Akercocke - Antichrist
Earache Records
Experimental Death Metal
12 songs (52:32)
Release year: 2007
Akercocke, Earache Records
Reviewed by Goat
Album of the month

If ever there was a band you could describe as eccentric, Akercocke is it. From the image of nineteenth-century gentlemen Satanists to the dark and erotic music itself, London’s finest walk their own path and have done since debut full-length Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene. Over the years and the band’s five albums, although the base formula – a highly experimental mixture of Black and Death Metal – has barely changed, the trappings have. Just as the writhing woman on Rape…’s cover gradually turned (2001’s Goat Of Mendes) and walked away (2003’s Choronzon) so the band grew relaxed enough with its style to make songs more intricate and skilled, not needing the extra infamy of nudity to speak for them. 2005’s Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone, for many the best release of the band yet, featured a complete and total lack of naked women on the cover, instead adding a kind of film noir texture to the band’s already laden bow.

Listening through the band’s back catalogue in preparation for Antichrist, it’s hard not to be impressed by the skill apparent. There’s barely a weak moment to be found on any of Akercocke’s albums, and when taken as a body of work it’s obviously going to give the band legendary status in the near future. Although England has its Napalm Deaths and Bolt Throwers, the Death Metal scene here never seems to get the international respect it deserves. America especially seems reluctant to accept Akercocke, although the band has toured there. Perhaps it’s simply too much for them, too ‘English’. After all, the country that produced everyone from Monty Python to The Meads Of Asphodel has traditionally had a tough time being taken seriously, especially across the pond. No wonder it’s hard for a deliberately eccentric band such as this, whose members are happy to describe their music as ‘silly’, to find favour in the more straightforward American mindset.

Goodness only knows what they’ll make of Antichrist, then. From the front cover alone (green!) which features a montage of images, forests, a goat, and um, a nearly bare-breasted woman, the stage seems set for a regressive, back-to-the-roots monster of an album (heck, there’s a homage to Altars Of Madness’ artwork on the inside). Take a look at the band photograph, however, and witness frontman Jason Mendonca’s magnificent moustache, a roguish foil to the rather disturbing individual portraits. Clearly, the playfulness is still there, the ‘cheerful Satanist’ philosophy holding true, and a listen to the music will confirm that this is not a major departure from the band’s base sound.

In many ways continuing where Words… left off, Antichrist takes a slightly different route to the same outcome. Where its predecessor was a ramble through technical Death Metal territory with Proggy bits, this seems more old-school, the Deicide worship that has always been present in the band’s sound becoming more refined. If anything sums up the ‘Cocke circa 2007, though, it is intro Black Messiah, a sharp contrast to the gentle, almost neoclassical finale of Words… It's a feedback-driven, harsh electronic statement of intent, and opens the door onto the album proper with sheer malice, announcing the band’s presence with the subtlety of a brick in the face.

Although the arrival of ex-The Berzerker guitarist Matt Wilcock meant that the Death Metal elements took precedence over the Black, there’s a slight return to darker realms here. First song proper Summon The Antichrist is a blast of Death Metal fury for the most part, the midway acoustic breakdown almost an afterthought, and yet the atmosphere is pure Black. Axiom starts the experimentation off, with acoustic riffing over blastbeats, and Mendonca’s stirring clean vocals giving the song its epic drive. His vocals are always masterful, be they Goregrind growls or chilling shrieks, and the mixture makes for a compelling listen. There aren’t nearly enough vocalists with posh English accents in Metal, and by refusing to adopt a fake accent unlike so many of the vocalists out there he makes a stand for every one of us latent Butlers. A particularly Dream Theater-alike solo and echoing outro sets the seal on one of many excellent songs on the album.

It’s worth mentioning here that there’s been noticeable messageboard whining about the production. Ignore it – the sound is wonderful, each instrument ringing out clearly, from guitars to drums. Even the bass, provided by new member Pete Benjamin (formerly of excellent Prog-Death crew Corpsing) is audible and very well played. It’s always a source of amazement that people who will defend the haziest bedroom Black Metal have to have perfect clarity on everything else – a little fog can reveal much more than it hides.

There’s a natural flow to the album, songs weaving in and out of one another, that makes it very easy to listen to. The Middle-Eastern wailing of The Promise, for example, leads perfectly into a droning spoken word section (‘Place your faith in sex and death/Rather than the wisdom of the divine’ – drummer extraordinaire David Gray’s lyrics as ever insightful and interesting) before My Apterous Angel picks up the thread with bird calls and almost grunge-y riffs before plunging back into the Death Metal. It would be easy to write rapturous paragraphs upon paragraphs on the various elements that have been added to each song but as frequent readers will know, this scribbler finds track-by-track reviews distasteful – take it on good authority that you will never be less than riveted whilst listening.

As for the question that all want answered, is Antichrist better than its predecessor? Well, it depends; it is certainly more varied, more playful, takes more risks. You’d never have found the near emo-melodies and dancefloor synths of The Dark Inside on Words… - it would have been too odd, not in line with the more traditional progressive direction of that album. With Antichrist, all bets are off; literally anything could assault you at any time, and it makes for a much more exciting listen than Words… was as a result.

Although the album itself is practically flawless, the two bonus tracks available on the special edition seem out of place. It’s not that Chapel Of Ghouls or Leprosy as presented here are bad, far from it – a band of Akercocke’s technical prowess would have to try hard indeed to mess them up - but they are far too faithful to the originals to be anything more than a curiosity. Who wouldn’t have liked to hear these songs given that special and unique twist? Although a suitable homage to the two legendary bands in question (you really shouldn’t need to be told who they are) they are entertaining but inessential.

Ultimately, Antichrist is the next step in Akercocke’s evolution, another step along a career path strewn with diamonds. It would not be surprising in the least if the next album was to go Power Metal, Industrial, Folk or a mixture of the three, as this is one band headed slowly but steadily towards Avant-Garde territories. Whether our national heroes will end up there is impossible to know, after all, it’s the sheer unpredictability as much as anything which makes Akercocke the band that it is. For the moment, all that any of us can do is sit back and enjoy each and every moment of the ride.

Killing Songs :
There's not a weak song to be found
Goat quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Akercocke that we have reviewed:
Akercocke - Renaissance in Extremis reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Akercocke - Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Akercocke - Choronzon reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
Akercocke - The Goat Of Mendes reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
Akercocke - Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene reviewed by Goat and quoted 58 / 100
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