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This album is a unique case. First off, it only features six songs, most being quite lengthy. With the vast majority of albums, it is completely unnecessary for a reviewer to analyze and dissect every track. But with Malefeasance, it is impossible to summarize the sound of the album, as the tracks largely have nothing to do with each other. This record should be viewed as a compilation, which is essentially what it is. Although released as a studio album, the tracks were recorded at different times, some being recorded in different years. Although this is a release by a metal band, this can hardly be considers a metal album. Though there are certainly metal sections, the majority of the material this falls under different genres. Malefeasance is quite involved, both in music and packaging. The music spans a variety of styles, and is often quite out there. The packaging is a quite impressive feat; it is so integral to this release that it becomes just as important as the music. If it is cohesion or a unified aesthetic you are seeking, look elsewhere. The songs on the album and pages in the booklet are all unique from each other, creating quite an experience.
The first song, Väinämöinen Nacht, was originally called Burzum Nacht. This song starts out as a very nice ambient song. The song is somewhat soothing and it ebbs and flows, never failing to be interesting. At a point where the ambient has been playing for quite some time, Old World European chanting can be heard in the distance. The ambient gradually fades out as the chanting becomes louder and louder. This track possesses a very distinct atmosphere, which feels ethereal and creepy at the same time; much different than your average ambient song. The following song is "Hitori Bon Odori", inspired by the Japanese Bon Festival. This is a time where the participants clean their ancestors grave and celebrate the lives of their deceased relatives. This track features a repetitive sombre guitar. As for percussion, a vaguely militaristic and somewhat lo-fi snare drum plays in the background. Very deep chants loiter in the background. While this song is very repetitive, instead of coming off as boring, it draws the listener into another world.
"A Burned Village" is the first song that includes metal in its sound. It is a cover of an obscure French black metal band. The guitar in it has a very unique timbre. It is very high pitched and doesn't at all sound like a guitar usually would in a black metal song. The drums seem almost tribal, and evoke bleak war-torn images. The vocals here are absolutely savage and raw. There are brief atmospheric sections; while these provide a relief from the ferocious assault, they come off as very creepy. Although this is the song on the album that most exemplifies black metal, it is by no means orthodox. While retaining the destructive vibe of early black metal, this song does it in a completely unique way.
"From A Miserable Abode", featuring slow and extremely heavy droning guitars, is a reworking of a song by the Japanese band Corrupted. The vocals on this may be hard for some listeners to digest. The vocals are extremely high pitched rasps, which sound really fucked up and weird, to say the least. While the drone elements of this track are very good, the vocals can get irritating if your not in the right mood, especially considering the length in which they endure. After a good while of just droning guitars and screechy vocals, some weird experimentation comes in, which can almost be described as very dark and abrasive psychedelia. Eventually we are left with a weird droney melody which sounds slightly middle eastern (and also kind of like bagpipes) as well as weird dark psychedelic noises. The melody takes a few weird twists and turns and morphs throughout the time it is present on the track. If you can get past the weird vocals, which eventually drop out of the track, this song can be quite a trip.
The next song "Sleep has its House ", is a cover of experimental neo-folk group Current 93. This song starts off with noisy industrial-tinged buzzing. Eventually more conventional melodies find their way into the mix. The type of instrumentation suits the neo-folk aesthetic perfectly, but sound like they take some influence from classical music. After a long while, vocals do come in. The way they are sung is very creepy. The final song on the album, "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted" (a phrase which originated with the Islamic missionary Haasan-i Sabbah), is the album's longest song, at a lengthy twenty three minutes. The song starts off as dark ambient. It is slightly noisy, largely thanks to an abrasive drone, but not nearly to the extent as the previous two tracks. Certain elements change throughout the lengthy dark ambient section, but the feeling emitted by the song remains the same. Eventually, powerful neo-folk styled melodies emerge, coming from an acoustic guitar. These melodies are almost cinematic and are certainly the highlight of the album. Although long, an even longer version of this track exists, at a staggering ninety three minutes.
This review would not be complete without mention of the packaging. It is truly spectacular what Set Sothis Nox La was able to manage for Malefeasance (this is referring to the vinyl version.) Despite some artwork being incorporated into the band's name, the front of the quality black sleeve it comes in has a very minimalist feel. The back features esoteric symbols and sketches of strange creatures, which seems to be one of the only recurring themes in the artwork. Above this is a quote from Georges Bataille, the French philosopher who founded the secret society Acéphale, which the band named themselves after. The release also comes with a large double sided poster. One side shares similarities with the aforementioned sleeve. The same quote is on display, as well as the same bizarre, grotesque creatures and the symbols. These creatures are also seen on the centre of the vinyl records and as the cover to the booklet. Also present on the poster is the headless figure that represents Georges Bataille's secret society. The bands logo makes an appearance, as does a long explanation of the album. The last sentence perfectly displays the intent of this record:
“Each of these tracks represent specific daggers stabbed into the heart of Black Metal; each burying their way to the hilt of the Orthodox corpse.”
The opposing side of the poster is much more of what you would expect of a band poster. There is a fantastic black and white piece by artist Wallace Smith, featuring a jumble of grotesque figures (although unlike the ones previously mentioned.) At the bottom is the name of the band and album in a highly stylized Old English font.
The booklet is a spectacular triumph, no doubt being one of the most intricate and varied in the entire metal genre. It features an “Official Program Relative to L'acephale”, which is full of Georges Battaille's ideas. Like the music, the booklet should be regarded as a compilation. It contains everything from an Old World painting, to strange manga; from European folk art, to a picture of a truly bizarre statue. The artworks is often relevant to the track; for example, the track inspired by the Japanese Bon Festival, is the track where the weird Manga makes an appearance. Although Manga can often be childish and cheesy, this is surprisingly dark. This booklet is abundant with strange and interesting artwork. The lyrics are present, as well.
This is no ordinary album. It spans multiple genres, as the artwork and lyrics span multiple ideas and aesthetics. In the case of Malefeasance, the packaging is truly just as important as the music. If you are interested in this album, it would be a huge mistake to just download it from the internet. This is a full experience; the full package is needed for it to be complete. This album is a display of different ideas. This is not something one can just pick up and listen to casually. With a vast array of sounds, this album can appear baffling, but it is well worth the effort. Granted, the harsh dissonance present in some tracks can prove to be a bit much at times, especially to people not well-versed in extreme music. However, this aspect will be a delight to noise fans. Although this dissonance can be trying during its prolonged periods, it is still an interesting aspect of the album, is not too overbearing. Too some, they may consider it the best part. While this album is certainly not for everyone and in the end fringe music, this will mean a lot too a small number of people. Arguably that is better than being decent to a large number of people. A tremendous amount of effort was obviously put into this release, both in terms of music and artwork. This is truly something different.
Originally posted at:
Malefeasance is the second release from Portland-based experimental black metal project L’Acéphale to appear during 2009, following Stahlhartes Gehäuse, and it’s a very different work. Whilst Stahlhartes Gehäuse is pretty much a black metal album, albeit one with an eclectic range of influences, Malefeasance is more like a black ambient album with occasional references to black metal and neo-folk. I interviewed Set Sothis Nox La of L’Acéphale for Heathen Harvest webzine in May 2009, and he made these comments on the differences between the two albums:
Malefeasance takes the black metal aesthetic and seeks out other expressions of that aesthetic, which were difficult to incorporate in a full band format… Stahlhartes Gehäuse moves forward into a more developed multi-percussive pagan black metal direction with some folk elements, where Malefeasance reaches further into the musique concréte and neo-folk directions of the demo. I do not want to say that Stahlhartes is more traditional black metal, but it follows that tradition more fully than Malefeasance. The experimentation is more extreme on Malefeasance… the songs represented on that release do tend to be daggers intent on the ‘orthodox’ heart of black metal both philosophically and sonically.
The interview can be read in full here:
L’Acéphale began as the solo project of Set Sothis, but it is currently a six-piece band, including, among others, vocalist and percussionist Markus Wolff, well-known for his work with Waldteufel, Blood Axis and Crash Worship. Stahlhartes Gehäuse represented the first fruits of L’Acéphale’s full band line-up, whereas Malefeasance (yes, it’s supposed to be spelled that way, it’s medieval French) is a collection of solo tracks recorded by Set Sothis between 2001 and 2007, some of them concurrently with the recording of Stahlhartes Gehäuse. It also includes a number of cover versions and tributes to Set Sothis’ various heroes and influences.
