Video Premiere: L’Acéphale’s “Sovereignty”

Image Credit: Veleda Thorsson

A psychedelic vision of ancient sounds and philosophical brooding, L’Acéphale‘s eponymous third full-length album closes a decade-long period of experimenting, adventure and true self-rediscovery. Initially the project of Order of the Vulture’s Set Sothis Nox La, the ensemble which comprises L’Acéphale bridges the gap between the more traditional sounds of neofolk and post-industrial music with blistering, melodic, empowered black metal. Their first album since 2009’s Stahlhartes Gehäuse, L’Acéphale continues to push the envelope, both in the fusion of these styles of music, but also the separate definitions of such. In album opener “Sovereignty”, a larger presence of synthesizer and vocalist Markus Wolff (Waldteufel) sets the stage in an ethereal, eerie fog, quickly dashed by a blaze of hyperspeed black metal, which slowly converges in upon itself once more, the resultant post-industrial infused black metal casting a kaleidoscopic array of colors, sounds and ideas into the fray.

Musician and visual artist Daniel Menche’s own psychedelic video representation of the song itself, which can be exclusively viewed below, captures this idea of stylistic recursion and fusion through a binary, dualistic approach. Splitting the screen into two hallucinatory halves, the visuals which surround the L’Acéphale iconography paint “Sovereignty”, and the L’Acéphale as a whole, in shades of stellar mass: two stars collapsing in on themselves.

L’Acéphale will be released by Eisenwald on April 12th. Daniel Menche’s video for album opener “Sovereignty” can be exclusively viewed below, paired with a lengthy interview with L’Acéphale mastermind Set Sothis Nox La.

Given how long L’Acéphale has been active, what led to this album carrying the band’s name as its title?
All L’Acéphale releases up to now have felt like they were directed by a concept. Mord und Totschlag was a visceral retaliation. I tried to evoke that feeling of vitriol through the music and lyrics. When the full band started, I tried to balance the theoretical ideas and poetry I wanted to explore with developing music as a full band.

Malfeasance came to being after a request from Aurora Borealis to release new material. They had recently re-released Mord… on CD and Stahlhartes Gehäuse was complete but waiting for Parasitic to release it. I had moved away from Portland while my wife was going to graduate school and the band was on hiatus. At that time, I was always recording music, so I compiled a selection of completed songs and pitched it to the label. Since that material was so experimental, I chose the tile Malfeasance specifically. It was “expected,” I suppose, that I might release something more “black metal” but the release is quite different from traditional black metal.

In 2008, I decided to focus more on the writings of Georges Bataille and the other members who had formed the original literary journal and secret group in the late 1930’s. The first track was “November Song: The Crow”, written in 2009 based on a poem by Laure. In 2010, I was living back in Portland and reformed L’Acéphale. We relearned a couple songs that were written but never recorded by the original band and started working on new material. We entered the studio in 2013 and that was the start of the new release. In 2014 Charlie Mumma, the drummer, moved to Los Angeles and the full band went on hiatus again. I was content to work on the recording and let things lie fallow for a bit.

Choosing to name the new release as L’Acéphale is multifaceted. On one hand, the lyrical content of the release is built mostly from the writings and motivations of the original group. By the time I had started work on Mord…, I had already been reading Bataille for a decade, so the lyrics I was choosing to explore were not always the source material of Bataille and L’Acéphale. Instead I was looking at the world through the lens of Bataille. Furthermore, I would say that I was looking at the world through the lens of both the writings of L’Acéphale and the College of Sociology as well. The College of Sociology was a sympathetic philosophical lecture series Bataille and several other members conducted around the same time as L’Acéphale. Bataille wrote a book on Nietzsche entitled Sur Nietzsche (On Nietzsche) but it was not a book about Nietzsche, but a book infused with the ideas of Nietzsche and written “through” the lens of Nietzsche. For me, at the time of using the name L’Acéphale for an experimental Black Metal project, I chose the name specifically, as the original group was pro-Nietzschean and anti-fascist, which was important to situate the music I was writing. I chose the name for that reason in addition to the fact that I feel that the writings of Georges Bataille continue to speak to me very deeply. But, when I started L’Acéphale the band, I had my own motivations to view things “through” the lens of Bataille and not merely write lyrics directly related to the group.

