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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.
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