Twenty-nineteen has, so far, been an interesting year for metal. Not including the fact that the infamous Lords of Chaos has finally hit the big screen. And it seems to be the catalyst for some interesting current events. Events brought on by weirdos that wish they were 1) Norwegian and 2) friends with Count Grishnakh. Churches of all denominations have been going up in flames around the world and one can only wonder how far this will go. Hell, as of this writing, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has gone up in smoke. And one can only wonder, with the nonstop success of the French scene, who is responsible. It seems only natural that drama of this, or any, kind would be spurred on by the rekindling of the early days of black metal. But, as it turns out, the Notre Dame Cathedral was “not” arson and most of the other arsons are so random, they’re boring. Yet, your eyes haven’t left the word “L’Acéphale” since we started. In a world of French-ruled black metal, reborn fascist Vikernes-ism, and the neverending argument between Odinists and Satanists, I know L’Acéphale has piqued your interest…
Now that I have your attention, L’Acéphale aren’t French.1 Nor are they interested in the unrealistic, nihilistic wet dreams of their young Norwegian counterparts. Instead, Set Sothis Nox La, et al. delve deep into the mind of Georges Bataille. Even naming their band (and third release) after Bataille’s secret society. Though Bataille had similar views on Christianity and society as the scene’s church-burners, some would argue that Bataille’s views are more mature and less violent. Others, though, would argue that Bataille and his band of misfits are all talk. But, like black metal, talk and imagery are everything. Lyrics or essays on the distaste of mankind and an upside cross or headless body as an image for a secret society work wonders on impressionable young ones. But what happened to the head? L’Acéphale is the head.
And with any rearing head, it takes time for opener “Sovereignty” to show its full shape. After an eerie introduction that includes a hypnotizing female voice, the song settles into a meloblack groove whose chest shrinks and swells with anticipation. Falling and rising, weaving clean guitar passages with distorted ones, the low vocals appear.2 But it isn’t long before those nasty rasps obliterate them. “Sovereignty” focuses on ascension/descension repetition rather than riff change, finally maxing out after twelve minutes.
On the other end of the bookshelf, “Winternacht” uses similar bombastic atmospheres, building climaxes (via clean-to-distorted riff strength), and navel-gazing repetition. The closer is a bit more dynamic than the opener,3 yet the back-half of the song is where I lose focus. After almost fifty-five minutes of music already, the twenty-minute “Winternacht” is too much.
The rest of the bookshelf contains the true diversity of L’Acéphale. “Runenberg” takes its repetitive quo from the opener but cranks up the heaviness with the best riffs on the disc. And, in lots of ways, it succeeds at being the biggest and most-successful track on the album. After “Sovereignty,” the female-voiced beauty, “In Gloria in Excelsis Mihi,”4 commands eight minutes of your melancholic mood. But the clever and well-placed “Runenberg” gets your blood flowing in a hurry. The same can be said about the blood-sucking “Last Will,” as it succeeds the larger-than-life “Hark! The Battlecry Is Ringing.” The former is a (mostly) simple, in-your-face black metal piece. While the latter is a folky, atmospheric number with cathedral-like vocals and a melodic air that combines the folkiness of Bathory and Primordial with Rotting Christ.
Unfortunately, after the bizarre, tick-tock character of “Sleep,” I find myself mentally exhausted by the variety and power of the record. And there’s still twenty minutes left of “Winternacht.” While these long tracks and albums are nothing new to L’Acéphale, their previous release (Stahlhartes Gehäuse) consisted of four well-crafted pieces. Something that is easier to digest than L’Acéphale‘s seven. That said, this new release—though, not as strong as its predecessor—is good. And, if it weren’t for some of the drawn-out sections in “Sovereignty” and “Winternacht,” as well as the album’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink songwriting style, this would trump the impressive Stahlhartes Gehäuse.