For the current release however, not only are the lyrics more centered, or derived directly from the writings of Bataille and Laure (a member of the original group). But also, the songs on this recording date from 2005 to 2013. So, in many ways this release encompasses nearly the entire timeframe of the band’s history. Two of the songs, “Runenberg” and “Winternacht” were written with the first full band lineup but were never recorded. Not only that, but I feel that this release achieves all of the goals I originally set out to accomplish for a release under the mantle of L’Acéphale. As a release, the stylistic and dynamic flow the songs that it contains feel definitive for what, conceptually, I would like a release to encompass. There are Black Metal songs, and counterpointing that are also very different types of songs that range from folk music to experimental, or poetic dark ambient pieces. Even the metal songs themselves are not all the same nor do they follow any formulaic concept.

Lastly, because I have been able to slowly work on the release for a number of years, with the other members of the group, we have been able to make this the best sounding release to date. I feel that Gabriel Espinoza, the engineer that worked on the recording, has helped facilitate a final mix that I feel very proud of. So the title of the release speaks to all of these things in one way or another.

Each L’Acéphale release is deeply conceptual and comes with a booklet explaining the concept, complete with primary source material and visual accompaniment, making each a sort of gesamtkunstwerk within itself. What drives this deep sort of creativity within the microcosm of the project?
I am a huge fan of Art, Music, Literature and other artistic endeavors. I like when items encompass many elements and become a work of Art themselves. My interests tend to be multifaceted and when I engage in making something, I want to infuse it with the same depth of engagement that I appreciate in other works of Art. It feels natural to do this and I enjoy the craft of creating an all-encompassing piece.

The subject matter for the lyrics are drawn from a variety of sources. We want to pass along our own inspiration based from these source material into the production of each release. Thusly, we including source material, context for the source material, and also references to and about the writer (or writers) that wrote each piece. This is important to us. In general, I strive to have lyrics that have meaning and importance. I have a deep passion for exploring writing and art that not only strikes out on its own path beyond the mainstream, but also speaks to eternal questions. Markus [Wolff, Waldteufel] also contributes lyrics that he finds based on the subject matter that I use for lyrics in a song. He endeavors to find other writings that share the same themes as the writings that I select. We both share and discuss a wide variety of interests; it is something that defines the core of our friendship: a deep passion for Art, Avant-Garde writing, mythology, music and cultural forms from all over the world. As seekers on the path, it feels natural for us to also share this art that we take inspiration from.

L’Acéphale is but one of the vehicles where this is done. I also curate a journal entitled Amarantos which features both interviews with musical projects and also compiles writings and art that I find inspirational. Additionally it also asks the entities that I interview to also contribute writings that they draw inspiration from as well. Amarantos generally runs about 190 pages and is meticulously typeset with historical fonts and illustrative devices throughout. It also includes art and photography as well, so any project that I work on tends to share this depth of inquiry into the subject matter. The goal of this process is, hopefully, something more than just a compilation of various interests.

It sounds like L’Acéphale is a very process-oriented project. Do you find yourself looking at the academic influence before creating a song, or does the song come first?
When it comes to a “release,” I would say that L’Acéphale is very process oriented. Compiling the music and merging these songs and the lyrics together under an aesthetic approach to the release is important as well as looking at the components of the release. But, in general, the music is created first, with the songwriting driving the process itself. Dynamic flow is determined and reassessed as the collection of riffs are assembled. Sometimes a specific song concept, as a whole, is developed and then, as riffs make sense, they are added or contrasted to each other to assemble the song itself.

It is also notable that there are differences between songs that are/were developed with the full band and music that I create on my own, as a solo entity. Malfeasance, for instance, was an entirely different process than the current release. Those songs were created as specific concepts at different times with no other goal that creating a specific song in the moment. Mostly through manipulating and processing sound and then assembling the pieces together to explore a specific set of sonic landscapes. For Malfeasance, after a few songs were selected out of a back catalog of music, I also drafted additional songs to complete the whole concept and give the release a specific dynamic flow that pleased me.

