Akercocke – Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

Author: BD Joyce

Akercocke – Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone
  • Artist: Akercocke
  • Album: Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone
  • Year of Release: 2005
  • Country: UK
  • Label: Earache
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: MOSH 322CD

In a short space of time, Akercocke had emerged from the London extreme metal underground to become one of the most heralded bands in metal, with an already formidable back catalogue to bear comparison with any of their peers. Over three fearsome, and virtually flawless albums, Akercocke had given an object study in how to successfully develop a core sound, their ever-growing tentacles reaching into increasingly more eldritch depths, while never completely severing the connection to the heart of the creature (or hearts, if we are going to stretch the cephalopod metaphor to its limit). Their fourth album, Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone was, on release, considered something of left turn, the band apparently jumping headfirst into the prog-rock ocean. On reflection, however, this reputation perhaps says more about the conservatism of the metal scene in 2005, than it does about Akercocke’s evolving sonic choices. While it is undoubtedly a courageous album for an ostensibly death metal act to release, it is at all times recognisably the same band that made Choronzon, and even the most progressive moments of this record sound like nothing less than a completely natural extension of everything Akercocke have done to this point. If the previous three records were the assembly of a spacecraft, Words That Go Unspoken… is that same vehicle leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, crewed by the engineers that built it.

The incendiary opening track ‘Verdelet’ initially offers few clues to the more expansive sound of the album, contrasting strongly with its immediate predecessor by eschewing a lengthy introduction, in favour of launching straight into coruscating death metal, which remains an integral part of the band’s armoury throughout. The familiar dissonant, ringing arpeggios, something of an Akercocke trademark, make an early appearance. More unfamiliar though, is the cleaner, crisper mix, and sense of spaciousness offered both by the stripped back instrumentation and more conventional riffing style. Prior to this point in their career, Akercocke have generally favoured a dense, suffocating production, which has resulted in their music seeming uniquely claustrophobic, every guitar figure building patterns on top of the previous one, gradually constricting the life from the trapped, but mesmerised listener. On Words That Go Unspoken… it is as if these walls have suddenly disintegrated, and in its place is a sense of the infinite. Where no life once dwelled, wide open space now appears, the terrain offering fertile soil for fecund growth and new life. The other key difference from what has come before is the move away from the black metal atmospherics that have characterised and distinguished the band’s sound since their debut. Although the album does not avoid the use of synths, their function is more often utilised as a lead instrument, rather than cloaking their intense tremolo blasts in the gothic grandiosity of old. Intriguingly, what we are left with is an Akercocke that are still recognisably Akercocke, but also much more direct in their metallic attack.

The brilliant ‘Verdelet’ is emblematic of these changes, featuring all of the hyperactive tempo-shifts that the band have become known for, forever twisting death metal into seductive new shapes, but also hosting one of the most straightforward and grooving thrash riffs that Akercocke have ever committed to tape – the mid-section of the track is as downright anthemic and accessible as the band have ever been, and as a result, ‘Verdelet’ is almost indecently infectious. The fun doesn’t end there, however, and it’s the second half of the track which really showcases the wide-ranging appeal of this iteration of Akercocke. Picking up the Eastern tones that were utilised more tentatively on the previous record, on Words That Go Unspoken…, the band fully commit to the rich and enveloping synth-based opulence that makes an appearance following the aforementioned thrashing grooves. For a band that have generally favoured multi-part songs playing host to numerous abrupt changes of mood and cadence, it is truly satisfying to hear the band exploring a more post-metal feel, in which small motifs and themes are gradually developed, and pulled and pushed into different directions. If Akercocke were once a highly adept Victor Frankenstein, bolting their monster together from disparate parts, here it feels that they are instead gestating a new being, nerves, arteries and limbs gradually extending outwards, marrying the triumphant metal classicism of the spiralling leads that lead the song into the more familiar wind-tunnel riffing of old, and then on into monochrome grimness, working through chromatic black metal patterns, before finally resting on a progressive death metal conclusion, which finds mid-period Deicide playing Disintegration-era The Cure as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Leading off with a track that acknowledges no boundaries is a masterstroke of sequencing, as it allows Akercocke to roam into virtually any musical space for the remainder of the album’s duration without it appearing particularly outré, and it all serves to make Words That Go Unspoken… an utterly intoxicating album. This is not to say that Akercocke have abandoned their roots entirely, and ‘Eyes Of The Dawn’ even offers nostalgic fans something of a throwback to the ferocity of The Goat Of Mendes, but it is also undeniable that the most entrancing musical passages to be found on the record are more often than not those that bear the least resemblance to their previous work. Perhaps this is partially because although Akercocke have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to compose superior death metal, the quality of their first three albums perhaps dictates that continuing in this direction can only ever result in diminishing returns, as the startling nature of their take on the genre is lost amidst the now contempt-breeding familiarity of this sound. It is surely also a consequence of the fact that hearing a band as versatile as Akercocke providing their unique slant on a broader array of sounds is never likely to be less than intriguing, and when it is as resoundingly successful as it is here, the joy in the listener being jolted anew by a band that could easily be taken for granted provides the same kind of gratification obtained from their earlier records, but in a refreshingly different way.

