A captivating mix of the brutal and the beautiful...
Akercocke. For this writer the absolute acme in British extreme music. Even a cursory listen to their comeback record, Renaissance in Extremis will reassure long term fans that the band are re-entering the fray at their fighting weight and ready for battle.
Despite the florid connotations of the ‘progressive’ tag, this is an album where not one note is wasted, every last cadence being packed with meaning and worth. If they never release another record, they can be happy that their swansong was a work of empire-sized vision, and staggeringly fine execution.
Hopefully that won’t be the case, but you get my drift. The band have laid Renaissance in Extremis as a lasting testament and legacy to the Akercocke name, and I for one just can’t get enough of this beguiling, punishing tour de force of an album.
The record sounds fabulous. Produced with such clarity that even the spaces between the notes take on importance because they have a presence to the listener, Renaissance in Extremis needs to be listened on the biggest, most powerful sound system you have at your disposal. Once you’ve set that up, the languorous prog of closing track A Particularly Cold September will then envelop you, simultaneously scouring and soothing the senses with its twists and turns, Jason Mendonca’s twisted croon unsettling as much as it’s honeyed tones provide balm for the ears. And then, on a dime the band open fire with a punishing salvo of blackened thrash that really is as good as it gets, Mendonca and guitar partner Paul Scanlan locking in to some pulverising riffage whilst bassist Nathanael Underwood and drummer David Gray do inhuman things with the rhythms. This is challenging music, but never difficult for the sake of obstinacy. Black metal easy listening?
I’ve started with a description of the final track on the album because that’s somewhat representative of the perverse nature of the music included on the record; There is no beginning, middle or end to Renaissance in Extremis. The music exists, spiralling solo tumbling upon stentorian riffage, lying easy with flattened-out, jazzy chords and bucolic musing in a glorious exposition of art that transcends the modern notion of ‘the album’. And whilst the blasting clarion call of Disappear probably is the only track that could really have opened proceedings – coruscating thrash metal with bowels-of-hell vocal accompaniment usually gets the party started well, in my experience – any other track could follow and sit comfortably as the band slither with serpentine facility from one complex idea to the next.
You’ll never get bored of this album, that’s for sure.
Picking out highlights is almost impossible, though Mendonca’s vocal transformation from troubled demon to some sort of hellish version of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis on that opening track is one that stands out, as is the (according to editor Scott Adams) Kansas-style chord progression on which the band end the song. What you will find is that, as every song envelops you it becomes your standout track on the album for it’s duration before that mantle moves with the music. Not many albums can do that, and if the phrase ‘all killer no filler’ is a tad trite for an album of such import, the sentiment is surely bang on.
This is the complete progressive metal experience in 2017. And it’s rather wonderful.
Renaissance in Extremis is out now on Peaceville Records.