The recorded output of L’Acéphale has always been a vehicle for the very particular intellectual, artistic, cultural and occultural preoccupations of its progenitor, something like Genesis P-Orridge and Psychic TV – the name L’Acéphale itself is a reference to the secret society and arts journal founded by French writer George Bataille in the 1930s. Malefeasance is the most direct expression yet of this tendency, and, as with previous L’Acéphale releases, a perusal of the album booklet will leave you with a list of artists, authors and musicians to check out. The booklet of Stahlhartes Gehäuse was a beautifully realised, unified piece of work, full of Germanic folk-art and runes, but the 20-page booklet of Malefeasance is much more eclectic, more like a scrapbook of favourite pits and pieces, reflecting the more heterogenous origins of the album, including artwork by, among others, the English visionary occultist Austin Osman Spare, Czech Symbolist and pioneer of abstraction František Kupka, Japanese extreme manga sicko Suehiro Maruo, Finnish folklore illustrator Akseli Gallen-Kallela, and the German Symbolist painter Franz von Stuck.
Malefeasance contains six tracks spread over 79 minutes, only a couple of which come in at under ten minutes. Since there are relatively few tracks, and they are all quite different, it makes sense in this case to consider each one in turn. The album opens with ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’, a track which was recorded in 2004, before the Book Of Lies EP, and which was originally entitled ‘Burzum-Nacht’, before being changed to reflect its origins in the Finnish national epic poem, the Kalevala. ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’ is only one of many references in the work of L’Acéphale to Finnish mythology, a theme which is even more prominently featured in the works of Set Sothis’ other band, Hail. ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’ also samples choral passages by the Estonian composer Velijo Tormis, and, given this preoccupation with eastern European folklore and heritage, could more appropriately have been called ‘Drudkh-Nacht’ rather than ‘Burzum-Nacht’ – Set Sothis has often talked about the great influence that the Ukrainian bands Hate Forest and Drudkh have had on his own work. ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’ opens with harmonic synth drones creating a solemn, sacral presence, gradually introducing background rumbles, ambient atmospherics, and unsettling hissing, scrabbling sounds, then blending these with sampled passages of singing, both field recordings of traditional Finnish folk chanting of Kalevala runos (song-chapters), and the swelling, warm sound of a male-voice choir, which overwhelms all the other elements of the track, before dying back to leave only a single male voice, cracked and frail with age, chanting the Kalevala as the track ends.
‘Hitori Bon Odori’ was recorded in 2006, concurrently with the recordings for Stahlhartes Gehäuse. It was originally intended as a contribution for a compilation album in tribute to the Japanese folk musician and ‘screaming philosopher’ Kazuki Tomokawa, but this album never appeared. The title refers to the Bon festival, a kind of Japanese equivalent of the Mexican Day of the Dead, in which people dance to give praise to their ancestors. Musically, ‘Hitori Bon Odori’ sounds similar to some parts of Mord Und Totschlag, the first L’Acéphale album, with melancholy strummed guitar laid over sombre snare-drum rolls and deep wordless wailed vocals – there’s also an evident resemblance to Waldteufel, perhaps reflecting the influence that Markus Wolff has had on the development of L’Acéphale’s sound. Some of the drums on ‘Hitori Bon Odori’ are taken from the Blutopfer album by the German ritual industrial project Apoptose, which itself is based on field recordings of the Semana Santa folk festival held in Calanda, Spain at Easter each year, in which drums are used to drive out evil spirits, thus providing a neat circularity of references back to the Bon festival. As mentioned earlier, the influences and references in L’Acéphale’s work ramify and refract in all directions.
‘A Burned Village’ is a cover of a song by the obscure French band Sadastor. In our interview, Set Sothis made this comment on it:
I had also wanted to do a cover of ‘A Burned Village’ by a brilliant and totally obscure French ‘Crimson Metal’ band A.A.A., who later changed their name to Sadastor. Markus had got their demo cassette from the members on the Blood Axis tour of Europe. He had lent it to me in 1999 when we were working on the band Hail…
This song is the first on Malefeasance to bear any overt resemblance to black metal, although it’s still far from orthodox, laying harsh black metal vocals and trebly, Ulver-style lead guitar over more Waldteufel-like timpani and snare rolls, with deep ritualistic chanting providing an eerie backdrop.
‘From A Miserable Abode’ was recorded in 2004, around the same time as ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’, and is intended,at least in part, as a reinterpretation of the song ‘Mi Peublo’ by Japanese doom metal band Corrupted, though you’d have to have a sharp pair of ears to spot the resemblance amongst the chaotic noise that occupies most of the track’s 18-minute duration. Opening with downtuned buzzing guitar riffs and savage vocal shrieks, the track builds in intensity and volume, piling on dense layers of effects, snarling and seething in a sonic maelstrom, until the black metal elements are dispersed through a cloud of freeform noise and feedback, out of which rises a weird, high, wailing tone, evidently from trumpets played by Tibetan Buddhist monks, though to me it sounds a lot like middle-eastern music as well, specifically the ecstatic music of the Morrocan Joujouka festival. As with ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’, the song subsides down to a single element, the wailing trumpets in this case, for its conclusion.
