Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Alcest - Écailles de lune & Les voyages de l'âme

Written by Justin C.

It's always cool to see a long-established artist suddenly appear on Bandcamp. You can pick up things missing from your collection, or just get higher-fidelity copies of things you already had. Now, when Prophecy Productions joined Bandcamp, we got a whole slew of new digital goodies, including Alcest. I briefly debated about whether Alcest really needed a write up here--doesn't everybody already know them? But on the other hand, there are always new people getting into metal, and it's easy to miss some gems. Or maybe the often-polarized opinion of this band scared you off, and you didn't have me whispering into your ear about why you should listen.

Photo by Webzine Chuul.

Alcest is primarily the work of Neige (a.k.a., Stéphane Paut). He started Alcest as a pretty standard, raw black metal outfit, but after the 2001 demo, Neige took Alcest into a new direction. A lot of people categorize Alcest as post-black metal, but the favorite genre label I've seen attached to them is "blackgaze." Neige mixes melodic shoegaze and black metal in a way that's simply brilliant. If you really think about it (and ignore the knuckle-headed screams of "sell out!" and "girlfriend metal!" that Internet Tough Guys love to apply to Alcest), the melding of shoegaze and black metal isn't actually that strange. Both genres typically rely on waves of sound washing over the listener, and what are blast beats and tremolo-picked guitars if not (angry) waves of sound? Sure, black metal is typically a bit more aggressive than, say, My Bloody Valentine or Catherine Wheel, but sonically, they have similar aesthetics, if different executions.

Cover art by Fursy Teyssier

It was hard to pick what albums to focus on, but for my money, 2010's Écailles de lune and 2012's Les voyages de l'âme stand as the pinnacle of what Alcest has achieved so far. Aside from the early demo, Écailles is probably one of the heavier albums in Alcest's catalog. "Écailles de lune (Part I)" serves as a melancholy intro to the album, but listen carefully: At around the 8-minute mark (Neige doesn't mind a slow build), we get some blast beats and lovely tremolo guitar, even if they're a bit less frosty than typical for black metal. Hang around for the next track, "Écailles de lune (Part II)", and after a deceptively gentle intro, you hear the first proper black metal shrieks of the album. I love Neige's clean vocals--they're subdued and non-showy while still conveying deep emotion--but I'd also happily listen to an album full of his raw shrieks. "Part II" eventually moves back to shoegazier territory, but it makes the blackened fury seem all the more intense.

Photo by Webzine Chuul.

It pains me to say it, but if you're disappointed by the heaviness level of the first two tracks of Écailles, you're probably not going to like Alcest. The shoegaze parts of the music and Neige's clean vocals aren't brief respites or interludes; they're integral to the sound. But if you're still with me, I have to convince you to also listen to Les voyages de l'âme, because it holds a firm place on my list of favorite albums post-2000, and perhaps on my list of favorite albums ever.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


Cover art by Fursy Teyssier

Les voyages de l'âme does move Alcest a bit further away from its black metal roots, although you still get some great blackened fury in "Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles" and "Faiseurs de mondes". What stands out on Voyages is the maturation of Neige's melodic sensibilities. He was always good, but what he did on Voyages is at a different level. The lush guitars and vocal melodies in the album opener "Autre Temps" immediately take me to another place, which seems appropriate because Neige has explained that Alcest is largely inspired by a dream world from his childhood. This album also sees Neige's blending of the heavy and light become nearly seamless. The gentle intro to "Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles" is brilliantly revisited in the song's blackened sections. The transition thrills me every time, no matter how often I hear it. And the vocals and guitars in the title track? I don't even know how to put those feelings into words.

Photo by Webzine Chuul.

Alcest's lovely 2014 album Shelter moved firmly into a pop/shoegaze sound, and as with most Alcest albums, the reaction was polarized. However, Neige has changed directions before--Alcest's first proper full-length, Souvenirs d'un autre monde, had nary a black metal scream on it, so it's hard to say where he'll end up next. I'd hate to see Neige completely abandon his black metal roots, but on the other hand, his musicianship will show through no matter what he's doing, and I suspect Alcest albums are going to be an "insta-buy" for me for a long time to come.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Imperial Triumphant - Abyssal Gods

Written by Andy Osborn.

Cover art by Andrew Tremblay

With Abyssal Gods, Imperial Triumphant return with their first substantial effort. Since 2008 the Brooklyn-based dissonance mongers have been stingy with their offerings; only a handful of EPs have seen the light of day along with a 2012 “full-length” that clocked in at a mere 25 minutes. Finally, a full 40 minutes of new music crawls its way into the light of day just a year after joining the already fantastic roster of Aural Music.

The band should be no stranger to those familiar with the world of bonkers black metal. Following in the footsteps of experimentalists like Deathspell Omega, Thantifaxath, or even Nightbringer, Imperial Triumphant are part of what I like to refer to as the other post-black metal movement. Focusing on technicality, harsh melodies and unpredictable song structures above all else, it’s a far cry from those stuck in the Second Wave or trying to bring ambient wandering into the mix. Abyssal Gods builds on their already signature sound, diving deeper into a cavern of beautiful chaos.

Every song is a mixed bag of frenetic musicianship, seemingly random arrangements, and otherworldly vocals. And honestly, on paper that sounds like something I should hate. But the music is enthralling as it absorbs your mind and soul and demands attention. It’s a horror movie that you can’t look away from. What sets Imperial Triumphant apart from similar groundbreakers is there is no art school pretension or kvlter-than-thou mentality. They don't obfuscate their identities or claim membership of a secret occult order and behind all the mayhem is the clear sound of a talented band having a great time. There’s a moment near the beginning of “Opposing Holiness” that gives a glimpse of the band’s soul. These few seconds of a fun acoustic ditty before the song completely explodes into madness is one of the most memorable parts of the album.

Colin Marston’s production is beefy as usual, and he put most of the emphasis on the drums and bass, making the listen just that much more challenging. But it’s a nice contrast to virtuosic showoffs to find yourself searching for the intricate guitar lines instead of having them scream their importance at you. “Metropolis” ends the album sounding like the band doing their best impression of a insane 50's lounge act, enhancing the confusion of what was just experienced. Abyssal Gods takes this niche style of black metal to a whole new level, making it both more fascinating and challenging than ever before. And even if there’s likely few riffs or melodies that you’ll find yourself remembering later, it's an exceptional foray into sonic madness that's unlikely ever to be repeated.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Just the Facts - February 2015

Written by Kevin Page.

Welcome to what I plan on being a monthly feature. You won't have to see me try and wax poetic to get to the good stuff. All the albums featured will have been released during the month in question. I'll give you the info you need and you can skip right to the music.  So without further ado...


Band:Oral Fistfuck
Country:Switzerland
Label:Rising Nemesis Records
Genre:Brutal death metal
Sounds like:The bands actual name!
Interesting fact:The song "Inside the Cage" contains vocals of the bassists 6 month old son recorded during multiple morning breakfasts, combined together, reversed and lowered 30 octaves


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


Artwork by Mortuus

Band:Devathorn
Country:Greece
Label:W.T.C. Productions
Genre:Black metal
Sounds like:Orthodox black metal with a modern flair
Interesting fact:Several aspects of the album's Draconian theme refer to the spiritual practices of its members


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


Artwork by Jeff Christensen

Band:James Norbert Ivanyi
Country:Australia
Label:Self released
Genre:Progressive instrumental rock/metal
Sounds like:For fans of Sean Ashe & Plini
Interesting fact:Ivanyi performs all bass, keyboards and guitars, while drummer Dave Horgan helped him with the mix/master


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]