Alcest is a French Blackened Shoegaze band fronted by Neige which has served as Trope Codifier for that subgenre. They are one of the most famous black metal-related projects from France, alongside Deathspell Omega, Blut aus Nord, and Peste Noire, the latter of which contains a significant degree of personnel overlap with Alcest (nearly every significant member of each band has played with the other at some point).
While Alcest's demo was fairly run-of-the-mill black metal, their 2005 EP Le Secret was where they Grew the Beard and established the sound for which they would become famous, a mixture of the tremolo picking and Harsh Vocals of black metal and the sunny atmosphere and layered guitars of shoegaze.
Interestingly, Neige claims he had not listened to any shoegaze albums at the time he recorded this album or the following album, Souvenirs d'un autre monde, which moved even further towards shoegaze. Alcest albums since then have mostly contained various mixes of black metal and shoegaze, with 2014's Shelter being almost entirely shoegaze or Post-Rock. While blackened shoegaze tends to be a controversial affair among black metal fans, Alcest have mostly averted this reaction thanks in part to their diverse sound.
Neige credits the inspiration for this band with experiences he had as a child of being in a "far off country" which he generally refers to as "Fairy Land". Alcest is his musical adaptation of his memories from this "otherworld".
- Neige - lead vocals, guitar, keyboards
- Winterhalter - drums, percussion
- Zero (live only) - guitar, backing vocals
- Indria (live only) - bass
- Tristesse hivernale (2001, demo)
- Le Secret (2005, EP)
- Souvenirs d'un autre monde (2007)
- Alcest / Les Discrets (split album, 2009)
- Écailles de lune (2010)
- Le Secret (rerecorded, 2011, EP)
- Les Voyages de l'âme (2012)
- BBC Live Session (live, 2012)
- Shelter (2014)
- Kodama (2016)
- Album Intro Track: "Wings" on Shelter.
- Animesque: The cover art for Kodama to a slight degree, which is an homage to the artwork of Takato Yamamoto.
- Another Dimension: Most of their music is based around Neige's memories of a mystical "Otherworld" he says he visited in his dreams as a child.
- Author Appeal: Neige really likes the ocean, having grown up near the coast, which is why much of Écailles de lune and Shelter have an aquatic theme. He's also a self-admitted Japanophile, which is why there's a great influence of Japanese music and artwork on Kodama.
- Bilingual Bonus: Nearly all of their lyrics are in French.
- Kodama (can be written in Japanese as either 児玉 or こだま) is Japanese for both "tree spirit" and "echo".
- Bittersweet Ending: Neige likes to leave off on a melancholy note for most Alcest albums.
- "Sur l'ocean couleur de fer" on Écailles de lune.
- "Delivrance" on Shelter.
- "Onyx" on Kodama.
- Black Metal: On some releases. On others there are very few vestiges of it; on Souvenirs d'un autre monde the sole remnants are tremolo picking and the occasional blast beat. Shelter has no traces of black metal at all. The black metal influence is back on Kodama, but only to a comparable extent to the amount seen on Écailles de lune and Les Voyages de l'âme.
- Childhood Friend Romance: The video for "Autre Temps" depicts one.
- Concept Album: Écailles de lune is a loose one relating to the sea, while Kodama appears to be a loose one inspired by Princess Mononoke. Shelter kinda is this in a way, more in the basis of based on the listener's own shelter, or in Neige's case, his shelter being the ocean.
- Country Mouse: Neige, as he admits in interviews.
- Darker and Edgier: Kodama, especially on the heels of Shelter. Part of the impetus for recording it was a bit of Creator Breakdown on Neige's part following the mass shooting at the Bataclan Theater in Paris in late 2015, as he felt like he couldn't write another purely happy album like Shelter in light of the current political climate.
- Drone of Dread: Subverted with "Onyx", which consists entirely of distorted, droning guitar, but carries more a feeling of sadness than dread.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The band's first release Tristesse hivernale was full blown black metal and focused on sadness and winter. Then Le secret came out and the band dropped the full black metal sound for a mixture of Shoegaze and Black Metal (leading to the accidental creation of Blackgaze). Even then, the 2005 version of Le secret still had a darker sound to it, if not due to the production.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: Both tracks on Le Secret. This shows up on some other albums as well.
- Epic Rocking: Many of their songs are very long. The longest is either "Le Secret", which is over fourteen and a half minutes long, or "Écailles de lune", which is nearly twenty minutes long, but divided into two parts.
- Ethereal Choir: The intro to "Elévation" is roughly two minutes of this, leading into a joyous shoegaze riff.
- "Beings of Light" off of Les Voyages de l'âme.
- Fading into the Next Song: "Wings" runs into "Opale" and "Voix sereine" fades into "L'Éveil des muses" on Shelter, while "Oiseaux de proie" fades into "Onyx" on Kodama.
- Filk Song: According to interviews and press releases, Kodama (the whole album) was largely inspired by the movie Princess Mononoke.
- Gaia's Vengeance: "Oiseaux de proie" appears to be about this."The birds of preyA beast-children armyPreparing to avengeTheir mother's agony."
- Genre Roulette / Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Black metal, shoegaze, post rock, and dream pop are just a few of the influences on their sound.
- Ghibli Hills: They're basically the metal equivalent of this. Helps that Neige is an avowed fan of the Trope Namer.
- Green Aesop: There's a very environmental theme to much of Alcest's music, especially on Kodama. Neige has said in interviews that nature is a great source of inspiration for him and that he feels more relaxed in the woods than in the city.
- Harsh Vocals: On their earlier releases, Neige's vocals were split about half and half between harsh black metal shrieks and soaring melodic cleans. Souvenirs d'un autre monde and Shelter, however, use exclusively clean vocals.
- Heavy Mithril: Likely one of the only metal bands to ever write a Concept Album based on a Hayao Miyazaki movie.
- Land of Faerie: This is the primary concept behind the band. As a child, Neige claims he saw a "Fairy Land" or "Otherworld" that contained sights and sounds that don't exist here, and Alcest is Neige's way of adapting those memories into music. "Tir nan og", closing track on Souvenirs d'un autre monde, is named after a similar location in Celtic Mythology (more accurately spelt "Tír na nÓg", which translates as "Land of the Young").
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to most Black Metal. Amazingly, they're still pretty well liked by the black metal community.
- Loudness War: Alcest's music has mostly averted this. While some releases are clipped (specifically, Écailles de lune, Les Voyages de l'âme, Shelter, and the re-recorded Le Secret), they still have decent dynamic range overall. Kodama doesn't have any clipping at all (except on the bonus track) and the songs come out to DR8, which is wonderful by modern metal standards. Shelter is the only Alcest album with questionable dynamic range; overall, it comes out to DR6 (which is still better than the worst modern-day offenders), while all other Alcest albums come out to DR8 or higher and have no songs ranking below DR7. (Worth noting as an aversion is the original Le Secret, which is DR13 and doesn't clip at all.)
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: All over the place on their metal releases, but usually no higher than 9. Some albums, like Shelter, don't really get above about a 5.
- Nature Lover: Neige.
- Nice Guy: Neige. He's shown himself to be a pretty nice, calm, and relaxed person.
- Case in point: When Markus of Lantlôs asked Neige to leave the band so he could focus more on Alcest, Neige agreed with him and left with no trouble. Fans have also commented how much of a sweet heart he is, if just very private and reserved.
- Post-Rock: The primary style of Shelter, and a significant influence on Alcest's other albums.
- Rearrange the Song / Recut: Dissatisfied with the reaction some people had to Le Secret (he was bothered that people felt the EP had "a sinister mood" or regarded it as a cold and melancholic release), Neige re-recorded both tracks of the EP with cleaner production.
- Shoegaze: Starting with Le Secret, this has been the primary style of most of Alcest's music. Interestingly, Neige claims he hadn't listened to any shoegaze until after he recorded Souvenirs d'un autre monde.
- Shout-Out: "Circe Poisoning the Sea" is one to the painting Circe Invidiosa by John William Waterhouse.
- Singing Simlish: Neige does this on the title track of Kodama, apparently in tribute to Cocteau Twins. "Délivrance" provides another example.
- Soprano and Gravel: Neige's vocals can be either the harsh shrieks typical of black metal or clean singing. Sometimes guest vocalists show up too, such as Audrey Sylvain of Amesoeurs and Peste Noire on one track of Souvenirs d'un autre monde.
- Trope Codifier: For blackened shoegaze. It's pretty much been believed that Le secret was the first blackgaze release.
- Uncommon Time: "Eclosion" contains a section in 7/4. "Notre Sang et nos pensées" is also mostly in 7/4.
- We Used to Be Friends: Neige and Famine of Peste Noire were at one point friends and even performed in one another's bands for awhile, but they clearly don't care for one another these days. It's unknown what happened that lead to the two to cease communication, but it's often believed that Neige's transition to a softer-style of black metal upset Famine. An argument could be made that Famine fired Neige from PN due to Neige's constant zig-zagging during his time in the band (as Neige rarely performed in the band as full fledged member until Folkfuck folie and near the end of his time on Ballade cuntre lo anemi francor). The general belief however was Famine taking offense to Neige's refusal to embrace Famine's often right-wing beliefs in Peste Noire, as Neige himself stated he didn't support racism/Nazism, but let's leave it at that.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Most of their stuff gives off this vibe, even when there are no vocals.