AKERCOCKE

Fol­low­ing the split of arch Satanists Akercocke, front­man Ja­son Men­donca suf­fered from de­pres­sion. Their first al­bum in a decade, Re­nais­sance In Ex­tremis, is the sound of his re­birth

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: DAVE EVERLEY

lon­don’s Satanists have cast out lu­cifer. David Gray takes us through their in­cred­i­ble res­ur­rec­tion.

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/part­nerin-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. Ja­son’s work­load within Akercocke and out­side of it was huge. As well as re­hears­ing four times a week and man­ag­ing the band, he was work­ing 60 hours a week as a network con­sul­tant and be­ing a fa­ther on top of that.

“I just didn’t feel like I was par­tic­i­pat­ing fully be­cause my head was else­where,” he says.

“I was keep­ing a mul­ti­tude of plates spin­ning, and if you keep adding to them, sooner or later some­thing’s go­ing to crash to the ground. And crash to the ground it did.”

It wasn’t in­stant. The band con­tin­ued for a few years af­ter An­tichrist, but Ja­son was feel­ing in­creas­ingly un­well. He had suf­fered from mood swings for years – “crip­pling anx­i­ety that pre­vents you from opening your own front door, yet the next day you’re the life and soul of the party” is how he puts it – but his state of mind was get­ting worse.

By the time Akercocke had played their last gig, in 2011, he was al­ready start­ing re­treat into him­self. As he sings on Dis­ap­pear, the opening track on Re­nais­sance In Ex­tremis: ‘I sim­ply cease to ex­ist / I sim­ply dis­ap­pear.’

“I be­came more and more her­mit-like,” he says. “I didn’t re­ally see any­one. I saw my fam­ily, but I didn’t leave the house or so­cialise with any­one.”

He found him­self un­able to func­tion. He would un­con­trol­lably burst into tears in front of the tele­vi­sion. “Even if it was a cat food com­mer­cial,” he says, with the sort of wry amuse­ment that only the dis­tance of time al­lows.

He threw him­self into his job – it was eas­ier than fac­ing up to what he needed to face up to. Ev­ery­thing else fell by the way­side. It made a bad sit­u­a­tion worse.

“I just wanted to die, there’s no two ways about it. I wanted to kill my­self, ab­so­lutely,” he says. “I felt so val­ue­less as a per­son that I didn’t want to par­tic­i­pate any­more; I just wanted to switch my­self off. I felt it’d be eas­ier for me to do that.”

There were times when he had “en­ter­tained” (his words) get­ting help, but never seen it through. Now, though, things had reached rock bot­tom. The tip­ping point came when his mum turned up on his doorstep. She knew her son was in trou­ble and had looked into get­ting him help.

“She said, ‘I’ve found some peo­ple I think you ought to talk to, and I think it’s your last chance.’ And I took that very, very se­ri­ously,” he says. Ja­son was di­ag­nosed with de­pres­sion. “I had al­ways been of that re­ally ig­no­rant mind­set that de­pres­sion was some­thing for peo­ple who ought to go out and get a bit of fresh air, pull their fuck­ing socks up and crack on,” he says.

This was dif­fer­ent: it was hap­pen­ing to him. He gave him­self over to re­cov­ery. This would in­volve Cog­ni­tive Be­havioural Ther­apy and, later, anti-de­pres­sant med­i­ca­tion. It would be a long slog – the best part of two years – be­fore he was bet­ter. But the im­por­tant thing was that he had stepped onto the path in the first place.

Ja­son can re­mem­ber when the light came back on. In the past, he’d been the sort of per­son who heard mu­sic in his head – new riffs or melodies fight­ing to get out, to be hastily scrib­bled down and turned into fully fledged songs. All that stopped when he be­came ill and even when he be­gan his re­cov­ery.

“Dur­ing that pe­riod there was noth­ing,” he says. “It was like some­one turned off a tap in my head. That was very fright­en­ing.”

