Since the release of their ground breaking album Souvenirs d’un autre monde in 2007, Alcest has consistently made steps across genre boundaries and in doing so has attracted a wide and diverse audience. The French outfit’s black metal meets shoegaze sound – blackgaze, if you will – has reached an audience that stretches well beyond the metal fraternity into post-rock; their music has the ability to be profoundly affecting. Looking around Heaven tonight it’s clear to see that the band’s audience is not only diverse, but also in thrall to the emotive waves that the band can create.
Prior to their appearance on stage tonight, the music drifting from the PA sets the mood perfectly. A choir of heavenly voices drift from the speakers, transforming the room into something like a church with beer on tap. With their audience suitably prepared for a spiritual experience the band take to the stage, with main songwriter Neige receiving a hero’s welcome.
Launching into Les jardins de minuit, Alcest waste no time in presenting their most recent work from their Spiritual Instinct album. A spellbinding mix of hymnal vocals blackened metal scree, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from one of the most inventively consistent bands in metal. Interestingly, their classic metal and rock roots are starting to show on their most recent material, and it’s in evidence right from the start tonight. Some of the riffs on Les jardins owe a significant debt to Iron Maiden‘s Powerslave era. Protection follows in a similar vein, and whilst the classic Alcest sound remains, it seems clear that Neige has changed the mix of the band’s sound ever so slightly. Whilst the Slowdive influence is still present and correct, Alcest seem to be adding a sprinkling of classic rock to their formula.
There have always been moments when the band crosses over into such moments. Écailles de lune – Part 2 for example inspires an outbreak of hands in the air clapping, suggesting that if Alcest play their cards right they’d be capable of pleasing a stadium audience. Kodama cements further the band’s ability to blend commercial sounds with their more niche influences, sounding positively enormous in the process. Such moments can be jarring, breaking the spell cast by the band’s more hazy outpourings, and snapping you out of the carefully established trance.
Such trancing works well, for it’s fair to say that, visually, Alcest are not the most arresting band to ever take to the stage, and are perhaps best savoured with eyes closed, allowing their perfect sound to wash over. When they break the spell with a lumbering riff, it does sometimes feel like a rude awakening. Yet such moments are few and far between, and with a rousing version of Délivrance to close the set out, Alcest prove that they are masters of straddling genre boundaries. It might not have been the transcendent experience that they’re capable of creating, but they certainly didn’t disappoint.