Alcest brings French, blackened shoegaze to Baltimore’s Golden West Cafe

Tonight at Golden West Cafe, I will be seeing the amazing and awe inspiring band from France–Alcest. I had the pleasure of seeing this group open for Enslaved last September at Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh.

Alcest’s sound is sparse and emotive. Their roots are in black metal but their work has transcended that into the realm of folk, shoegaze, alternative and I don’t know what all. I don’t like to classify it, though I am sure someone will want to. It is extreme music, clearly defined by black metal, but also refined by a strong sense of melody. Sometimes the vocals are clear and haunting, sometimes they are raspy and shrill. Either way, the music evokes feelings of loss, darkness, despair but with some hope and longing thrown in. Their wall of sound surrounds and cradles you in a dreamlike world that is at once comforting and disturbing.

The primary members of Alcest are Neige on guitars/bass, synths and vocals and Winterhalter on drums, however I believe they will have some touring members. All the songs are in French, so unless you are fluent don’t worry about the lyrics.

Supporting Alcest on this tour is Deafheaven a more traditional sounding black metal band from San Francisco. Expect tremelo guitar picking, blast beat drumming and shrill vocals. There is a nod to Burzum with their sound, but I like Deafheaven a little better because I find the melodies more congruent and the songs more carefully constructed. They have almost an indie rock song structure but the arresting vocals keep it clearly in the black metal genre. Listen to Deafheaven here.

The local opener for this show is Arbouretum, a band I saw first earlier this month. They’ve been around the Baltimore area for a long time and have a strong following both nationally and internationally. Arbouretum is not a metal band but more like a doomy, psychedelic trip that attracts a crowd that wishes they could see the Grateful Dead.  Having seen the Grateful Dead many times, I can attest to this attraction but say that Arbouretum is far and away a much more musically interesting band. Sure you could sway back and forth and just zone out if you wanted to, but the music is not going to let you rest for long and Dave Heumann’s voice will call you back to reality. You can hear a very new song right here. Imagine Gordon Lightfoot with some fuzzed out guitars and a pounding backbeat. In mid April, Arbouretum embarks on a five week European tour. See them now.

UPDATE: Photos from the show and afterwards.

Leave a Reply