He re­calls the pre­cise mo­ment, not least be­cause of its al­most laugh­able ba­nal­ity. He had just turned off the end of the M4 and was

“Men­tal ill­ness isn’t a sign of weak­ness” JA­SON HOPES MORE PEO­PLE WILL TALK OPENLY ABOUT THEIR STRUG­GLES

brak­ing at the end of the slip road when he sud­denly heard a surge of mu­sic in his head.

“I thought, ‘Ooh, that’ll work quite well.’ And then it oc­curred to me: ‘You haven’t had that kind of fuck­ing thought for ages, dude. Just maybe it’s com­ing back.’”

Just as mu­sic had re-en­tered his life, so Ja­son was ready to re-en­ter mu­sic. He hadn’t picked up a gui­tar dur­ing the pe­riod of his ill­ness, but his in­ter­est was reignited when he was asked to play in a metal cov­ers band at a char­ity gig. David Gray had gen­tly tried to steer him towards an Akercocke re­union in the past, but he had al­ways re­fused, re­sis­tant to re­peat­ing the past. Af­ter that gig, ev­ery­thing had changed.

“I hadn’t played the gui­tar for years, but at that gig I was think­ing, ‘Christ, I’d for­got­ten how im­por­tant this is to me,’” he says. “That flipped a switch. I thought, ‘If we rein­vented it in the right kind of way, maybe we could do this again. It es­ca­lated very quickly.”

The res­ur­rected Akercocke played their very first comeback gig in front of sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple at 2016’s Blood­stock Fes­ti­val. “I walked out there and thought, ‘Holy fuck’,” he says. “It would have been nice to do a lit­tle club show to warm up and re­mem­ber what it’s like to do a gig.” Chants of ‘Wel­come back’ erupted be­tween the songs. “I can’t ac­tu­ally ver­balise what I was feel­ing at the time, but it was won­der­ful.”

The de­ci­sion to make a new al­bum was an ob­vi­ous one. The only stip­u­la­tion was that it con­tin­ued the band’s ini­tial MO of mov­ing for­ward with ev­ery re­lease. “Es­pe­cially the lyri­cal con­tent,” says Ja­son, who shared the lyric-writ­ing du­ties with David. “It was im­por­tant to me that we pushed that for­ward and not write about tits and devils any­more.”

“we didn’t want to write about tits” AKERCOCKE HAVE DITCHED THE THE­ATRI­CAL LYRICS FOR SOME­THING MORE PER­SONAL

The new al­bum cer­tainly dis­penses with the show­boat­ing Satanism and ex­ul­tant erot­ica of the past. Re­nais­sance In Ex­tremis delves deep into the per­sonal in the way that ex­treme metal rarely does. Tellingly, it’s not just a litany of per­sonal hells – there are glim­mers of optimism in there, too. For ev­ery lyric such as, ‘Place my hands gen­tly over your ears / To save you the sound of my scream’ (First To Leave The Fu­neral), there’s a line that runs: ‘Don’t give up the fight / From dark­ness comes light.’ Mu­si­cally, too, it re­flects myr­iad moods, from the old-school death metal of opening track Dis­ap­pear to the for­lornly jazzy end­ing of A Cold Day In Septem­ber. This is ex­treme metal fil­tered through a frac­tured mind.

That’s not the only thing to have changed. Most ob­vi­ous is the fact that the band have dis­pensed with the suits that gave them such a strik­ing im­age first time around. “Oh, come on,” Ja­son laughs. “It wouldn’t have been right. It would be like be­ing in some shit am-dram group. What’s funny is in those old in­ter­views we say, ‘We’ll never be a jeans-and-t-shirt band.’ You know what? I’m lov­ing be­ing in a jeans-and-t-shirt band.”

But the big­gest dif­fer­ence of all ac­cord­ing to Ja­son Men­donca is Ja­son Men­donca him­self.

“I learnt a lot about what to do and what not to do,” he says. “Like not tak­ing so much on. I wouldn’t be so ar­ro­gant to sug­gest that it may not hap­pen, but I would like to think that what I learnt would al­low me to mit­i­gate it be­fore it es­ca­lated too far, and I know that I would reach out for help if it did. Be­cause the worst thing you can do is bury some­thing like this.”

Re­nais­sance in ex­tRemis IS OUT NOW VIA PEACEVILLE

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