The title track is most emblematic of the band’s new approach, containing only homeopathic traces of the band that made Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene. Tribal drums beat an opening tattoo, joined by meandering guitar figures, draped in roomy reverb, which gradually builds into classic metal guitar flourishes, not unlike the shades of 1980s metal that occasionally peak through the progressive metal of Ihsahn’s early solo albums. A little less like the Emperor mainman, this is the prelude to a thumping electro section verging on dubstep, which brings the digital side of the Akercocke sound to the fore with a greater degree of assurance than they have ever displayed, before a supremely arrogant Coroner-style tech-thrash riff obliterates any listener that remains unconvinced by Akercocke circa 2005. Sweeping clean guitars round out a majestic track, re-imagining the sound of Cynic’s Focus, minus the distinctive vocals of that particular album, and once again it seems that the band have effortlessly achieved the ingestion and seamless assimilation of almost the entire history of rock and metal, re-configuring a bewildering arsenal of lethal weapons into something entirely of their own, and it’s difficult to avoid being swept up in the sheer audacity of it all.

One could easily pick out almost any track other than the customary atmospheric interludes, themselves an irresistible call to pray at the altar of this mighty band, as a highlight, each one containing some nugget of triumphant majesty, or yet another alchemical combination of seemingly incompatible musical ingredients. Although Words That Go Unspoken… could not be said to be front-loaded, the tracks that, together with ‘Verdelet’, complete a stunning opening triple-whammy are rather special. ‘Seduced’ is a never-ending stream of dismembered ideas that all land as intended, initially combining black metal note selection with precise death metal riffing, as if Satyricon were covering Carcass, before channelling the major key hippie death metal of Lykathea Aflame to bafflingly successful effect, and even finding the time to resurrect the guitar-synths of Pestilence’s unfairly maligned Spheres for some ingenious lead guitar runs. ‘Shelter From The Sand’ tops this, with arguably Akercocke’s most epic track yet. The opening sections are the kind of dissonant death metal that has long characterised their sound, but the final third is a blissful blend of shimmering prog guitars, stark piano lines, and deft vocal melodies. Each fragile note is a sliver of beauty, like lone trees on a barren mountainside, and the band appear at once nakedly vulnerable in a way that they have never allowed themselves to be seen before. Commonly Akercocke’s music has been an ego-filled display of elite supremacy; ‘Shelter From The Sand’ transcends ego in favour of something more cosmically infinite, and less earthbound – spacegaze in place of shoegaze. Once again, we find Akercocke sonically prefiguring some of the extreme metal trends that have seen increased popularity in the 2010s and beyond, bringing together the kind of dreamy post-black metal of Alcest and Deafheaven and the sci-fi death metal of Blood Incantation and Cryptic Shift into a singular sonic brew, some years before these distinct takes on extreme metal solidified into the more focussed sub-genres that we see today. Elsewhere, penultimate track ‘The Penance’ feels almost like the culmination of everything that Akercocke have achieved thus far, perfectly packaged into a seamless display of magnificence. Within the first minute of the track, stuttering, off-kilter death metal has birthed spidery prog, which in turn gives way to chromatic, Marduk-style relentless black metal blasting, spliced with the grandiloquent melodicism of Opeth at their best, the frostbitten North intruding from a parallel dimension into warmth of the near East evoked by the Arabic-sounding intervals utilised in the track’s main melody. Few metal bands display this level of ambition, and fewer still have the skill to pull it off in the way that Akercocke do with insouciant ease.

Somewhat frustratingly, as they did on Choronzon, Akercocke choose to close the album in perplexing fashion, with ‘Lex Talionis’. Although there is something amusingly contrarian about their tendency to opt for the atmospheric comedown as the final track over the mounting epic of metallic might that they could so easily choose, it also leaves the listener with a sense of loss and slight disappointment, when the knowledge that the perfectly sequenced and fulfilling alternative is so close at hand. ‘Lex Talionis’ itself is an interesting track, the heat of North Africa and the Middle East palpably permeating the band’s lift of Black Sabbath’s ‘Spiral Architect’, creating an enticing and enveloping atmosphere, but it’s ultimately a desultory journey, travelling, but never arriving. While it would have worked perfectly as an interlude, after the all-conquering fury of ‘The Penance’, it is unavoidably anti-climactic. This should not unduly affect our evaluation of Words That Go Unspoken… as a whole though. Although not the complete departure that some would have us believe – at its heart, this is an Akercocke record that exists in a clear relation to the discography that preceded it – it is an album on which the band utilise the total freedom that their mastery of the metal genre affords them to produce an extravagant and progressive triumph. It’s not quite their best; that honour remains bestowed upon The Goat Of Mendes, but it is a vital addition to their catalogue that bears virtually endless repeated plays, and conclusively proves that artistic evolution and the expansion of an extreme metal band’s sound need not come at the price of the band’s soul, which remains resolutely intact.

Score: 90%

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