Nothing short of sublime

For those who know anything of late 90s – early 00s black/death metal Akercocke require no introduction.

This album, the first since a hiatus called in 2007 at arguably the peak of their creative powers, is nothing short of sublime.

As a collective, Akercocke always had a knack for writing catchy riffs, even in their overtly technical sound that at times is more progressive at its heart than the harsh Satanic blackened death they were recognised for. Nowhere is this catchiness more evident than album opener ‘Disappear,’ kicking off with an ear worm of a riff that underpins the entire track, even when it switches into a prog rock journey before drummer David Gray drives back into the track like a battering ram with a percussive thrash masterclass. All this musical adventuring and we are only on the first track.

‘Unbound By Sin’ keeps up this almost playful feeling in the music. The band feel more relaxed, but at the same time more focused than ever if that is possible. The riffs and solos from guitarists Paul Scanlan and Jason Mendoca (as well as vocal duties) combine with the low end rumble from newest member Nathanael Underwood to a devastating but beautiful musical effect. This feeling is carried on throughout. For a band that has been away for 10 years to be so willing to still experiment and evolve as musicians, instead of throwing out something the average fan would eat up, is admirable.

It wasn’t until the horns finish out ‘Insentience’ that I noticed a big part of Akercocke’s original image missing – the almost hardline Satanism that the band stuck rigidly to. Instead the lyrics, encompass more a study of the human condition, like drummer Gray’s other band Voices’ masterful album London.  And it is with this realisation that I really allow the band to take me on the journey they are putting forth here.

This is Akercocke, but not as anyone has known them before. Still tackling serious subject matter, but without the strings of the sometimes cartoonish Satanism holding any ideas back. Whether it is the extremity displayed on ‘First To Leave The Funeral’ or crackling electronic sound that infects ‘Familiar Ghosts’, a song that starts with acoustic guitars and lush keyboards before descending into some dark nightmare towards the end. The only real let down can be Mendoca’s clean vocals. A lot stronger than anytime previous, they can still take some getting used to.  This weakness make itself apparent most particularly on ‘One Chapter Closing for Another to Begin’.

Everything leads to the brilliant closing track, ‘Particularly Cold September’ a track in tune with everything that swirls around it, from a manic Devin Townsend sound to the lush acoustics Opeth is capable of, all while still sounding uniquely like Akercocke.

Some fans are going to miss the Satanic element. But with age comes growth, and this album is a great example of that. While still dark and unrelenting, the journey Renaissance in Extremis takes is worth the price of admission. Without doubt a challenging listen, if you wander in openly it will truly surprise you.

1. Disappear
2. Unbound By Sin
3. Insentience
4. First to Leave the Funeral
5. Familiar Ghosts
6. A Final Glance Back Before Departing
7. One Chapter Closing for Another to Begin
8. Inner Sanctum
9. A Particularly Cold September