L'Acéphale (French for The Headless) is a Genre-Busting metal band from Portland, Oregon, probably best qualified as Black Metal, but a particularly atypical example even by the standards of the genre, also crossing into Avant-Garde Metal, Progressive Metal, Folk Metal, Dark Ambient, and Harsh Noise territory at times. They've been around in some form or other since 2002, originally starting as the solo project of Set Sothis Nox La. Set released two very long full-length albums, Mord und Totschlag (2004, sometimes classified as a demo) and Malefeasance (2008), as essentially solo releases with occasional guest musicians before expanding into a full band. Stahlhartes Gehäuse (2009) and L'Acéphale (2019) were recorded with a full band. Apart from this, the band has released an absolutely gigantic number of split releases, EPs, demos, and collaborations, to the point that keeping track of the band's discography can be confusing; many of the band's EPs, moreover, are as long as many other bands' full-length albums. Much of the band's material is up on their official Bandcamp site, where you can stream it for free, but a few releases are missing.
Compounding this is a large overlap with the related project Hail (not to be confused with the Finnish band of the same name, a particular problem since the Portland-based Hail's lyrical themes tend to centre around Finland's national epic, the Kalevala), also from Portland and containing three of the same members (Set Sothis Nox La, Carl Annala, and Markus Wolff). Hail's material is particularly difficult to track down due to their habit of releasing extremely limited editions of their music, usually 30 or 93 copies. Many of these circulate online, but not all of them. Further contributing to the confusion is that the two bands have re-recorded some of each other's material.
L'Acéphale's lyrical themes are varied, but they tend to draw a lot of their lyrics from French surrealists. They are named after a secret society formed by Georges Bataille (also a major source of inspiration for Deathspell Omega, Bosse-de-Nage, and others), and have adapted writings by Bataille and his lover, Colette Peignot, as lyrics; other sources of lyrics include Friedrich Nietzsche, the Austrian poet Georg Trakl, Aleister Crowley, the English socialist and animal rights activist Henry Stephens Salt, and Alan Moore's From Hell. There has always been a political component to their music - their album Stahlhartes Gehäuse is based around the German sociologist Max Weber's critique of capitalism, bureaucracy, rationality, religion, and industrialism - but it has probably become more explicit in recent years with tracks like "Mortem" (a curse implicitly directed against Donald Trump released as a single on his inauguration day) and "Hark! The Battle-Cry Is Ringing!" (an adaptation of an explicitly political sonnet by Salt).
Their songs are also frequently very long and complex, eschewing the Three Chords and the Truth approach of black metal for tracks commonly comprised of several movements, incorporating multiple languages, and changing time signature and key several times. They are also likely to undergo several stylistic shifts, with most songs incorporating at least one Subdued Section; songs may also sample sources such as The Seventh Seal soundtrack.
L'Acéphale remains fairly obscure, but their works have attracted a substantial amount of acclaim.
- Antiquated Linguistics: Malefeasance is an archaic spelling of Malfeasance.
- Audio Adaptation: As mentioned above, most of their lyrics are derived from existing poetry.
- Bilingual Bonus: Songs often incorporate multiple languages. "Stahlhartes Gehäuse" has a segment in Estonian, two segments in Romanian, and two segments in German in addition to the remaining English lyrics. German is probably the second most common language to appear in their music after English; a few songs also employ French (perhaps not surprising given the band's namesake).
- Cover Version:
- Epic Rocking: Masters of it. Their longest song is "Everything Is True, Nothing Is Permitted (Aiwass 93 mix)", which runs for ninety-three minutes; it was released for free by the label Radical Matters. (Ninety-three is a significant number in Thelema, a religion of sorts founded by Aleister Crowley.) All of their albums proper have at least one song that is around twenty minutes long (or longer), including:
- Mord und Totschlag: "Against a Sea of Weeping Sleep" (21:02)
- Malefeasance: "From a Miserable Abode" (18:09), "Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted" (23:00)
- Stahlhartes Gehäuse: "Stahlhartes Gehäuse" (18:43)note
- L'Acéphale: "Winternacht" (19:15)
- From various EP releases and collaborations: "November Song: The Crow" (25:27), "Barrow's Embrace" (18:24), "Totentanz - Seventh Seal" (19:41), "From Hell" (17:30), "Funerary Shimmer / The Harrowing" (19:30), "...Atomization... Into Meaninglessness" (19:22).
- Filk Song: "From Hell" is based on the Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name.
- Foreign Language Title: Several, of varying levels of grammatical correctness.
- Mord und Totschlag: German for Murder and Manslaughter.
- "Vermib ponitur omnis honor": Apparently intended to be Latin for "We Salute All the Worms", though it's slightly grammatically incorrect.
- "Euntes ibant et flebant": Also Latin, apparently meaning "They Went On and Wept"
- From Malefeasance:
- "Väinämöinen Nacht": literally "Väinämöinen Night" (in German). Väinämöinen is the hero of the Kalevala.
- "Hitori Bon Odori": Japanese. If written as "一人盆踊り", this would mean something like "Solitary Bon Festival Dance", though there are other ways to write it.
- Stahlhartes Gehäuse comes from the writings of the German sociologist Max Weber. The earliest translation of this phrase into English was "iron cage", and this is still the most frequently seen translation of the phrase due to its familiarity, but it is something of an oversimplification. The band uses "steel hard casing", which is a more accurate translation. "Shell as hard as steel" has also been used recently. Individual movements of this track also have foreign-language titles:
- "De petrecut": Romanian, meaning roughly "To Spend".
- "Raua needmine": Estonian, meaning "The Curse Upon Iron".
- "Klage II": German, meaning "Lament II".
- "Mă uitai spre răsărit": Romanian, meaning "I Looked Toward the Rising Sun".
- L'Acéphale: As mentioned above, it means "The Headless".
- "Dieu" (first movement of "Sovereignty") is French for "God".
- "Die Sonne stirbt" (second movement of "Sovereignty") is German for "The Sun Is Dying".
- "Gloria in excelsis mihi" is Latin for "Glory to Me in the Highest". This is a play on the commonly seen Latin invocation "gloria in excelsis Deo", which is Latin for "Glory to God in the Highest".
- "Winternacht" is German for, erm, "Winter Night".
- From various other releases, Forêt de Cruye refers to a forest estate in France, while the first half of "Totentanz - Seventh Seal" is German for "Dance of Death".
- Mord und Totschlag: German for Murder and Manslaughter.
- Soprano and Gravel: As to be expected from a black metal band, their primary vocal style is shrieked, but they have clean vocals from several different band members (including Markus Wolff and Liz Abyss) and guests (including Geneviève Beaulieu of Menace Ruine) as well.