Live at John Dee in Oslo, Norway on January 28th 2014
Photos by Eivind Nakken
Starting out as a one-man black metal project back in 1999, the journey of Alcest has been one of transformation and rebirth. With their freshly released album Shelter, the raw beginnings of the band are a faint memory, gradually overtaken by wistful shoegaze and gentle atmospheres. The lavish dreamscapes conjured by Neige and his cohorts has made them stars branching far out from their dark roots, made evident by the unusually heterogeneous crowd gathered at John Dee tonight.
The evening begins with the young British group The Fauns. Fronted by the timid and soft-spoken Alison Garner, they play entrancing shoegaze in the tradition of Slowdive, while Garner’s mesmerizing voice recalls the dreamy pop of Cocteau Twins. Apparently the word of tonight’s performance has spread, and the venue is soon crowded for their upbeat mix of fragile beats and walls of distortion. The sound is impeccable and the walls seem to vibrate from Michael Savage’s rhythmic basslines. Seemingly overwhelmed by the unanimously positive response, the band humbly bows out with the gorgeous “Seven Hours”.
Out of ethereal shoegazing dreamlands and into the vast woodlands of Finland, Hexvessel are a different kind of beast. Founded by Mathew McNerney, aka Kvohst (Code, ex-Dødheimsgard, Beastmilk), he is backed by a group of Finnish musicians, some of them also serving in sludge juggernauts Dark Buddha Rising. On record Hexvessel come closest to 60s British folk with a helping of psychedelic rock and mystical themes. Tonight the psych comes to the fore, with the lumbering “His Portal Tomb” adding an element of crushing doom.
Despite the band-members looking like a couple of rogue ska-musicians joined forces with a group of roving forest trolls, the towering vocals of Kvohst bring a rock and roll edge to their neohippie approach. Perhaps his recent endeavor with the post-punk powerhouse Beastmilk has served as an injection of potency, as his cool swagger is infectious. The other star of the gig is keyboardist/violinist/trumpeter Kimmo Helén, who engages in furious fiddle-jamming as part of the band’s psychedelic freak-outs. It’s different and fresh, and when they round off with an exquisite cover of Yoko Ono’s “Woman Of Salem”, the audience seems completely engrossed.
Even if the concert isn’t fully sold-out, by the time Alcest appear from the smoke the venue is pushing its capacity of roughly 400 spectators. Neige and company go on to play a set covering material spanning all their four full-lengths. From opening with the poppy single “Opale” to the final encore “Délivrance”, the main focus of the night is the recent Shelter. Although the album received a lukewarm response in our review, the general mellowness is elevated by the band’s vigorous live presence. This new-found energy may stem from being intermingled with the blackgaze material of earlier albums, presenting a necessary antithesis to the thoroughly blissful new material. In any case, Alcest have mastered the art of performance, enchanting anyone in earshot and inviting us into Neige’s fairy-land.
As the evening draws to a close, the atmosphere is breathtaking and dense enough to touch. Personal highlights come in the form of the post-punk “Percées De Lumière“, where Neige shows that he hasn’t lost his capability for feral vocals, and the graceful “Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde“. With a sound that stretches from atmospheric black metal to the lush sounds of shoegaze and post-rock, Alcest have attained prominence by masterfully traversing boundaries. The packed venue on a Tuesday night shows the fruit of their labor; Alcest are reaching beyond genres and accomplish to stir even the most glacial of hearts.
On paper the combination of post-black metal, a psychedelic folk group, and a shoegaze band touring together seems strange. Still, throughout the evening they have proven that they all tap into something otherworldly, exhibiting a perfect marriage of divergent sounds. In addition to the musical unity, there also appears to be a genuine camaraderie between these three groups, all acknowledging each other in various ways. A long-shot away from aggressive or malevolent metal, this has been a conclave dedicated to the introspective and the ethereal. After it’s all over, lulled smiles are plentiful and spirits are high; this has been a night out of the ordinary.