It’s good to have you back.

…what happened?

You didn’t write, you didn’t phone…

I think it’s fair to say that Akercocke have been one of the most loved, cherished and respected extreme metal bands that this country has produced in the past 2 decades. Their departure from the scene was met with much bewilderment and genuine sadness from fans across the globe, who couldn’t understand why a band on a seemingly upward trajectory would disappear from view after making a sizeable impact in the sonics and character of British death metal.

Admittedly, the last album (2007’s controversial ‘Antichrist’) had pushed the overt Satanic angle about as far as it could go, but people still wanted more from this fascinating band.

Drummer David Gray’s other projects and 2015’s ‘Antichrist Imperium’ album went quite a long way in sating the appetite left in the interim, but now, ten years on, Akercocke have returned with their brand new album ‘Renaissance In Extremis’.

Back on Peaceville Records and reunited with former guitarist Paul Scanlan, Ak mainstays Gray and Jason Mendonça, have been joined by Nathanael Underwood on bass and Sam Loynes on keyboards.

The sound however, is still pure Akercocke.

…The twists and turns…death metal, black metal…prog…experimentation…

But something is different. Explicit bombast has given way to subtlety and (dare I say it) maturity.

Mendonça’s amazing vocal abilities are (as always) a joy to behold, and the musical brutality is still very much in evidence, but here, introspection and reasoning appear to be creating a stronger manifesto.

There are lots of surprises in this recording, and for a band that has always prided itself on its multifaceted sound, this is no mean feat.

The thrashier guitars (‘Disappear’), and the fact that Jason’s clean vocals are the main thrust of the song writing is sure to provide intrigue and debate amongst those familiar with Akercocke’s previous work. A track like the excellent ‘Unbound By Sin’ can even be considered catchy, but don’t worry, there are still violent riffs and “werewolf” vox aplenty.

Songs like ‘Insentience’ and ‘A Final Glance Back Before Departing’ equally matches venomous pace and gallop with looser grooves and a more relaxed jamming feel. The whirling ‘First to Leave the Funeral’ and ‘Familiar Ghosts’ adds spacey keyboards and evocative atmospheres, while ‘Inner Sanctum’ greets you like an old friend.

As for closing track ‘A Particularly Cold Sept’, well, I’ll let you discover that one for yourselves.

Scanlan and Mendonça’s eclectic guitar palette is locked down throughout by Gray’s precision assault and Underwood’s tangy, serpentine bass, with mixing once again handled by the legendary Neil Kernon.

So, the Akercocke of 2017 appears to be a different beast. More restrained in many ways, but bolder and more creative in others, and ultimately more satisfying.

‘Renaissance In Extremis’ is a great start to a brand new chapter, and like I said, it’s good to have them back.

(9/10 Stuart Carroll)