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Alcest – Hipster Black Metal

Alcest - "Ecailles de Lune" (2010)

Alcest – “Ecailles de Lune” (Prophecy Productions, 2010)

Something weird is going on when earth tone corduroy wearing, facial hair sporting, fixed-gear bike riding, gingerbread-oatmeal-chocolate-butternut-acorn-squash stout drinking hipster start listening to heavy metal. Let’s face it – heavy metal is the least hip genre of music . . . ever. It is – at its heart – “outsider music for outsiders.” But Black Metal-influenced bands like Frances’s Alcest and Amesoeurs may soon change that and make it down right cool for you to flash your Slayer t-shirt somewhere other than the stale, alienated confines your parents’ basement.

For some mysterious reason, France has become the official research and design laboratory for Black  Metal. Yes, Norway gave birth to the genre in the early 1990s but, let’s be honest, the original formula – low fi recordings of bacon sizzling treble guitars, blast beat beats and Satan-centric constipated vocals – could use some thoughtful and inspired re-imagining and reconsidering. France has taken this task of broadening and renovating Black Metal seriously. Lots of interesting and crazy things are being dreamt up in the land of Bernard Hinault (google him if you don’t know who he is), soft cheeses, crusty breads and Jacques Tati (google him too), including Black Metal’s Satanic theoreticians and theologians, the mysterious, obtuse and abstruse, Deathspell Omega (I am convinced they are a bunch of Comparative Literature graduate students who transfered their obsession with semiotics, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari and Lyotard to Satan), the glorious weirdness of Glorior Belli and the mind blowing diversity and craziness unleashed on the world from the label, A Season of Mist.

Alcest started as a side project for Neige (“Snow” en francais), a break from the nastiness of the Avignon Black Metal band, Peste Noire. Neige and the other members of PN cut a four-song demo called “Tristesse Hivernale,” as Alcest, in 2001. This demo was straight-ahead first generation Norwegian Black Metal. After this demo, though, Neige reclaimed Alcest as his own and ditched the frosty but generic Black Metal stylings, resulting in the startling and critically acclaimed “Souvenirs d’un autre monde” (“Memories of Another World”). Three years later, Alcest – with Neige playing everything but drums – released their masterpiece, the album that might make Black Metal cool, “Ecailles de Lune” (“Flakes of Moon”).

What is there for a straight leg, skinny jean, Pabst Blue Ribbon-chugging hipster to like? It doesn’t sound like metal at all. It’s not even metal-esque. Alcest have morphed into a hypnotic, atmospheric, dreamy, jangly alternative shoegaze band. What you ask was shoegaze? Shoegaze was a style of music that shuffled and slumped out of England in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The name comes from either the fact that the members of the band stood around and gazed at their shoes (or more likely at their enormous chains of effect pedals) while they played live. Shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine , Slowdive and Swervedriver featured guitars churning out droning riffs, and an emphasis on melody, melody, melody laden with hooks. Alcest poached this style, added a little early REM jangle, threw in the tiniest bit of blast beat pounding, treble guitars and blackened vocals to create  to a compelling and intoxicating album, one of the only platters that my wife won’t yell, “Turn that crap off” when I put it on the turntable.

Listen to this and you’ll understand why my wife, critics and painfully self-conscious, cooler-than-thou hipsters like it:

Alcest – “Ecailles de Lune, Part I” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dwrrLb-uJQ

Here is a link to the second song on the album and it features harsher vocals but still it dreamy and jangly:

Alcest – “Ecailles de Lune, Part II” –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mzICkQNmMQ

If Alcest are able to keep the hipsters plugged in, metalheads all over the world might get laid . . . in their parents’ basement.

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