Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
27. Alcest (1,127 plays)
Top track (154 plays): Souvenirs d’un autre monde, from Souvenirs d’un autre monde (2007)
Featured track: Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles, from Les Voyages De L’Âme (2012)
About two years ago I passed up a rare opportunity to strike up a one on one conversation with a musician I admire to no end. Alcest had just finished opening for Enslaved on their 2011 U.S. tour, and I stumbled upon Neige idling in the outdoor smoking lounge, standing exposed in the middle without a pesky fan in sight. I’m not the sort to pester someone over a stupid autograph, and I couldn’t think of a question worth asking on the spur of the moment, so I let the opportunity pass. But if I could have it back again, I would ask him what bands he’d been listening to when he recorded Le Secret (2005). Influence has been a hot topic for Alcest interviews ever since Neige denied any knowledge of shoegaze music at the release of Souvenirs d’un autre monde (2007). He responded to the comparisons by actively engaging a lot of relevant 80s and early 1990s bands, such that the perceived similarities lead to real influence down the road. I don’t think that is as apparent in his more recent works as some fans would like to believe; in Alcest, Neige produces the sort of uniqueness and quality that transcends genres. Nevertheless, my fascination with the history of music begs the question. Le Secret delivered what I wanted with a unique innocence that could only ever succeed once, and it certainly wasn’t “shoegaze” that paved the way for it.
Le Secret rather felt to me like something the black metal scene was destined to produce sooner or later. I’d been craving it since I first heard Ulver’s “Of Wolf and Passion”. If black metal had always been more about De Mysteriis than Dom Sathanas, “Le Secret” was the final incantation–the first real invocation in a world of petty summoners. Le Secret battered down the stereotyped walls, presenting a glorious first glimpse at what dwelt beyond that meditative barrier of blast beats and tremolo. On Souvenirs d’un autre monde and beyond, Neige gave us a beautiful vision of just how that world appeared to him, and he continues to improve on it with each new release. “Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles”, the 2012 track here featured, might be his most encompassing song to date.
Don’t get me wrong. Neige was certainly not the first black metal artist to think outside the box. The Ukrainian black metal scene especially had been doing it for years. But I feel like Neige’s artistic accomplishment and subsequent popularity really paved the way towards a widespread abandonment of black metal’s pseudo-machismo persona in exchange for the artistry necessary to accomplish a more sublime beauty and brutality alike. If we are ever going to speak of “post-black metal” or some “third wave” supplanting the early 1990s establishment, it began in 2005 and 2006 with the likes of Alcest and Agalloch. It is only an odd coincidence that the term “shoegaze” has regained popularity outside of metal and adopted new definitions. I look at Alcest not as a merging of two styles, but as a change in mindset which has empowered countless bands over the last few years to let their novel ideas be heard and widely distributed.
Le Secret will always be my favorite Alcest recording because of its timeliness and audible obliviousness to this transition which was slowly gaining ground. But perhaps I’ve beat that horse to death over the past few years. When I listen to Les Voyages De L’Âme (2012), I hear a musician in his prime, undeterred by the expectations of any particular genre, who has successfully improved with every new album. Alcest’s sixth major release, Shelter, should be coming out some time later this year, and I have really high hopes.