For the new release, “Runenberg” and “Winternacht” were developed long ago with a full band. Riffs were proposed and the band arranged songs, crafting them in the process together. This was somewhat the case for Sovereignty as well. It was the first song that the current lineup worked on together. After we wrote “Sovereignty”, we brought back “Runenberg” and “Winternacht” and did further revisions to the original drafts developed in 2005/6 to please the current lineup. Afterwards, I pitched re-envisioning the song Sleep. It was compiled in rehearsal and finalized in the recording process but never performed live. With most of the self-titled release being composed at that point and before we starting recording, I thought about the overall dynamic flow of the songs and considered what the release might need. I decided that I wanted a song like “Last Will” to exist. Something fast and intense; unrelenting in fury which would then fall apart into an abstract landscape where I would invite Markus to orate a poem by Nietzsche that might have inspired Laure or Bataille. Like “Sleep”, this song was developed in rehearsal and finalized in the recording process.

I knew I wanted to include “Hark! The Battle-Cry is Ringing!” on the release as well. This song was a solo recording project for a benefit compilation release for a union strike fund. I wanted to include this song due to the folk elements, the lyrics themselves, and also the buzzing Black Metal outro. My long standing desire for the project is to encompass a diverse range of sounds and styles of music: Black Metal, Dark Folk, Avant-Garde, Dark Ambient and Musique Concrète. I have been a huge fan of Ulver’s “Trilogy” and definitely reference them as setting the stage for a Black Metal group to record a diverse set of music, but I also want to reach a little further afield and incorporate more abstract elements as well.

Lastly, I was working on an interview with Geneviève Beaulieu of Menace Ruine and Preterite for Amarantos. I asked her to work on a collaboration piece to follow Sovereignty on the release. She agreed and we discussed lyrics for the piece, settling on the poem by Bataille which comes from her favorite book by Georges Bataille Inner Experience. In this instance, we settled on the lyrics first, and then I sent her a couple basic ideas. She took it from there and really created the song out of a very simple concept riff and lyrics. Her immense talent really shines on the piece it is amazing.

There is no specific method across the board for the band, but separate strategies given the context of the sounds being created and by whom.

What first led you to this very researched approach to Art?
This is a good question, I feel that as far back as I can remember, any project I have worked on has tended to utilize this approach of total immersion.

My family has always been avid music lovers. Not only did they give us records for major holidays but they also had a large collection of music. My step dad Glenn had a great many hard rock and early metal records. So in the late 70’s early 80’s he let me explore his record collection which included most of the Black Sabbath records, Budgie, Scorpions and Blue Oyster Cult among many others. He also had the book Album Cover Album by Roger Dean that I poured through as a child which helped solidify the idea that records and record cover art can also be Art.

As a youth in the early 80’s I listened to Sabbath, Ozzy, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, I also sought out the most heavy and fast music I could find. This led me to punk. My sister, who was 3 years older also helped fuel this by passing along music to me that she liked too. Of particular note, she sent me a cassette tape of the R Radical Records release the International P.E.A.C.E. Benefit Compilation. Which included a wide array of international punk bands and a 72 page booklet featuring a page for each band, but it also included other writings, information and art. I must have found a copy of that comp in 1985/6. The full immersion of the booklet and sounds of the many bands it included had a huge influence on me. On that comp I found out about Septic Death. I loved that band. Pushead’s art, the feral veracity of the music and stylistic approach of Pushead’s vocals had an immense impact upon me. I got my first Septic Death record by subscribing to Thrasher magazine. He also had a monthly feature in Thrasher entitled Puszone where he discussed new and interesting bands and releases including prices of items in his distro. It was through Puszone and the International P.E.A.C.E. Compilation that I started mail ordering tapes, records and began corresponding with bands as a fan. I eventually tracked down a copy of Septic Death’s Need So Much Attention… Acceptance of Whom which was a revelation in many ways. The packaging and art was immersive. The version that I got was a limited colored vinyl version with a large signed poster and several hand numbered inserts as well. The total package was immensely influential and I think is a direct link to the desire I have to make works of art that, as you describe, are gesamtkunstwerk.

