While Akercocke aren’t necessarily what one would call a legendary band, they’re definitely a cult favorite, and very well-revered by those who know of them. As such, their disappearance was a big blow to fans of progressive death metal. Back in the day, Opeth and Akercocke were one of the few bands that could have comfortably fit in such a label. Ten years since their last release Antichrist, they’ve gotten back together and are ready to release their sixth full-length, Renaissance In Extremis. It’s been quite a while, and the genre has grown. Given that, how does a new album from a weird old band stack up today? Does it even hold up? I’ll keep the answer simple – hell yes.
Now, not everyone might be familiar with Akercocke. What do they sound like? Their sound isn’t easy to nail down. They have blast beats over pained clean vocals. Borderline old-school-death-metal style growling with 90s-style tech death riffing. Borderline avant-garde and jazz elements. Does this sound intriguing yet? The truly captivating part of this all is that it doesn’t follow current conventions in the genre. When Renaissance In Extremis does death metal, it’s like a throwback to the golden age of Pestilence or Atheist. But then, a curveball is thrown in the mix with black metal-esque tremolo picking and melancholic chords, and singing reminiscent of Dodheimsgard. There’s nothing quite like it, so Akercocke can easily justify their existence even a decade later.
More importantly though, is it good? Yes, it very much is. If one word could have been used to describe the first five Akercocke albums, that word would have been “unsettling”. The same descriptor applies here as well. It’s almost like the band never took any time off and followed up Antichrist within a regular time period expected between two releases. As such, this release is not for everyone. Going from raw, antique death metal to jazzy chords with wailing vocals is not the easiest thing to appreciate. There’s two metrics to judge this by. Either one can be a longtime Akercocke fan anticipating new material, or a new listener previously unfamiliar with the British maestros. For the former, Renaissance in Extremis will surely deliver. Unlike some albums that came after a very long wait, there was no indication that this follow-up would exist at all, so there was no long-term expectation that can disappoint. Perhaps this won’t be considered the band’s best album, but it’s as good as any other release they’ve put out.
If one isn’t that familiar with Akercocke, though, the picture might be a bit different. The production isn’t immaculate (nor is it meant to be), the music is abrasive and confusing, and the overall package is quite hard to get into. It could be easily argued, though, that this isn’t necessarily a negative. Nothing here is random or haphazard, the musicianship is executed with purpose and clarity. The production is appropriate for the sound and doesn’t detract from it. Yes, there is a bit of an upsell here, but it’s worth it. Listeners who put in the effort to embrace Akercocke’s madness will find an experience that’s quite exquisite. This can also provide as a gateway to the band’s older material, as one can never have enough of them once they have the taste.
In the end, Renaissance In Extremis is a very pleasant surprise. It’s not easy to pull off a comeback after a decade of separation, but Akercocke have managed it. They’ve yet again put out a creepy, raw, and creative abomination that no one else could have made. They’re still doing their thing, and they’re still great at it. Anyone who’s intrigued by weird progressive death metal owes it to themselves to acquaint themselves with the band and their latest release.
Renaissance in Extremis will be available 8/25 via Peaceville Records.