It would seem the third full-length, eponymous offering by L’Acéphale can’t quite decide what kind of record it wants to be. Named after George Bataille’s secret society and helmed by Set Sothis Nox La, the Oregonian project has been combining Black Metal, Ambient, Drone and Noise elements for nearly two decades. A cursory glance at reviews of their previous material reveals a demographic that is very much on board with this approach as well as an equal share of merciless detractors that cite precisely this eclecticism as a common point of critique.
While I’m no stranger to lengthy compositions drawing from a variety of influences, I’m going to have to side with the latter camp.
Between the drawn-out, folky passages and equally repetitious black metal segments, the album never seems to establish a sense of identity and awkwardly juggles these two main components while never excelling at either. Instrumental sections as well as vocal passages habitually overstay their welcome without invoking the hypnotic, trance-like effect they try to shoot for.
It’s not just individual tracks exchanging the baton that seem to have no business being on the same record in the first place, but both the chant-driven ‘Hark! The Battle – Cry is Ringing!’and the more doom-laden ‘Sleep’ awkwardly switch gears in an undeserved, jarring manner without any sensible buildup halfway through.
Adding to the discrepancy is the inclusion of both French and German in spoken word and chants alongside the predominant, shrieked English. Perhaps these would serve to add another layer of meaning to those better versed in these languages and/or philosophy than yours truly, but at face value this merely contributes to the record’s inaccessibility.
At its best, the record goes for the throat with a few pummeling death-inspired segments or sludgy grooves that break up the standard tremolo-driven affair, but even then it’s not going to raise any eyebrows.
This sort of eclecticism and contrast is to be expected of a self-described avant-garde record, but L’Acéphale fail to bring these disparate influences together in a cohesive, compelling manner.
Sadly, even the final, nearly 20 minutes-long track ‘Winternacht’, which could have been a redeeming tour-de-force and serve as a proof of concept of the formula turns out to be standard black metal fare interspersed with yet more interludes and only serves as a reminder of the album’s identity crisis in condensed form.
Ambitious, but underwhelming. (Tico)