Akercocke’s re-emergence, nay renaissance in extremis, was a most welcome development for the underground.
And while the album is stellar, it pays to remember that they actually built their name, right from the early days, on their live show.
Having seen them in the past, that element has always been a pleasure. But this new stuff is so different – and let’s face it, some of it quite introspective and proggy – that it’s an interesting question to ask how it translates.
Not to mention the bedding in of new members to the band as well.
The answer of course is that they’re on fire. But first the support here tonight in Manchester’s Rebellion Bar.
Many things occurred to me as I stood marvelling at the fact that Hecate Enthroned are even still going.
At first I wondered about the good value of the gig. The cost of entry to see Akercocke was about £14. But, I reflected, the true cost was having to sit through Hecate Enthroned.
If you’d have told me in 1997 as I listened quizzically to their feather-ruffling debut that a full two decades later I’d be standing in front of them, I’d have probably fainted. I can’t quite credit that it’s real given how completely redundant their music became even before the millennium had turned.
And still here they are: North Wales’ least relevant and thirdest rate black metal offering just refuse to die. I dont care that one video they made was once very, very silly. So were lots of people’s. It’s just that 99% of their music is awfully, awfully dull.
The venue is strung with all sorts of cheap Halloween get-up tonight. Candy floss cobwebs, glowing skulls, and all the usual bits ‘n’ bobs.
It made Hecate Enthroned look unintentionally part of it all. Their singer with his monkish hood and strappy arm things just looked like a trick or treater.
As he barked and yapped a high pitched rat-tat-tat screetch over the dull riffs he could literally have been saying anything. Which made his upward finger pointing to accentuate the importance of particular sentences all the more bizarre.
And dull those riffs were, even to those playing them. Both guitarists made their work look incredibly laboured, lacking any connection with the music, both staring permanently at the strings, brows furrowed headbanging vacantly with the look on the face that says exactly one thing:
Did I leave the immersion on?
Yes, some of it was alright. But only in a nostalgic way, really. The same could be said of the hardy perennial ‘The Crimson Thorns’. It was at least a genuine gem.
Yet new tracks were referred to as “heavy ones”. As opposed to what? They’re a black metal band?
Anyway, it’s a long, long set, and one that just reinforces the view that these lads should have left the stage fifteen years ago. Sorry, but that’s how it is.
The headliners are, of course, in a different league.
As we know, they’re an entirely different proposition these days. Relaxed, amiable and accessible, grateful even, their onstage presence is now absolutely stripped of pretence and is the easy confidence of guys who just want to be there to play.
Paul Scanlan however remains an incredible rock star. White jeans and white cuban heels, topless waistcoat – a vision, with his array of Jacksons.
Their starting point is unexpected. ‘Baphomet’ and ‘Son Of The Morning’ are early numbers. I would have expected more of a pepper-potting of the new material, but the band have different ideas.
I mentioned about seeing how the new band members would fit in. Sam Loynes is interesting to watch. When he’s not playing his synths he does have a tendency to do a strange thing where he looks like he’s pulling back an invisible archers bow – over, and over – never quite released at the last moment.
It’s a tic. We all have them.
As to the music, it is flattening powerful.
Paul and Jason are as one on the guitars, locked tight right through the most challenging of their riffs. It’s especially impressive to hear the tone, particularly of the clean sections. They have really invested time and craft into it in a way that wasn’t quite so clear before.
And as ever, David Gray is both the brains, the brawn and the wow-factor in their music. His intricate and powerful stick work, one moment Suffocation, the next Photek, is a breathtaking watch.
His speed is scintillating and the the 4/4 doublekick sections are absolutely massive when they rumble in.
The new album is a treat live. Yes, a few guitar gremlins bedevil Jason during ‘Disappear’ at its closing stages right at that crucial King Crimson-esque chord progression at the end. But Scanlan handles it.
After that, ‘Unbound By Sin’, ‘Insentience’, on and on it goes. It is a treat, an exposition of that great return to form.
Akercocke are at the kind of flow state on stage that you just wish you could reach: guys on all cylinders playing like absolute fuck while delivering some of the most creative, compositionally sparkling death metal you could imagine.
There’s been some comment on this tour that turnouts haven’t been what they might have. Perhaps people are saving their dosh for a bigger halloween party. Perhaps the sight of Hecate Enthroned’s name on the bill gave pause for thought.
Whichever. If you weren’t at this you missed an absolute performance.
Akercocke can take heart from it knowing that they’ve proven they’re not only up to the live environment as they return to the fray, but command it as a band poised to evolve in ever more interesting directions in the coming years.
A magnificent display.
– Earl Grey ::: 31/10/17