From France comes this album of lightened *(and enlightened) “Shoegaze,” though not in the formal sense of the term. This is an album full of beautiful, ambient melodies, with occasional hints of their once slightly darker side.
ALCEST has been around since 2000, founded by Neige (Stéphane Paut), initially as a solo act. They briefly became a 3 piece, band members Aegnor and Argoth leaving the band after their 2001 demo. The project again leaving Neige the sole member. An immense and quite radical change in sound swiftly followed, the band going from a type of Black Metal to Shoegaze, while still retaining occasional markers and aspects of the Black Metal box he uniquely broke free from, as well as elements of both Gothic Rock and Ambient-Noise.
Over the years many members from many different genres and bands have joined ALCEST on Neige’s especially personal and spiritual conceptual journey *(more on that shortly). Essentially, however, ALCEST are a duo, consisting mainly of Neige & Winterhalter (who’s performed with the band longer than anyone else), though they do have a fairly set full live band as well.
Shoegaze, by the way, consists of bands like the COCTEAU TWINS, CURVE, MAZZY STAR, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, etc. It’s a very toned down, usually downbeat, goth-influenced, ambient genre, the name coming from the fact that in the early 90’s alt-rock boom, when this genre first appeared, fans usually stood around depressed looking and swaying lightly, as opposed to “dancing,” perpetually staring at the floor; gazing at their shoes.
What ALCEST does is blend this style with elements and experimentation of what sounds to me like BETHLEHEM (Germany’s founders of box-bursting Dark Metal), and *(also formerly Black Metal, but now just wonderfully weird, though in a completely different way) ULVER, both brilliant bands in their own right, who broke the “Black Metal trap as well. Now take all those ingredients, the Black Metal, the Shoegaze, and mix them with the choral elements of ENIGMA and the ambience of French band AIR – – – and voila, you have this eerily upbeat concept album.
Neige’s concept for ALCEST as a whole is this: in his childhood, he supposedly experienced contact regularly with the otherworld, and ALCEST is the sonic culmination to those childhood memories of that strange otherworld, as he wishes to convey to the listener. This is beautiful and genreless, honestly, and indeed does serve as the soundtrack to another very odd, yet beautiful, place, if you sit back and close your eyes and let it. *(In just that idea alone, I see hints of a fan of the writings of LORD DUNSANY, and H.P. LOVECRAFT’s “Kadath” tales.)
This is the soundscape opposite to “Dim Carcosa.” This album is about exactly what the title implies: SHELTER, safety, love, and light. It took me a couple listens to come around to it, but it was well worth the patience to feel the beauty of this release, their fourth. Some have misinterpreted ALCEST for creating a “sinister mood” *(I don’t see how, though each subsequent release has gotten lighter). To these misinterpretations, Neige has said: “A sinister mood???…. That really bothers me that you should say that because that proves that I did not succeed in communicating what I had inside me… I just wanted to create a maternal chant, hypnotic and unreal, similar as to what I have heard in the fairy land; certainly not a “dark” chant. My melodies are strange but not stressful, at least I hope not! The lousy production and strangled chant can maybe explain things. If you could have understood my texts, I don’t think you would have said that because they are not texts on sadness or anxiety, I keep that for Mortifera. I plan to re-record “Le secret” soon and include two tracks in one album, I hope that this time there will be no compromise as you are not the first person to feel my music as dark music.”
I highly suggest picking this up to hear something that I can almost guarantee you haven’t before.
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Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/ Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org