Alcest is a French post-metal band from Bagnols-sur-Cèze, founded and led by Neige (Stéphane Paut). It began in 2000 as a black metal solo project by Neige, soon a trio, but following the release of their first demo in 2001, band members Aegnor and Argoth left the band, leaving Neige as the sole member. In 2009 drummer Winterhalter from Les Discrets (and formerly Peste Noire) joined Alcest's line-up, after eight years with Neige as the sole full-time member. Since its creation, Alcest has released five studio albums and a number of EPs and split releases. Their fourth album, 2014's Shelter, marked a dramatic shift towards a distinctly shoegaze sound, however their latest album Kodama marks a return to their earlier blackgaze sound. The band are widely credited with pioneering the blackgaze/post-black metal genre, particularly through their EP Le Secret released in 2005.
Alcest was formed as a solo project by Neige in 2000. Soon after, the band became a three-piece black metal outfit, consisting of Neige on vocals, rhythm/acoustic guitar, and drums, Argoth on bass, and Aegnor (now known as La sale Famine de Valfunde. Famine used Neige as a drummer and rhythm guitarist in the early years of Peste Noire and Neige even wrote a song, "La Césarienne", for Peste Noire ) on lead guitar.
In 2001, the band released a 4-track demo tape entitled Tristesse Hivernale on Drakkar Productions in which Famine wrote the main riff of the song "La Forêt de Cristal". Not long after the demo was released, the band once again became a one-man entity, with Neige taking Alcest in a more personal direction. Neige, having originally formed Alcest as an outlet to create cold and raw black metal, moved away from the minimalist approach with the follow-up to Tristesse Hivernale, entitled Le Secret. This EP, released in May 2005, is an introduction of sorts to the new concept behind the reformed Alcest.
After having signed to Prophecy Productions in March 2007, Alcest's debut album Souvenirs d'un autre monde was released in early August of the same year, and drew comparisons with the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Jesu. According to Pitchfork's Brandon Stosuy, the album "isn't black metal at all", and compared it to "a lighter take on Jesu shoegazing".
In August 2007, Tristesse Hivernale was released by Northern Silence Productions as a split with French black metal band Angmar. The band also released a split EP with the French band Les Discrets on November 30, 2009.
Alcest's second album, Écailles de Lune (Scales of the Moon), was released March 29, 2010. It was a highly anticipated album, and was received with very warm reviews from music critics, with AllMusic's Ned Raggett writing that the album "makes the most of its compelling fusion of black metal's theatricality and the after-echoes of shoegaze's propensity for utterly enveloping a listener, even if bandleader Neige approached that sound unconsciously at first."
The band's third album, Les Voyages de l'Âme, was released on January 6, 2012. The album also received positive reviews from music critics, with The New York Times describing it as "the best example yet of what it [the band] can do."
Alcest's fourth effort entitled Shelter was released on January 17, 2014 via Prophecy Productions. It features Birgir Jón Birgisson as producer, Amiina for the string sections and a guest appearance by Neil Halstead. Stylistically the album is a radical departure for the band, dropping all traces of metal from their sound and fully committing to the shoegaze side of their sound. Neige later said in an interview that "We are proud of it, but I think it was maybe a bit too influenced by other things. I really was obsessed with Slowdive at that time. Shelter still sounds very 'Alcest', but maybe not as much as the other records."
On January 15, 2016, Neige published "New album. Recording started." on the band's Facebook page. He also commented the album would be "definitively darker." On May 16, he stated that the album was in the mastering process. On July 26, the title was revealed to be Kodama, and the release date to be September 30. Neige has said the album is heavily inspired by Japanese art and culture, as well as Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke. Musically the album is a return to the band's more traditional blackgaze sound.
As a child, Neige had experiences of being in contact with a "far off country", which he generically refers to as "Fairy Land". Alcest serves as the musical adaptation of the memories from this "otherworld". Neige intends for Alcest to be a journey for the listener to this world through his memories. This change in concept was first introduced on Le Secret. Souvenirs d'un autre monde serves as a literal summation of the concept behind the band.
Musically the band's sound has changed over time. While their demo Tristesse hivernale displays a very raw black metal sound, their following EP is considered by many to be the first blackgaze record, and the band are widely credited with pioneering the genre. The band's sound is defined by a very atmospheric and uplifting tone. From Le Secret to Shelter the band drew on both black metal bands like Burzum and Ulver as well as shoegaze bands like Slowdive to create a huge wall of sound effect, using abrasive, screamed vocals, blastbeat sections, as well as fast tremolo-picked guitar passages. Their 2014 album Shelter was a significant departure from this sound, a purely shoegaze album entirely eliminating any trace of metal influence. However their following album Kodama was a partial return to their earlier blackgaze sound.
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions|
|2007||Souvenirs d'un autre monde||--||--||--||--||--|
|2010||Écailles de Lune||--||--||--||--||--|
|2012||Les Voyages de l'Âme||--||--||--||--||--|