L'Acephale - L'Acephale
Black Metal, Neofolk
7 songs (1:13:56)
Release year: 2019
Reviewed by Goat

It has been twelve years since the L'Acephale demo that brought me so much twisted joy when I reviewed it in 2007, as only my second ever piece for this site, and it seems to be about as long since I've thought of the band. I did enjoy the two full-lengths that followed in 2008 and 2009, but not nearly as much as Mord und Totschlag, and in the last ten years the band has remained true to their own murky principles by releasing very limited EPs and splits and the odd digital single, none of which I've heard. So going into this blind, their third full-length, can seem like a refreshing leap into the cold sea in comparison to the slow, familiar embrace of a band you know intimately. And although initially it does seem like the work of a different band to that which fashioned Mord und Totschlag's bizarre shifts between raw black metal and neofolk ambience, it soon becomes apparent that this album is a continuation in that style.

L'Acephale is by no means as raw, though, opener Sovereignty (Dieu-Die Sonne Stirbt-Sovereignty) starting with a melodic blur of blackened riffs atop a varied blastbeat, even with audible bass. The harsh feedback in the background through much of it is a strange touch, making an otherwise pleasant listen with folky undertones in an acoustic section much harsher on the ears. Thankfully by the time some clean singing starts it has faded away, and stays gone for a later section that returns to black metal, replaced by some odd backing effects. As an album this is quite a tough listen, not least for the seventy-plus minutes length; tracks like Gloria in Excelsis Mihi can also be challenging if you're not in the right mindset for French female singing atop slowly strummed guitars for eight minutes.

Of course, if you are it's utterly beautiful and hypnotic, a relaxing space between harsher black metal pieces to refocus, and as an intro to the majestic Runenberg it's terrific. This is one of the album's best pieces, a slow-building epic that marries the acoustic and electric guitars into a Primordial-esque rumbling monster, turning almost psychedelic at points with some backing whooshing effects and is more death metallic and galloping towards the end. An album full of such pieces would have been fantastic, yet instead we get another acoustic neofolk interlude in Hark! The Battle-Cry Is Ringing! - again, hypnotic and an effective interlude, but at nearly ten minutes long it can outstay its welcome a little. At least the band change things up by introducing some droning blackened riffs around the midway point, and the following Last Will is one of the fastest and heaviest tracks on the album, raw screams atop a war metal-styled barrage, the expected acoustic interlude working better than ever.

Ultimately L'Acephale have a formula that they're sticking to and while some would want the folk and black metal sections separated, part of how good this album is comes down to the combination. It's in some ways a better version of Panopticon's Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness double-album, the folk sections ritualistic and ominous instead of campfire musings. Moments like Sleep's ominous, funereal building first section are as terrific (and terrifying) as the ensuing black metal chaos, and the length is the only real issue I had with this album. There's probably an argument for leaving the closing nineteen-minute monster Winternacht off an already long album, for instance, making it the centrepiece of a follow-up EP. Yet it's a stellar track, opening with horror movie feedback and making the moves from black metal to folk feel smooth and natural, even with the increasingly deranged bird noises in the background. It feels much shorter than its length, and does close the album well. You won't always be in the mood for L'Acephale, but when you are, there's nothing like it.

Killing Songs :
Runenberg, Last Will, Sleep
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by L'Acephale that we have reviewed:
L'Acephale - Stahlhartes Gehause reviewed by James and quoted 92 / 100
L'Acephale - Mord und Totschlag reviewed by Goat and quoted 91 / 100
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