Those are two specific releases that set the stage. As time went on, my interests expanded and I pursed the Occult, Art and researching academic writings from various traditions. I was introduced to “Industrial” music and Noise in the late 80’s. I hate the term “Industrial” but I appreciate Monte Cazzaza’s reference to Throbbing Gristle’s music. Throbbing Gristle and Psychick TV are notable in that they also sought out a similar gesamtkunstwerk with their music, Art and actions. I was extremely interested in the writings and ideas that they championed and also the ruminations of the Temple of Psychick Youth. The development of Chaos Magick and exploration of all incarnations of the Left Hand Path are things that I think are often misunderstood when viewed through the lens of time, retrospectively.

In the 80’s and early 90’s, there was a lot of exploration and research into what Robert Hertz would describe as Left Sacred. Robert Hertz was a French sociologist at the dawn of the Twentieth Century and conducted doctoral work with Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss. Sadly, he passed away in WWI after completing only a few works. His idea of Left Sacred was further championed by Georges Bataille and Roger Caillois in the Collège de Sociologie where they, along with several others, explored sacred sociology through a series of lectures. The sacred can be seen as that which has a communifying value and holds society together. But as we know, there are things that draw us together which are repulsive or heterogeneous; these things can also have a cohesive element within groups or societies. The taboo and rituals where it is sanctioned as a rite of passage or cohesive ritual abound in all cultures. Death often brings people together and other manifestations of left sacred can, and often, are cohesive; to reject it is to deny an essential part of what it is to be human.

I would say that the writings of the Temple of Psychick Youth, the various RE/Search zines (Industrial Culture Handbook, Modern Primitives), along with countless other zines exploring and researching the taboo, Left Sacred, Magick and cultural traditions that highlighted these themes of Left Sacred also had a huge impact on me. Through them I learned to explore ideas, find associations and create work that integrates all these pursuits and interests, to document them, and share them for others to ingest. With the hope that it might be of possible influence to others.

Do you ever run into roadblocks with this intensive approach?
Certainly. The current release took several years to complete. L’Acéphale (the release) met many delays in the process of birthing into existence. The Hellhole studio, where most of the primary tracking and final mixes were conducted, transitioned physical locations, so this lead to some delays while the studio moved. This meant that there was a long gap between primary recordings that Charlie, Danny and I conducted at the start, and the rest of the recordings that the other member of the band did. There was at least a year or more before the other members even started tracking their parts on the release. These recordings were done over a long time at a couple different locations at different studios. As the process developed, it made sense to give an appropriate amount of time for each member to complete their parts, listen to them and make revisions as necessary. In general, I prefer recording to be exploratory: track, listen, revise and then follow intuition in the studio.

The advantage of this intensive approach is that it highlighted the contributions of all the people involved in the process, those co-conspirators who helped see this release come to light. I feel that the sum of the parts for L’Acéphale was made better because each member had the freedom to write and rewrite their parts in the studio. They helped in creating the release, by capturing all the various threads that fed into the release and instilling their own unique mark in the process. A suitably “headless” process.

Jared Huston contributed some fantastic guitar parts that really elevate the songs beyond a mere collection of riffs. Some of these parts were discussed in rehearsal but never formalized for live performances. Danny, as well, contributed some fantastic bass parts; sections that were open and improvisational live (and in rehearsal), he really created unique and engaging riffs and soundscapes in the studio. Carl was also able to develop parts and countermelodies that really stand out to me and through this process, solidifying and completing each song extremely well.

Markus’ vocals and moog on the release also turned out extremely well. I love his voice. For the studio, we expanded some of the sections that he contributed on, together we discussed and tried out a variety of experiments that coalesced songs and “completed” them. Winternacht in particular, had a few sections that when first tracked felt a bit bare and seemed to be missing something; but by the end, we feel like that the song is exactly as we might have hoped and it was through a slow careful evolution that this came to fruition.

