, like on the absolutely brilliant “A Skin For Dancing In.” Perhaps due to the band promoting keyboardist/sound manipulator/producer Martin Bonsoir to an official member, the textures and soundscapes are integrated better with the rest of the instruments. He even contributes a mournful interpretation of John Dowland’s “Fortune My Foe.” Bonsoir left the band shortly after the album dropped, and the band opted to employ session members in the future. Female vocals are used sparingly and tastefully this time, and the interludes add rather than subtract from the flow of the album. Not everything is perfect, however. Songs like “Masks Of God” and “He Is Risen” could have benefited from an atmospheric buildup rather than the blasting and shredding right away, and “The Serpent” just doesn’t do much for me. Drummer David Gray has gone on record saying that he considers The Goat Akercocke’s best album
Following the release of The Goat of Mendes, the band signed with Earache Records (then the go-to label for extreme metal; nowadays, they are more concerned with indie and retro acts). The band’s debut for the label, Choronzon, was another brilliant effort that saw the Londoners reach new heights of experimentation, moving through different genres on brilliant cuts like “Son Of The Morning,” “Valley Of The Crucified” and the highly melodic and catchy “Leviathan.” The album also displays the band’s brutal side, with crushing numbers like “Enraptured by Evil” and “Praise the Name of Satan” (although I could have done without the two minutes of dialogue that opens the latter). After this album’s release, Akercocke did their first US tour. It was then when the band decided to ditch the classy suits that had gained them so much notoriety, realizing that appearing in a clean pressed suit every night of a long overseas tour would prove to be absurdly time consuming and prohibitively expensive. While they still dressed up for photo and video shoots, as well as select shows, it became common for them to appear onstage in jeans and t-shirts.
Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone (2005)
Wild-haired guitarist Paul Scanlan was let go after the band finished touring, with Matt Wilcock (ex-The Berserker) joining afterward. According to Mendonça, Wilcock has been the only member of Akercocke to ever receive proper musical education. Perhaps that is why Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone is a much more concise and focused effort. Often hailed (with good reason) as the band’s masterpiece, Words finds the band doing away with the meandering of previous albums. Most songs are kept under five minutes, and while there is still plenty of experimentation, the album is trimmed of all unnecessary sounds, giving the basic configuration of guitars, bass, and drums room to breathe and develop. The only exception is the dense and suffocating “Shelter from the Sand,” a cacophonic ten-minute epic that finds the band layering many sounds to a dizzying effect. Unlike past albums, however, this song is the exception rather than the norm and is actually a welcome change that adds variety. “Verdelet” seamlessly oscillates between blasting brutality and tuneful melody. “Eyes of the Dawn” is Akercocke at its most brutal and punishing. The title track sounds like Tool gone death metal. “Intractable” is perhaps the catchiest song in the band’s catalog.
Shortly before the writing of the next album commenced, Theobalds announced his departure from the band and was replaced by Peter Benjamin (ex-Corpsing and now frontman of Voices). While not a bad album, in many ways Antichrist was a step backward for the band. While it has some of Akercocke’s best songs, like “Axiom,” “My Apterous Angel” and the crushing “Summon the Antichrist,” the albums simply does not live up to its predecessor. “Man without Faith or Trust” and “Footsteps Resound in an Empty Chapel” are serviceable cuts, but hardly essential, as they simply reheat old ideas from Choronzon and Words. “The Promise” is, quite frankly, just filler. “The Dark Inside” is the most perplexing number of all. It is basically an Autopsy-inspired heavy tune with a Joy Division sounding melodic section bluntly placed in the middle of it without transition or anything. A special edition of Antichrist was also released, which included a bonus disc with covers of Morbid Angel’s “Chapel of Ghouls” and Death’s “Leprosy.” You can hunt down a copy if you want (10,000 were made, an unusually high number for a special edition of an underground death metal album), but neither cover is particularly noteworthy.
Following the release of Antichrist, the band’s activities slowed down before finally stopping altogether. A concert DVD of an anniversary show, A Decade of Devil Worship, was recorded but never released. During this time, Mendonça started a family and battled depression. David Gray acted as a live drummer for My Dying Bride and entertained himself with his side project Antichrist Imperium (which also featured Wilcock) before committing full time to Voices. However, in April of last year, the duo regrouped with Scanlan and new bassist Nathaniel Underwood (Theobalds wasn’t interested in returning and is apparently now involved in acting and cinema), releasing a demo of an excellent new track, “Inner Sanctum” and announcing the release of a new album in 2017. So let us rejoice in the back catalogue of this band while we wait for Renaissance in Extremis.
Thanks again to Mr. Milfs! If you want to entertain us with your knowledge of a band, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.