The metal community is rallying around one of its own, and a legend at that. Mike IX Williams is seeing many bands from the New Orleans scene come together to support his plight to help him get a a life-saving liver transplant as soon as possible. A concert has been booked for this winter to raise more money for the cause. Continue reading
Psalm Zero is the last offering of the Canadian label Profound Lore Records and, once again, they hit the nail in the head (please do not forget about the amazing Artificial Brain’s Labyrinth Constellation that was also released by the label). This time around with Psalm Zero, a project that unites two great musicians and artists: Charlie Looker (Extra Life and Zs) and Andrew Hock (Castevet). Two musicians, two artists that have pushed the boundaries and delivered art of higher level. More often than we would like to admit, projects with members of known bands (if you don’t know them it’s your problem) fail because the members of those projects are afraid of facing with each-others style, influences and artistic output. Well, that doesn’t happen with Psalm Zero. With their debut full-length album The Drain, they face each other and there’s an enormous clash which makes the album such an enormous piece.
The first thing to make an impression on the listener its how the harsh vocals of Andrew Hock face the beautiful, overly dramatic – just imagine Morrissey (The Smiths) singing on and old, beautiful and huge cathedral and you will have an idea how profound, romantic and heartbreaking Hock’s vocals are – making a game of power sometimes and other times just a simple and incredible beautiful harmony like if they were meant to be together. The other thing is the all atmosphere of the record: perhaps the best description is post-punk industrialized that operates in this all spectrum of melancholy being sometimes just mournful other times just fuckin’ heavy with nothing on its mind other that pure and utterly rage. Seven songs and a record with just thirty eight minutes of running time, The Drain is an incredible and amazing introduction into their universe. There have been a lot of projects lately that are based on the 80s post-punk sonority, Psalm Zero are just one of most, if not the most, interesting projects of them all. Another pearl at the end of the ocean. Addictive and exciting.
Originally released on tape in 2011, Ormgård are re-releasing the Ormblot demo on CD, via Forever Plagued Records. Ormblot was praised a lot within the black metal underground scene and the band itself was hysterically compared with black metal monsters such as Emperor.
Including three ambient songs and three black metal songs, the entire work is so 1990s that’s hard to think it’s only three years old. The ambient songs instantly put me somewhere between 1993 and 1995 when great projects like Mortiis or Satyr’s Wongraven were born. Of course, they don’t deliver ambient songs with forty minutes, but the ancient essence is so there: it’s slow and cold with dark ruined corridors on sight. The title-track profoundly embraced me with its very slow pace and with its compassed bells tolling that I even jumped on my chair when the ‘Hugsad’ track begun with the frozen and hostile guitar riffs. Hailing from Sweden, a country that has a well settled and modern black metal movement, but the band’s sound is so Germanic featuring fast yet melodic riffs combined with a wall of simple orchestrations that reach our ears through the keyboards. However, there is another characteristic that easily leads me to Finland because of the high-pitched vocals which may remind me a whole bunch of black metal acts.
The gelid landscapes are brought by songs like ‘Av Svartkonst & Fördärv’ which is the most demonic one in the demo. Telling a story about sorcery, Orm goes far and mixes the concept with the evilness of demons, being Satan the center of it all.
In sum, it’s hard for me to say this is really an iconic item. Yes, it’s worthy to listen, especially because of the ambient tracks and because of the 1990s spirit – now and then I still check the date and I figure out it’s a 2011 demo. Nowadays, I don’t really know what Orm wants to do, but according to the 2012 album, titled ////\, it seems black metal isn’t a priority as we have a dark ambient full-length.
Like the visions of a mystical “fairyland” which visited him as a child, Stéphane Paut, a.k.a Neige, has always been a musician who let his imagination run riot. Driven by his own muse, Neige is not the type of musician who lets the expectations of his fan-base dictate the direction of his music. Catching up with Neige via Skype from his Paris home, the front man is a confident and driven, yet humble individual who embraces challenges and hopes that new record Shelter will be a watershed release for Alcest. “The concept of this album is very uplifting. It is about having a secret place to retreat to when we have difficulties in our lives. It is somewhere that can make us feel secure and stable. For me it was the sea. Now I live in Paris I see how stressed people are, always rushing around. It’s important to have that safe haven which reminds us of who we are.”
Neige may see Shelter as a comforting place where he is free to express himself creatively without restriction but just a cursory listen to the record will have many of the band’s fans being somewhat critical of the band’s new direction. Choosing to discard their metal influences is a bold and risky move but one Paut felt was necessary. “It was boring and very limiting for me.” Neige candidly admits. “I began writing metal when I was fourteen, half my life ago and I needed to explore other genres. Alcest will grow with me. It is the band of my life and it must continue to evolve as I do. Shelter has taken a shoegazing and dream pop influenced direction on this album but in the future things may again be very different. I hope our fans will remain open minded when it comes to our music. We have not decided to do mainstream music; it is just about keeping us satisfied. If that means changing the music style we play then so be it!”
Dreamy and ethereal though it may be, Shelter has been shaped by an uncompromising stance, which Neige remains intensely proud of. “We didn’t want to make a tribute record to the shoegazing scene. It still sounds like Alcest one hundred percent. The music I make is purely for myself. I do not make music to please the fans. When we play live I want people to enjoy the concert and we will play the old songs for them but going forward I don’t see metal shaping the future of this band.”
