Akercocke are back in business. After reforming last year, they seem to be unstoppable as they continue their march towards the new album. Before their show at the Ritual Festival warm-up show, I spoke to founding member and drummer David Gray about the bands’ reformation, the new album, playing shows again, Bloodstock, the controversial Antichrist album and upcoming shows.
Jack: Hi, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. How are you doing?
David Gray (Drums): Excellent, thank you for asking – and thank you for taking the time to speak to me too.
Jack: So why was 2016 the perfect time for Akercocke to reform?
David Gray: I don’t know, I guess it’s a nice coincidence that it’s actually the 20 year anniversary of the birth of Akercocke. So, two decades of heavy metal seems like a nice round number to get things underway again on. Everyone has been incredibly nice to us and assisted in making the new version of the band come together painlessly, so we’re very pleased.
Jack: The reunion developed a large amount of coverage within the metal media and amongst fans. Are you surprised as to how much buzz there has been around this reunion?
David Gray: Yes, it’s always a surprise to be on the receiving end of such positivity and happiness, but very welcome and we feel very happy to be back playing shows and recording new songs for such an enthusiastic audience. It’s very gratifying to know there is such a great core audience for such an underground cult band like ourselves.
Jack: Are you happy with the response for new song ‘Inner Sanctum?’
David Gray: Definitely, we feel like the band has progressed in a natural and logical way, building from the song writing direction that we established from ‘Words that go unspoken…’ and it’s really exciting to hear such overwhelming positivity from the loyal Ak audience that they totally understand and encourage the musical development.
Jack: What’s the song about?
David Gray: I don’t know, it’s best to speak to Jason as he composed the music and wrote the lyrics, I imagine it’s rather personal to him.
Jack: Will the new album Renaissance in Extremis be in a similar vein to Inner Sanctum?
David Gray: The new album has all of the classic ingredients of any Akercocke album, face-melting guitar solos, progressive time signatures, cave man blasts, some werewolf vocals, some clean vocals, Skank Thrash beats, Hard step beats and some unconventional instruments and keyboards creating a unique atmosphere. Kind of picking up where we left off with ‘Words…’
Jack: What did new member Nathanael Underwood add to the recording process?
David Gray: Nathanael was a great asset in reuniting the three original members of the band, his confidence and energy helped to create the new version of Akercocke when it was in its infancy and I was really pleased to learn that he was actually in the audience of Ak’s first gig in north London in 1998.
Jack: This was the first album you recorded since 2007’s Antichrist. Was it weird writing and recording Akercocke material again?
David Gray: No, personally I haven’t stopped writing and recording music for the last ten years, I just had to find other people to do it with! So it was an absolute pleasure to get back with my original gangstas and pick up where we left off, I was so pleased to be back with my old bro’s I would have recorded any fucking thing. [Laughs]! The band has always been pretty efficient and professional when it comes to writing and recording and we had a brilliant time from beginning to end with this new album.
Jack: When can we see a release date for the album?
David Gray: In the summer.
Jack: In August you made your live return at Bloodstock Festival. Was it hard getting back into the swing of things?
David Gray: No, it was a pleasure to revisit all of the old songs and get involved again, establish a new rehearsal regime, organise updating all of the equipment and working hard on technique and bonding as a team unit. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to get back into a comfortable position with our old original team, Jason and Paul and I have a great trust in each other as players and it really was so easy to lock back into the old routine.
Jack: You first played Bloodstock in 2008, did you have a good time playing the festival in 2008?
David Gray: When we played back then I had no idea about the festival, it was just another gig on the calendar and it was only when we actually arrived that I realised what a great event it really is. Its pretty well organised and there have been some great bands, the backstage area and artist treatment is quite good and it was a pleasure to be involved. So making our return to the scene with our debut performance in 2016 was a fantastic opportunity and we are very grateful to have had such positive encounters.
Jack: In Autumn you went on tour with The King is Blind, what do you like about them?
David Gray: What do I like about them? They are such lovely fellas, we’ve all known Paul Ryan for years as well, they are a very agreeable bunch of chaps and a pleasure to be on the road with. Its really important to have a decent band to go on tour with, it can really drain the pleasure out of the experience if you don’t all get on.
Jack: How did you find Damnation Festival?
David Gray: Damnation is an absolute pleasure, I’ve played their with Akercocke, The Antichrist Imperium, Voices and My Dying Bride – every time its a total privilege, I would happily play that event every year. Perhaps next year I’ll turn up with my drums on my own and play a forty minute solo and recite some poetry simultaneously.
Jack: In April you’re playing the Ritual Festival pre-show, do you prefer festivals to gigs?
David Gray: Yeh, I think I do really, I prefer the format of the short, sharp shock – I personally find music sets of an hour and thirty minutes or so to be a bit boring. Even if I really love the band playing I still find that holding my attention for that time in that context can be a bit of an effort. Playing long sets can be a bit of a feat of stamina too, it can be tricky to maintain the full werewolf mode required for the entire duration without being physically distracted – I prefer the confidence of playing a shorter set with a more focused attack.
Jack: Ten years ago you released Antichrist, how do you view that album looking back?
David Gray: It has a slightly troubled history I think, the backstory to it doesn’t allow it to be the album that I think we all would of expected. ‘Words…’ was a splintered affair, most of it being composed by Jason, Paul and myself, Jason wrote two songs alone and then Matt came in and wrote a song too – so its a jigsaw puzzle of an album, it definitely works and some enthusiasts cite it as their favourite. It has the most polished finish to the production also, which helps to make it popular. So I expected to compose ‘Antichrist’ more as a band unit, as we used to function in the past but instead the song writing was strictly divided down the middle, with Jason writing all his own songs privately and Matt writing his songs privately – so its an unusual blend of compositions. I think it has some great moments and some great songs but definitely not Akercocke’s best work, in my opinion.
Jack: The album caused a lot of controversy and was the subject of date on the BBC, why do you think the controversy was so overblown?
David Gray: I have no idea why that album in particular was seized upon as being particularly noteworthy, one would assume that ‘Rape of the Bastard Nazarene’ might be considered the most offensive work we have produced after all! I think it was just good timing for us, many Ak enthusiasts still mention it on social media and in personal messages to myself so I guess it was a sound publicity venture to bring some attention to a very underground Death metal band, it was ten years ago after all.
Jack: Finally you recorded the music for ‘Horns of Baphomet’ at my favourite venue, the Colchester Arts Centre. Do you have fond memories of making the video?
David Gray: Yes absolutely, my fondest memory is probably best kept private but we had a great experience there and I think the video suitably represents the band at the time. We took great pride in writing, performing, recording and mixing all of our music – designing and creating all of our CD booklets T-shirts, posters and artwork, so it felt very natural to shoot and conduct our own video film making as well and Peaceville records supported us completely and unreservedly.
Jack: Thank you very much for your time and I hope the upcoming shows go well.
David Gray: Thank you so much for your interest, I hope you enjoy the new album.