As French trailblazers Alcest released their latest album, ‘Spiritual Instinct’, it was a reminder of how a band who are often cited as pioneers can still keep moving on alongside the current musical landscape, especially when their combination of black metal and shoegaze is much more commonplace than it was when they first started out.
Now that fans have had five months to take it in, it’s time to witness these newer songs live, as well as some older classics. The long, cavernous room of Heaven is certainly a fitting setting for tonight’s proceedings.
Diverse bills have certainly been a talking point recently; it seems more and more bands want to challenge the notion of what their fans would like to see before them, and tonight is no exception. Opening things up are Icelandic darkwave purveyors, Kælan Mikla . After a longed-out intro, coupled with incense being burned, even an audience as diverse as this might be wondering what they’re in for.
But, after an initial thud of pounding beats and encompassing electronics, everyone is slowly but surely eased in. Margrét Rósa Dóru-Harrýsdóttir‘s prominent bass playing and Laufey Soffía‘s impassioned, yearning vocal delivery among other things make for a natural charm. Their slots supporting The Cure and Placebo not too long ago were certainly no fluke, and everyone is transported into their world, bringing a goth club-ready warm-up for what will come later.
Also hailing from France are Birds In Row , whose raw energy is so apparent from the get-go, it’s no wonder their emotionally charged but atmospheric take on melodic hardcore has landed themselves on bills such as these. Most cuts are taken from 2018’s largely acclaimed ‘We Already Lost The World’, and, just like the record, the emotional, fractured nature of their music cuts through everything like a hacksaw – a fearsome trait, especially for a three-piece. A three-way punch of ‘We Count So We Don’t Have To Listen’, ‘Love Is Political’, and ‘I Don’t Dance’, set the tone, and it doesn’t let up from there.
The band’s mini speeches between songs also feel genuine, thought-out, and very much go in tandem with the socially conscious messages of their music, as opposed to some clichéd diatribes that some bands go on. Mid-way through the set, a mosh pit breaks out and it even maintains itself through the slower, but no less cathartic, ’15-38′. You believe every guitar stroke, every scream, and every drum hit. Birds In Row continue to feel more and more vital, and if you’re not on board, you really should be.
Most bands may have some trepidation about playing after both support bands, but fear not. Alcest  arrive with the confidence that their seasoned-veterans status suggests, and their sound proves to meld perfectly with the light show before them. The dramatic intro of ‘Les Jardins De Minuit’, assisted by flashing lights and thudding drums, helps to get us ready, with the artwork of ‘Spritual Instinct’ adorning the stage.
And the second song taken from that record gets an airing with an early highlight coming in the form of ‘Protection’, which serves as a reminder of the band’s melodic prowess that was always there being used even more effectively; its simple but effective power takes over the room. Both the vocal melodies of guitarists/vocalists Stéphane “Neige” Paut and Pierre “Zero” Corson are strong, and the driving but majestic ‘Autre Temps’ is another highlight. It soon becomes apparent that Alcest are just as enveloping and immersive in a live setting than they are on record. It’s also testament to Alcest‘s enduring popularity that people from all ages and backgrounds are in attendance tonight.
Subtlety is certainly key here, and, in spite of all the multi-layered sounds they offer, there’s still an understated nature to Alcest, where you lose yourself in their sound rather than gawp at an immediate spectacle. After a wall of wind-like sound effects, older cut ‘Ecailles De Lune, Pt. 2’ is met with cheers. Much can be said of their shimmering, delicate post-rock influence, but the shattering blast-driven opening sections of this are certainly impactful to say the least.
‘Le Miroir’ and ‘Kodama’ continue to combine everything that they do brilliantly, making for a grand finish. The encore arrives all too soon, and ‘La Ou Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles’ is another example of them delivering both their delicate, clean build-ups and a crescendo of blasts and tremolo picking.
Alcest have more than proven themselves throughout the years, with both their multi-faceted, glistening wall of sound and the way that they’ve been rapturously received tonight more than proving their stature.
Musician, writer and football fan. Enthusiastic about various forms of hardcore, alternative rock, punk and metal, and pop history.