It was also wonderful to have Liz, who played bass and sang on Book of Lies and Stahlhartes Gehäuse come into the studio and sing on both “Runenberg” and “Winternacht”. She helped write those songs and sang on them when we first developed the songs. I love her vocals; they are absolutely fantastic, so it was an honor to have her return and be part of these songs now. They truly feel complete. Having Both Ilana and Genevieve on the release as well is fantastic both of their contributions are outstanding.

It is also worth mentioning that Gabriel Espinoza who worked with me over the course of 6 years on the project completely dialed the final mixes. We did many, many mixing sessions and exchanged notes repeatedly about revisions of mixes over the years. He really was amazing to work with and was continually engaged in working to best manage all the layers and details in each song. He dedicated so much time to making the mixes outstanding. He had the perfect intuition and suggested numerous changes and ideas for processing/treating different elements throughout. I am honored to have worked with him.

Through the suggestion of a friend, Gus Elg from Sky Onion also came in at the end and worked on the final master. I could not have been happier about working with him on the mastering process. Gus’ attention to detail and helpful ideas as we went through the various mixes for each format was perfect. His approach, ear to sound, and his abilities solidified the fact that I will basically not use another mastering engineer, he is that great.

The artwork and design also came about as a slow deliberate process. Markus created some truly wonderful and engaging artwork. When I asked him to contribute artwork for the cover and inside gatefold, we discussed many ideas that could be part of the visual components. I gave him a bunch of original artwork by Andre Masson that related to the original group as well as ideas I had for symbolic elements that referenced the writings and relationships of Georges Bataille and Laure. Markus’ art is fantastic and unique. I love it. The designs he developed are outstanding and I could not be more happy with them.

Likewise, the rest of the design turned out extremely well from the various members who worked on them. Eisenwald has contributed to make the release absolutely stellar. They also have had to field the endless slow birth and transformation of the release. They have been endlessly supportive and worked tirelessly to ensure the quality of the release. I have nothing but endless thanks to everyone involved. The process, and the roadblocks, have helped to make the end result better.

Is there a specific way in which you would define L’Acéphale as an artistic entity?
L’Acéphale is merely the musical project that I, and fellow co-conspirators, use to channel our compulsions to create music and explore literature and Art. Our intent and hope is that the music and ideas are challenging, engaging and thought provoking in equal measure.

Judging by the variety your output, can it be safe to assume this project isn’t constrained by any idea of genre?
Exactly. I want the project to be bound by no barriers. As I indicated previously, my long-standing desire for the project is to encompass a diverse range of sounds and styles of music: Black Metal, Dark Folk, Avant-Garde, Dark Ambient and Musique Concrète.

Through incorporating these different elements into your sound, how do you go about maintaining a central artistic identity? That is to say, how do you continue to sound like L’Acephale across all your chameleonic releases?
In general, I feel that there is a very cogent thread of sound across the various musical genres that I desire to incorporate into the sonic output of L’Acéphale. There is a clear association, for me, between these musical threads and artistic expressions of sound. My goal has been, and continues to be, assembling those elements and juxtaposing them within the context of L’Acéphale. I also feel there is a similarity of styles across all musical projects I have been involved with: Hail, Order of the Vulture and even Kertoa Kalevala. The last being a project that Carl Annala and I do with our friends Ilana Hamilton and Asia Kindred Moore. We create music as a background while Ilana Hamilton orates various dark folk tales and mythology. The instruments, the musical styles and contexts might be different but the feelings that are evoked as the result, are the same.