This unwillingness to be pigeon-holed, along with a ravenous desire to challenge his own abilities, has created an album full of light and wonder. Choosing to record Shelter with Sigur Ros producer Birgir Jon Birgirson in Iceland really shaped the way the album was conceived. “We wanted that dirty, grainy indie rock sound! Sigur Ros music has a lot of character and we wanted to switch from the cynical metal sound we had on the previous album. Iceland was magical, like being on the moon. It exceeded my expectations. A truly life changing experience. It fits perfectly with the concept of Shelter. We spent time in our own creative bubble undisturbed by outside influences.”
As he alluded to earlier, Shelter was greatly inspired by Neige’s love for the sea. Waxing lyrical upon his childhood visions and trips into a “fairyland” has been the chief inspiration for Alcest’s work. It appears that a fondness for nature is now what comforts the twenty-nine year old musician. “My parents used to bring me to the seaside until I was a teenager. My father and I would go sailing in his boat very often. I guess it left a pretty big mark on me as I missed it greatly. I make sure I go at least once a year to the beach with friends near where I grew up. It is these precious moments and the most simple but the most special times of our lives.”
Shorn of the harsh metallic aspects of their sound and adopting a direction favouring light and atmosphere, has clearly been a breath of fresh air. Shelter has also seen Neige realising another dream, that of working with one of his favourite musicians Neil Halstead of British shoegaze pioneers Slowdive. It was truly touching to hear Neige’s gushing appreciation of Halstead’s work. “We have tried to contact him for a long time. I was not sure it would happen because he never got back to us. Finally he replied to me on Facebook saying he loved the music and was interested in working with us! He is one of my favourite musicians and having him in the studio with us was a dream come true.”
“We had to have the lyrics in English for him to sing and I think his performance is fantastic. The lyrics are about dreaming and escaping reality. It allows you to forget yourself and become lost in music.”
The cinematic feel of Alcest’s music is certainly an aspect that sets the Frenchmen apart from their peers. Neige may now disown the “fathers of blackgaze” tag and has set his sights on new creative pastures, with scoring music for film being high near the top of that list. “This is a dream of mine to make a classic soundtrack. I have achieved my dreams of playing in a touring band and making records and this is something I desperately want to do. My music is very sensitive and I would love to score the next American Beauty or Let The Right One In. That film is a masterpiece! Music is all about visions and images for me. I always have mental pictures of my music when I record it so this would come very naturally to me!”
Alcest’s music videos have been vivid journeys into the front man’s consciousness. The latest for the debut single ‘Opale’ contains much colourful and romantic imagery integral to the mood of the song itself. “The coloured smoke was my idea. It is inspired by the Indian celebration ‘Holi’. It makes for very otherworldly scenery with people throwing coloured powders at each other. In the beginning, the characters are cold and distant to one another but in the end, they find love and happiness. It fits the song quite well I think.”
Fans may miss the darker aspects of Alcest’s music moving forward but no doubt, this explosion of colour and change of direction has been good for the soul. While careful not to dismiss the band’s back catalogue in the live arena, there is one aspect of their music Neige was keen to leave behind. “We compose music only for ourselves and never think how others will react but when we perform it is for the people. I really don’t miss performing the harsh vocals but I love to hear classics from my favourite bands, so I will still be performing these types of vocals for sometime unfortunately! I want people who see us live to enjoy it and feel great so I will perform the old songs because I know they are special to the fans.”
Boldly stepping onto new ground while being eager to give the fans what they want live may prove distinctly challenging yet Neige has never been afraid of such things. Looking to the future, how does Neige see Alcest’s music shaping up? “I want to use strings and perhaps samples but the core of this band has always been the melodies. It is important to experiment and try new things. I am thinking of using electronic elements and seeing what may come of that. I feel at my best surrounded by nature. Paris has a lot of concrete and can be very claustrophobic at times but I suppose the fact I miss nature inspires me also.”
Softly spoken and polite, despite refusing to comprise the nature of his artistic vision, Neige remains a dreamer looking to a future of light filled with hope. Come what may, Shelter is a bold step into uncharted territory for an act hungry for adventure.
We all knew it was going to happen. Having hinted that the musical voyage of Alcest was likely to head into pastures new, 2014 sees Neige finally shed the last vestiges of metal, let-alone any lingering black metal leanings from the two-piece band he has led since as far back as 1999, allowing Alcest to emerge, blinking into the light like a newborn butterfly. It’s a beautiful transition and one that will be met by fans of the band with strong feelings of pride, akin to witnessing a loved one succeed against all odds. Because feelings of love and pride are unavoidable when listening to Shelter (Prophecy Productions), Alcest’s fourth full length release.
Despite claiming never to have been a fan of shoegaze, the much maligned genre of music that saw acts such as My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive briefly gain prominence in the early 90s before being castigated and abandoned due to their impenetrable wall-of-sound approach and standstill stage performances, here Alcest have crafted the finest album ever associated with the genre. This is a record of shimmering chords, leisurely ambience and otherworldly, soaring vocals.
From the opening beauty of ‘Away’ featuring the calm and assured vocals of Neil Halstead of the aforementioned Slowdive through the fuzzy, gradually building distortion of ‘Deliverance’ to the mournful yet optimistic guitar lines of ‘Voix Sereines’ , this is a record of indescribable elegance and grace, the kind of heavenly sounds that deserve to reach a much wider audience. Likely to leave some black metal purists scratching their greasy scalps in confusion if they’re allowed to like this, the truth is that everyone should embrace Shelter for what it is; a captivating and stunning piece of music poured straight from the heart.