Although they’re all very different, there does seem to be some kind of coherence to the first four tracks on Malefeasance, but the final two tracks stand apart to some extent, apparently as the result of the decision to include them on the double vinyl edition of the album. The 14-minute ‘Sleep Has His House’ is a cover of the Current 93 track, though as with the other covers on Malefeasance, it’s very different to the original song, which was a quiet valediction to David Tibet’s father. Here, L’Acéphale create a grinding industrial interpretation full of squall and clang, with buzzing guitar providing just another element in the abrasive mechanistic cacophony, the end result something in between Merzbow and Einstürzende Neubauten. You wouldn’t be getting much sleep in this house, no indeed you wouldn’t. The vocals are clearly spoken, not black metal growls, but they’re very low in the mix and hard to pick out, recited in a remote, disembodied voice. A plonking, repetitive strum over the top of the grind provides some desultory momentum, but the track is essentially static.
Finally, there is ‘Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted’, which lasts for the esoterically significant time of 23 minutes. Recorded in 2007, and thus the most recent piece on Malefeasance, it opens with long, drawn-out drifts and drones of interstellar dark ambient, cut though by thin, whistling high-frequency tones, distant howls, and an ominously building subterranean rumble, curdling the track’s soothing, somnolent opening with a queasy infusion of tension and dread, with the eleventh minute in particular inducing a stomach-churning feeling of vertiginous descent. Around the 13-minute mark, a doleful minor-key acoustic guitar melody is introduced, dominating the remainder of the track over a background of hums and hisses, with a sparse, breathy vocal undertone creating a dark forest-folk ambience reminiscent of Fearthainne or Blood Of The Black Owl.
‘Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted’ really deserves to be heard separately from the rest of the album, it’s so different, and for those who like it so much they just can’t get enough, there’s also a free 93-minute (!) version of this track available for free download, complete with artwork, from the Italian label Radical Matters. Here’s the link:
Myself, I’ve downloaded the track, but I think I’m going to save actually listening to it as something to do in my retirement.
Black metal was at one point the most rigid and dogmatic of musical genres, revelling in its own isolation, obscurity and elitism, but it seems that we’ve reached a point where musicians feel able to quote or reference black metal aesthetics and approaches without being full-on, double-dyed black metallers themselves – not only L’Acéphale but also such bands as Sunn O))), Horseback, Nadja, Korperschwache, and a number of other artists. It may be anathema to those who want to keep things ‘true’ and ‘orthodox’, but there’s a growing body of work which is in some sense providing a post-black metal reformation, a sort of critical commentary on the original ur-texts of the black metal revolution of the late 80s and early 90s, and L’Acéphale is one of the most discerning and distinctive voices within this movement. Malefeaseance is the least overtly metal offering so far from L’Acéphale, but it still has valuable things to say about the intellectual and cultural roots that black metal draws upon.
There is a 500-copy limited-edition double vinyl LP of Malefeasance available as well as the CD version, which is a thing of real beauty, with a matt black sleeve featuring different artwork from the CD, a massive two by three foot foldout poster with artwork by Austin Osman Spare on one side and Wallace Smith on the other, and the CD booklet tossed in for good measure.
This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine:
Formed for the Reason of Unleashing Sonic Destruction & Corruption through Epistemic Terrorism and Bibliophilistic Atavism.
The quote was taken from the band's MySpace page and better sums up their chaotic and wondrous mix of elements than I ever could. Malefeasance is the other L'Acephale debut album, and it's even longer and more experimental than Stahlhartes Gehäuse. What black metal you'll find on this release is the exception rather than the rule, but it makes for no less fascinating a listen (at least for half of the record).
The 80 minutes of escape begins with the chilling "Väinämöinen Nacht" (10:06), with its swelling ambient electronics and samples of chanting and shouting that create undullating rhythms against the backdrop. "Hitori Bon Odori" (8:45) begins with a long passage of rambling acoustics, gentle militant percussion, and haunting ambience, with a dash of black metal in the background during the latter half. "A Burned Village" (4:50) has some thundering drums, light synths and wailing bleeding black guitar line and snarls. "From a Miserable Abode (Alt Mix)" (18:09) is an epic ballast of screaming tones and filtered noise vocals, though the last few minutes of pipes create a stark contrast and clarity. It was interesting, but also the most annoying track on either of their full-lengths. The band has also included an extensive cover of Current 93's "Sleep Has His House", with droning electronics and mixed black/gothic vocals. "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted" (22:59) brings an end to the album with some hypnotic acoustics, ambient and noise.
