Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone
he Hellfire Club was an 18th century English secret society begun by Sir Francis Dashwood. In the 1750's, Dashwood acquired a ruined medieval abbey, Medmenham, and converted it into a precursor to the Playboy Mansion. Amidst lavish, licentious Greco-Roman furnishings, Dashwood's "monks" partook of wine, women, and Satanic rituals. Despite its exclusive nature, the club's existence was hardly a secret, as its members were rich and powerful, including a Prime Minister, a son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Earl of Sandwich; notable guests of the Hellfire Club included Benjamin Franklin and the artist William Hogarth. While the club dissolved in the latter half of the 18th century, its spirit lives on in an English metal band named Akercocke.
Akercocke (pronounced "ack-er-cock-ay") takes its name from the talking monkey in Goethe's Faust. Onstage, the band wears impeccably tailored suits. For Akercocke, its suits are not affectations, but part of a unified lifestyle rooted in Satanism. Singer/guitarist Jason Mendonça says, "To be a Satanist requires discipline. To be a musician at this level requires discipline. We practice four times a week, at least, every week. The suits are just like a visual representation of our discipline. We're not scruffy kinds of guys; we're not jeans and t-shirts kind of guys in day-to-day life. We're smart guys, we're gentlemen." Satan in metal is nothing new, but Akercocke takes Satanism more seriously than simply slapping pentagrams on artwork. In interviews, the band makes clear that its beliefs have little to do with the horned beast of Judeo-Christian origin. Instead, it approaches Satan as an artistic muse and a metaphor for freedom. Musically and personally, Akercocke embodies the engraved motto that greeted visitors to Medmenham: "Do As Thou Wilt."
Death metal and black metal are notoriously insular, but Akercocke has distinguished itself by freely drawing from both. Death metal tends to emphasize the low end, while black metal mainly resides in the midrange and treble, so Akercocke's "blackened death" hybrid is rich and full-bodied. 2003's Choronzon was a brutal effort full of frenzied riffs and warp-speed blastbeats. Perhaps recognizing that "blasting for Satan" was ultimately limited, Akercocke has scaled back its force. The band has hardly gone soft; rather, it now doles out brutality in measured doses, with softer passages for contrast. These dynamics make Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone a smooth, pleasurable listen.
Akercocke's signature is cleanly picked, heavy melodies; imagine the dark jangle of early R.E.M. played through Godflesh-sized distortion. On this album, the band highlights this eerie, massive sound, and moves away from black metal. In its place is a new influence—progressive rock. Like Opeth, Akercocke's prog side takes the form of precise odd meters and free-form song structures. Two songs particularly stand out here. On "Verdelet," Mendonça unleashes low growls, high screeches, and sonorous gothic vocals over death metal, '80s thrash, melancholy melodies, and the aforementioned dark jangle. The ten-minute "Shelter from the Sand" is even more ambitious. Its first two minutes alone contain blasting death metal, dark jangle, and Killing Joke-esque post-punk. The song breaks down midway to piano and melodic sheets of feedback. As the intensity rebuilds, the vocals and guitars mix major and minor tonalities, creating tension that resolves to wacky odd meters and a finale that's somehow both triumphant and tragic. Akercocke attempts more in this song than most bands do on entire albums. Not all of the experimentation works, but Akercocke hits the mark 90% of the time.
Completing the package is a clear, heavy mix and mostly classy artwork. Over its career, Akercocke has filled its album covers with naked women and goats. The front and back covers here depart from this practice, with the dramatic angles and shadows of classic film noir. Still, the liner notes contain absurd (but well-done) illustrations of (what else?) naked women and goats. Stylish on the outside, but decadent on the inside, Akercocke proves that Satan still has the best music.