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Hail the white grain - 78%

drengskap, September 29th, 2009

These days, Portland, Oregon-based musician Set Sothis Nox La is best known as the progenitor of the experimental black metal / neo-folk crossover project L’Acéphale, but before L’Acéphale existed, Set Sothis was a member of Hail. Hail was originally the solo project of Carl Annala (also of Blasphematherion and sundry Northwest area noise-rock bands), and after Set Sothis joined, Markus Wolff of the seminal tribal industrial collective Crash Worship and Germanic heathen folk band Waldteufel was also recruited as percussionist. This incarnation of Hail made some unreleased demo recordings and played one live show before the project went into dormancy around the turn of the century. Hail was resurrected in 2006, making new recordings and playing a series of shows with the cult Cascadian black metal band Fauna, and at the time of writing (September 2009) should be considered an active project.

I interviewed Set Sothis about L’Acéphale for the Heathen Harvest website in May 2009, and he made these comments on Hail:

In 1999/2000, I worked on a project with my friend Carl Annala called Hail. This was a martial folk/black metal project, based around drum machine and guitars. We both knew and were friends with Markus Wolff, and Carl had recorded some trumpet and cello on the Waldteufel album Heimliches Deutschland. We asked Markus to join us on percussion. Carl had introduced me to the works of Krzysztof Penderecki, Veljo Tormis, Jean Sibelius and other avant-garde modern classical composers. We shared many interests: black metal, performance art, magick, world folk music, literature, philosophy, noise… you name it. Our intent was to mash all of our interests together in a music project. He’d already done some performances that I’d seen as Hail, merging metal, black metal aesthetics and performance art… We wanted to take some of the martial elements and also merge metal along with other samples. The intent was to be metal but also multi-percussive. We recorded a demo and performed once with Markus, at a celebration of a local Golden Dawn lodge opening…

We later recruited Tim Call (who later formed Parasitic Records and Aldebaran) and developed a new sound, played a few shows and then disbanded when Carl went to graduate school. This in essence, was the precedent which informed L’Acéphale. Though with L’Acéphale, as opposed to Hail, I wanted to be more scathing.

(This interview can be read in full here:

Carl Annala, meanwhile, has offered these thoughts on the early days of Hail:

We were lost, adrift in the spiritual wasteland in-between Satanism (Christianity) and Paganism. Essentially we believed that we as artists stand above it all – especially that silly war in heaven conflict. The Hagalaz rune – HAIL – seemed to be the perfect symbol for our feelings towards most of humanity and reluctantly, it is destructive to nature as well. As artists we functioned as black shaman in our society. Our lighthouse was the black hole. And then we devolved…

Crimson Madrigal was recorded in 1998-9 but not released until 2009, on the French label FaunaSabbatha, and it represents the earliest available recordings of Hail. Carl Annala and Set Sothis both contribute guitars, vocals, sample and drum machines, with Annala also playing cello, and Markus Wolff playing percussion. The album consists of seven named tracks plus an unlisted track, for a total playing time of 76 minutes.

Those who have previous experience of L’Acéphale will find plenty of similarities in Hail, such as the use of samples and noise, a similar eclectic blending of black metal with neo-folk and industrial elements, high levels of abrasive distortion, and perhaps most of all, a similar range of intellectual and cultural references. The song ‘Dieu’ features lyrics by Georges Bataille, a key influence on Set Sothis (L’Acéphale is named after a magazine founded by Bataille). One distinctive contribution that Carl Annala seems to be responsible for is Hail’s preoccupation with Finnish mythology and the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic poem, a recurring theme in later Hail and L’Acéphale recordings (the recent L’Acéphale album Malefeasance includes a song called ‘Väinämöinen Nacht’, after a leading character from the Kalevala). The booklet for Crimson Madrigal contains Finnish imagery, and the album includes ‘Kalevala Rune’, a ten-minute piece combining medieval chanted vocals with strummed acoustic guitar, subdued martial percussion and a background of industrial ambient drones and thin whines of feedback.

The opening track ‘First Blood’ (subtitled ‘Invocation’) overlays ritualistic chanting and an early Swans-style slamming beat with feedback-drenched riffing. The sound is slow but brutal. ‘I.N.R.I.’ is a faster song, lasting for over nine minutes, with hideously abrasive screamed vocals. The level of ferocity on display here is daunting, and although this is basically raw black metal, there’s a discernible tendency toward sludgy, discordant noise rock in the vein of Jesus Lizard, the Melvins or Marzuraan. ‘Meat Drunk’ is a more experimental, Coil-like sound collage, with lyrics recited over a background of unsettling ambient atmospherics, flute, chimes, wolf howls and nocturnal sound effects.

The last named track on Crimson Madrigal is its title track, which clocks in at over 18 minutes, although there’s then a long period of silence before the hidden track. ‘Crimson Madrigal’ opens with discordant, suspenseful organ notes before moving into harsh, punky black metal set to martial drums and programmed blastbeats, with snarled but intelligible vocals and more wolf howls. Around the 11-minute mark, the song fades into a sound collage of ambient drones, strummed acoustic guitar and sound effects like owl hoots, with the lyrics recited in a slow bass croak, the track finally fading away into a diffuse low-end rumble.

Crimson Madrigal’s hidden track opens with one of the orchestral samples which have become a trademark of L’Acéphale, then launches into a smeared torrent of fast black metal riffing, the rapid, tinny beat barely audible beneath the dominant guitar work. As with certain L’Acéphale tracks, there’s a reminiscence of the sound of BlazeBirth Hall bands like Forest and Branikald here.

This album is likely to be best appreciated by fans of L’Acéphale who are interested in tracing the development of that band’s sound. The latter-day recordings of Hail have a more distinctively different sound. Crimson Madrigal is a black CD-R in a full colour folded card sleeve with a small 16-page booklet bound with string, and it’s a limited edition release of 93 copies – a Thelemically significant number.

This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine: