Alcest - Souvenirs d'un autre monde
(Profound Lore Records) Keith Boyd 8.26.07
How can something be Black Metal without necessarily being Black? If you're at all familiar with the genre you'll know what I mean by this quality. It's the smeary, blast-beat driven howl that marks the music of such heavy-weight, miscreant outfits such as Darkthrone and Gorgoroth. Contrary to popular opinion however, Black Metal didn't end with either those groups output or with the infamous church burnings of the 90's in Norway . No, it's safe to say that those events were simply a sort of Diaspora inducing zeitgeist which helped wash the dark gospel of Black Metal to shores both far and wide. Along this journey mutations were bound to occur. One of the most interesting has been the infusion of more overtly atmospheric and ambient elements into the sonic palette. Groups such as Striborg, SunnO))), Xasthur and Deathspell Omega have all injected their singular visions into the basic structure of Black Metal. Despite the major differences represented by the above mentioned groups they do share in common a tendency to seek out and bring forth the moody, ritualistic and occult elements found in nascent form within classic Black Metal. This lonely, mythic and violent heart has always been a presence in BM's sound. These practitioners however have chosen to highlight them and in doing so have created deeper and more nuanced listens. Into this fertile field comes Alcest, a French outfit, with their incredible new disc, "Souvenirs d'un autre monde".
From the creepy cover, a greenish hued picture of some feral child playing Pan flute on a reed, to the song titles (Emerald Spring, Souvenirs of another world, etc.) we know right away that we are dealing with something different here. The sound is at once completely metal and yet like no other Metal record I've ever heard. In fact this record more closely resembles the shattered shard distortion and sparkling guitar wash of the "shoegazer" scene of the 90's. In particular I hear a deep vein of My Bloody Valentine. There is that same layered damage over melancholy hypnosis and it makes for a compulsive listen. This disc works as a fine piece of Black Metal distillation. It takes the overdriven ambient wash of a Jesus and Mary Chain guitar run but deploys it with Metal's scree and tempo. The vocals are buried like gems in the mud and further add to the mopey, rainy day vibe.
In seeking a way forward with Black Metal Alcest has come up with something both powerful and strange. This sweet piece of underground sound could perhaps forge a new subgenre, Rust Metal perhaps? It's a dense mix of decay and sweetness. It's both operatic and angular. It occupies its melancholy place like a Keats poem trapped in some water damaged paperback edition discovered in the back of a bookstore.