This past Thursday, the great French band Alcest played their latest album, 2016’s Kodama, in its entirety at Théâtre Fairmount. It was their second time performing the album in whole for a Montreal crowd, following a show at Foufounes Électriques in January of 2017.
Despite emerging from Europe’s fertile black metal scene, Alcest have always embodied the kinder, gentler side of a genre best known for rapid-fire blast-beat drumming, throat-shredding shrieks and heavily distorted, tremolo strummed electric guitars. Theirs is a welcoming sound that, while rooted in the intense spirituality and reverence for the natural world that powers most black metal, focuses on fragile, tuneful melodies, and unwavering radiance, in lieu of aggression and darkness.
Kodama, named for Japanese spirits believed to inhabit trees, was seen as something of a return to form for the band, after the relatively restrained blend of post-rock and shoegaze of their 2014 album Shelter. Live, Kodama’s six songs truly lived-up to the promise of the band’s earlier black metal influenced material. Consummate professionals, Alcest played with precision and power, giving their performances enough room to breathe to maintain a sense of dynamism, while showing just the right amount of restraint and clarity in their playing for the intricacies of the songwriting to shine. Touring member Indria Saray’s crunchy bass tone was especially noteworthy, elevating new songs like “Je Suis d’Ailleurs,” where the low end is used for melody rather than simple time-keeping or reinforcing the wall of distorted guitars.
Kodama’s songs were also a wonderful showcase for truly fantastic vocal work from both band-leader and primary songwriter Neige, and touring guitarist Zero. Oscillating between pinched yells, and delicately droning clean singing, Neige showed great range and control, while Zero acted as his angelic high-register counterpart.
The second half of the set was composed of songs from the rest of Alcest’s discography. “Percées de lumière” from their breakout album Écailles de Lune was met with particularly rapturous response from the crowd; its catchy arpeggiated riff 2 and lively percussion was a rare moment of pop immediacy in a set filled with sprawling epics that took time to reveal themselves.
Black metal is a genre that deliberately keeps listeners at arms, however, and can, therefore, be challenging to approach and apprehend. Alcest, however, reaches out and brings people in for a warm embrace. For those curious about the richness and intensity of this difficult to grasp style of extreme metal, Alcest is the perfect entry point. Their sound takes the stylistic and thematic underpinnings of black metal and mutates them in a way that grants them immediacy and accessibility. Their live show is an extension of this approach, and should not be missed.
Review & photos – Jean-Michel LacombeShare this :