Malefeasance is rather mesmerizing for about half it's playtime, but the noise mix and cover song lost me, as neither is up to the standards of the remainder. Stahlhartes Gehäuse is a more focused overall experience, but if you have listened to that and enjoyed it, this is well worth the time for it's first three tracks and the epic length finale.
L'Acephale released the album "Malefeasance" at about the same time they released their other album "Stahlhartes Gehause" but these are not much alike at all. "Stahlhartes ..." has a definite narrative underlying it and is mainly a black metal album that happens to include a lot of non-metal trimmings. "Malefeasance" contains cover versions and tributes to various bands and people who have influenced L'Acephale and the music runs the gamut from field recordings and found sounds to industrial, noise and ambient all the way to eastern European and Japanese folk cultures and even what sounds like Tibetan Buddhist trumpet drone. Here black metal is limited to a couple of tracks and where it does appear, there is not a full band playing.
All tracks are very different from one another in style and the particular influences that inspired them. The only thing they might have in common is their very slow pace and the drawn-out, glacial way in which they develop. "Vainamoinen Nacht" is an evolving ambient piece that gradually collects field recordings of men singing and chanting eastern European folk poetry; this track refers to L'Acephale's interest in cultural anthropology and liking for Ukrainian black metal bands like Drudkh and Hate Forest that draw on their native folk music and their country's history for inspiration. "Hitori Bon Odori" is a slow repetitive song of low droning voice and guitar. "A Burned Village" is the first proper black metal song (a cover of a song originally done by a French metal band) with guitars that sound ridiculously sped-up and cartoony with a crabby voice to match. At this point I should mention all songs on this album apart from "A Burned Village" last longer than 10 minutes each and as most of them are very slow as well, they have a very static quality that can encourage listeners to think there is not much happening at all.
The slow droning "From a Miserable Abode" features an evil-baby-screaming vocal (now we all love the sound of screaming demon babies, don't we?) against a background of prolonged guitar drones and various frightful werewolf and other demonic noises, out of which Tibetan Buddhist droning trumpets emerge and come to dominate the track. In a recent interview L'Acephale man Set Sothis Nox La said this song is primarily a homage to Japanese doom metal band Corrupted but there are noisy sections in the second half of the track that appear to reference Japanese noisician king Merzbow for inspiration.
The industrial-sounding "Sleep Has This House" is a squealy Current 93 cover dominated by chainsaw drones under which dark mutterings are just audible. The Black-and-Decker orchestra soon acquries some "proper" instrumental accompaniment like piano and strings and the whole thing acquires a jaunty rhythm. Chanting appears in the last third of the track along with another infuriating squealing drone that reminds me of loudly humming fluorescent lights and crummy electrical household appliances.
Final track "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted" is a 23-minute noise / drone / ambient soup through which various random effects and snatches of recrodings including what sounds like sustained cymbal drone float and slowly unfold. By this point we have heard an hour's worth of music so if your attention is flagging, you can break your listening here and come back to the track later on when you're in the mood for experimental ambient music. This track is the least structured and most out-there piece of music on the album. For the first 10 minutes you hear mainly overlapping long sounds and then an acoustic guitar melody that is Spanish / Middle Eastern in feel begins and continues all the way to the end.
I do like this album a lot because of the variety of musical treatments that appear here but it's best regarded as not a black metal album at all and if you're reading this because you want to hear decent black metal and don't want to hear anything else, "Malefeasance" is not for you. The tracks are very long and due to the way they unfold and take their time about it, they come over as unstructured. If you like your music energetic and flowing, and to have recognisable rhythms, beats, riffing and melodies, you need to look elsewhere. L'Acephale make no apologies for creating music that baffles people and you have to do some work to find out where the band is coming from to be able to appreciate the music.
For others who are used to the genres of music represented on this album - ambient, noise, musique concrete among others - "Malefeasance" is a peek into the bands and influences that have inspired and made L'Acephale into the entity it is today. Your main complaint would be that some of the music, especially on the last track, could have been edited for length. According to a religion / philosophy called Discordianism which holds that chaos is all that exists and is a natural and desirable thing to strive for, the Law of Fives is an important principle governing how the human mind works (I'm trying not to laugh while writing this) and the 23-minute length of the last track fits in with this principle as 2 plus 3 equals 5.