Akercocke mark rebirth with Renaissance In Extremis
Extreme Takeover: Following the split of arch Satanists Akercocke, frontman Jason Mendonca suffered from depression. Renaissance In Extremis, is the sound of his rebirth.
Jason Mendonca can’t say exactly when the light went out in his head. He remembers what he calls “the decline” kicking in during the latter days of his band Akercocke’s original incarnation in 2010 or 2011. But the real crunch came a couple of years later, after everything had fizzled out on the musical front. “I reached a point where I couldn’t function as a person,” he says. “I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t communicate, I couldn’t go out. Quite simply, I had a total mental breakdown.”
He relates this without drama, self-pity or the pain of recollection. For Jason, it’s important that his story is out there in the world at a time when mental illness – particularly in the form of depression – is still a painfully raw topic. Akercocke’s new album, Renaissance In Extremis, is their first in 10 years, and the first since Jason emerged from the bleakest period of his life. It’s both a journey into a heart of darkness and irrefutable proof that it is possible to come out the other side whole and well.
The Jason Mendonca sitting in this swanky but quiet London pub on a Monday lunchtime is a world away from the Jason Mendonca of 15 years ago. That man was a Satanic dandy with a pressed suit and an arched eyebrow. This one is no less funny and articulate, but infinitely wiser and more open, too. On record and in the flesh, the occult shtick has been sidelined in favour of a raw honesty that addresses everything he’s been through in the last few years.
“Mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness,” he says. “If you fall off your bicycle and break your elbow, you go to the doctor’s and get patched up. It’s the same thing with depression. You can’t see it, but it’s no less valid than any physical ailment. And the more people talk about it openly, hopefully the more it will change people’s attitudes to it.”
In the desolate wasteland that was the British extreme metal scene of the late 90s and early 00s, Akercocke were a shining beacon. Their music oscillated between the violent and the complex; their lyrical concerns were rooted in the occult, the erotic and the philosophic. They were Satanists masquerading as a death metal band – or maybe it was the other way around – with Jason and drummer/partner in- crime David Gray a Beelzebubian Mighty Boosh. But by 2007’s Antichrist, the flame was starting to flicker. Jason had become disenfranchised with the band he co-founded. This was partly musical. “We were starting to repeat ourselves,” he says. “There were elements of that album that were very much straightforward death metal, and let’s be honest, there’s people who do it way better than we ever would, so what’s the fucking point?” But there were personal issues in play, too.