In the last 15-20 years, there has been a host of projects, music and performance art from a variety of artists in the Pacific Northwestern United States that follow a similar vein. Festivals, curated events, and the like have, and continue to occur with names like: Cascadian Dark Folk, Cascadian Yule, Thirst for Light and others. They have compiled a wide array of musical styles, performance, art, and crafts that delve into this precise point of convergence. The Cascadian Dark Folk event was a feature of the Folklife Festival that takes place in Seattle every year. Our friends Arrowyn and Jason curated a selection of music that stretched the category of “folk” to the limits, yet still featured elements with connection to folk music and folk culture that was part of the general umbrella that Folklife represents. Fauna, Hail, Novemthree, Waldteufel, In Gowan Ring among many others often performed at this festival. Likewise both Cascadian Yule and Thirst for Light are festivals that combine a wide variety of music styles with a general similar thread between all the music. Having attended and performed at all of these events over the years it has been nourishing to see the cultivation of such a dynamic range of sound and Art. It encourages me to continue my own explorations and inquiry across a dynamic range of sound and forms of expression.

I also tend to have my own specific set of interests and sounds that I like to work with. I have worked with both Carl Annala and Markus Wolff over the last 2 decades in various groups and one thing that I really enjoy about working with them is that both of them have their own unique style. When we work on projects, their individual approaches to music and melody push me in directions I generally do not intuitively tread. Part of playing music together with other musicians is the interplay of styles and the resulting musical dance that comes out of the process of working on music together. You follow their lead and adapt your own approach to combine with theirs. I appreciate and grow out of those experiences and enjoy the process. L’Acéphale, for the most part, is created out of music ideas that I present. In the cases where I work with other musicians, the music adapts to incorporate their individuality, but the general tone of each piece is generated by elements that I suggest to the group, so it makes sense to me that they tend to still “sound” like L’Acéphale.

My personal pursuit in sound tends to be focused on specific sets of feelings and emotions. There are whole styles of music I might enjoy listening to, but I would never be interested in playing. Who knows why, but my interest in music and the music that I write has been somewhat fixed from a very early age. As a child I really loved heavy guitar sound. In the late 70’s I asked my Mom how to describe the sound of the guitar on Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack from the record News of the World and the guitar sound of Tony Iommi with Black Sabbath. I was mesmerized by Master of Reality. She coined it “acid guitar” which is hilarious now, but in the late 70’s “Metal,” as a term, had not specifically set. As I found more music that pushed the boundaries of heavy and fast: Bad Brains, Septic Death, Neos, Rudimentary Peni, Siege, Celtic Frost, Sacrilege, Bathory, Slayer… I came closer to home with each step.

As I found out about other musical styles that felt very similar and cathartic in different ways, it also helped expand my interests: Psychick TV, Throbbing Gristle, Merzbow, Test Department, Current 93, Missing Foundation, Crash Worship, Swans, Neurosis, Krzysztof Penderecki, Veljo Tormis, Henryk Górecki, Tibetan Buddhist chant and ritual music, and other folk music traditions all influenced me in various ways. I feel like there is a direct relationship between all of them.

Now that this chapter of L’Acéphale comes to a close, with songs spanning greater periods of time, where does the project go next? Are there any plans?
So much has been waiting for this project to be complete! While the new release was slowly coming into fruition, I have been working on other projects. Hail has gone through several incarnations and is currently performing full band performances. For a while Hail was just Carl Annala and I focusing on Death Ambient and Harsh Noise using contact mics and an assortment of unlikely objects to create sound performance. By most accounts, people felt it was extremely harrowing. We have been merging those elements with a metal line up recently thanks to some new members. I am very happy where that band is at this point and we are hoping to start recording that material this spring with Gabriel Espinoza.

For L’Acéphale, I have drafted several song drafts that I want to develop further with the band. I also have been working on assembling some of recordings that have come out on various splits or comps that I am hoping to release on vinyl. Those are mostly complete and now waiting to see what happens after the self-titled release comes out.

There has been discussion with another band doing a collaboration release that I am very excited about, but there are many difficult logistics to work out to make that happen. Most of the writing from our side of the collaboration was completed several years ago. We shall see. The project has been talked about, off and on, for six or more years. I did not want to start recording more material until the Self-Titled was complete and released into the world. So now will be the time to see if the collaboration will still happen or if the material will come out as a L’Acéphale release on its own.

I also want to delve more into Bataille’s writings as well. Alas… there are more ideas to work on than time in the day! I will see what happens after the European Tour and see where the live ensemble is afterward and go from there.