Imagine yourself about to jump into an oblivion of feelings, you do not know what to expect, but you feel thrilled because you know that you’re going to enjoy it and that you’re ready for the trip. That is what the new Alcest album, Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast Records) brings to the table from the first track up to the last. I have to admit that I have never really paid any attention to the French masters of post-Black Metal, even a lot of people of my close circle loves them. For some reason, I didn’t want to pay attention and, by God, how wrong I was!
Blackgaze legends Alcest are releasing their new album Spiritual Instinct via their new label Nuclear Blast Records on October 25th. We caught up with bandleader Neige all about the process of making the new album, the differences between Kodama, reincorporating more extreme and heavy sounds, hos love of 1980s post-Punk music, his feelings about concept albums, collaborating on artwork, and a lot more!
Major news as Nuclear Blast has signed post-Rock legends Alcest to a new deal. Their new album is due out later in 2019. The band are in the studio right now finishing that album. The band finished their recent touring cycle for their amazing 2016 album Kodama (Prophecy Productions). Continue reading
Having recently blown me away at Damnation Festival, I was particularly looking forward to seeing Sinistro a second time in little over a week. Their last album Semente (Seasons of Mist) has been getting a lot of listens since seeing them at Damnation last week. Continue reading
French Blackgaze leaders Alcest have forged a career out of merely being artists following their will, rather than the passions of what fans want them to be. By setting the artistic ideal almost too high from the first ghost-notes of The Secret in 2005, to the twist and turns of Souvenirs d’un autre monde, through the evolution from Écailles de Lune, and more recently the brilliant Shelter in 2014, the band has charmed and confused equally. Continue reading
A respectably full venue is greeted by support act Lone Wolf, whose name is something of an oxymoron has he has another keyboard player and drummer with him. He might look for all the world like an IT manager who has come straight from a meeting but surely his sensitive balladry will win doubters over? In a word. No.
Ponderous keyboard ostinatos and bleating falsetto vocals do little to inspire anything above tepid half claps between songs. “Mr Wolf’s” polite and apologetic banter does little to excuse the fact that the majority of this set is turgid singer/songwriter dross wallowing in mediocrity.
The blue stage lights usher in a sense of dreamlike reverie as Alcest launch into ‘Opale’. Neige thanks the audience for their patience for the technical problems the French men initially face, but said gremlins are soon banished in favour of blissful hymns like ‘Summer’s Glory’ and older number ‘Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde’.
Transfixed, the audience stare longingly at the quartet as the beauty and of the songs seeks to penetrate their very souls. Despite the supposed narrow mindedness of metalheads Shelter era material is well received, but not with the same appreciation and devotion that heralds the older material. ‘Écalies De Lune Part 1’ is greeted like a long lost lover, but the most fervent reaction is reserved for the triumphant salvos of ‘Autre Temps’ and ‘Délivrance’ where a couple of audience members are so overwhelmed with emotion they actually shed tears.
Much like Anathema before them, new opus Shelter has seen Alcest shift their focus to more gentle atmospheric sounds while retaining much of their loyal fanbase. Not many gigs see punters in Hate Forest t-shirts cosying up to those in Mogwai tops but that’s a testament to the crossover appeal the band has garnered.
Seducing all in attendance with delicate, soaring cadences wielded to lush atmospherics, tonight’s performance is exceptional once the early technical hindrances have been banished. Another bewitching and mesmerising performance from a seminal act who continue their metamorphosis into a brighter, more ethereal act whose beauty transcends mere genre boundaries.
WORDS: ROSS BAKER
Having been a prolific creator for the last ten years, covering several strands of extreme metal with various founded outfits such as the eponymous Herbst, the blackened death of Epitaph, and the current death/doom of Owl, Germany’s Markus Herbst (a.k.a. Markus Stiegenhort) now delivers the fourth offering from his darkly melodic Lantlôs. Their last two albums were graced by the ghostly tones of the somewhat legendary Neige, so it is initially to this set’s credit that the Alcest hero’s absence here isn’t particularly noticeable.
A suite of lush, stark yet emotive landscapes, Melting Sun (Prophecy Productions) occasionally confounds as it consistently fails to explode after frequently swelling to the point of crescendo; rendering the black element of their ‘post black’ classification almost non-existent, save for the squalling riff of ‘Jade Fields’. Undeniably miserablist, the heart strings of the lonely and disaffected are twanged with bitter disregard; conversely most of the track titles refer to warm shades of colour, the cover displaying a head exploding with shades of light and falsely advertising a positive, ecstatic emotion. The Herbst vocal is soothing and languid, akin to listening to Elbow’s Guy Garvey whilst drinking a luxurious hot chocolate, but sparingly used throughout the album to provide a consoling, empathetic escort through the mournful surroundings. As always with the genre the lead guitar is the focal point: a laconic resonance decorating closer ‘Golden Mind’ whilst brittle, icicle-sharp harmonies give the outstanding Jade… an added beauty. The gentleness of …Mind, however, is indicative of the apparent lack of passion coursing throughout. Whilst Herbst hasn’t entirely abandoned the harsh sound, unlike his former bandmate’s latest Alcest product, this occasional drifting nature does rob an at times stunningly beautiful album of its full potential.
Those who like the gentle breeze of Alcest’s latest release will do well to dive head first into the wistful shoegaze on offer here. Despite a slight feeling of dissatisfaction due to that wish for a harder edge this is still a wonderful set, leaving you wondering if there really is any point to it all. In a warm, fuzzy way of course.
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.