Alcest are a metal duo from Bagnols-sur-Cèze, France comprised of Neige (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Winterhalter (drums). Their music has gradually shifted from black metal to shoegaze to post-metal, and finally to the integrated sound known as blackgaze. Intense melody, lush, swirling electronic textures, and sometimes screamed-sometimes cleanly sung vocals entwine in their mixes. Early recordings such as their first demo Tristesse Hivernale in 2001, showcased a trio playing lo-fi, raw, melodic black metal. By the time Neige delivered the original two-track Le Secret EP in early 2005, Neige was the band's only member and while the lo-fi remained, black metal had receded considerably in favor of lush melodic shoegaze. By the time 2007's Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde was released, Alcest had become a full-on, blissed-out shoegaze metal project. 2014's Shelter (their second effort with Winterhalter on drums), was easily their most accessible recording. 2016's Kodama looked in the rearview to integrate all the places Alcest had been previously.
Formed in 1999 by French black metal multi-instrumentalist Neige (who also worked with Peste Noire, Mortifera, and Amesoeurs), Alcest was originally conceived as a solo project. It would eventually take on the form of a full band as Aegnor (also of Peste Noire) and Argoth joined the fray and released a four-track demo entitled Tristesse Hivernale in 1999. This demo was a more straightforward black metal affair, much different from what would come next. After that release, Alcest returned to a one-member format, with Neige moving away from the metal overtones of the three-piece and embracing a more atmospheric approach to his work. The 2005 EP release Le Secret was more in tune with the project's ultimate goal, which was to put to ear, as it were, Neige's fascination with an "otherworld" -- of sorts -- that had held a fascination for him since childhood. In 2007, Neige released the first full-length Alcest recording, Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde ("Memories of Another World"), which was released on Prophecy Productions, and was a critical success. A split EP with Angmar was released in 2007, followed by another split with Les Discrets in 2009. In 2010, the much-anticipated full-length Écailles de Lun was released. Alcest's genre-melting renown spread across the globe with critical notices regarding the album's quality. Neige's Alcest and Prophecy Productions reissued the Le Secret EP in 2011, adding two re-recorded versions of its two songs, "Le Secret" and "Élévation," according to Neige's intentions to offer a better-produced version of the music. This new edition included drums by Winterhalter (another former Peste Noire member). In order to preserve the historical integrity of the original version, the 2005 EP was also included. In January of 2012, Alcest released their third full-length, Les Voyages de l'Âme.
The band moved further afield and left metal behind on their fourth full-length. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Stéphane "Neige" Paut and drummer Jean "Winterhalter" Deflandre enlisted producer Birgir Jón Birgisson (Sigur Rós), the string quartet from Icelandic band Amiina, and guest vocals from Slowdive's Neil Halstead. The album Shelter was issued in early 2014.
After an international tour, Alcest returned to the recording studio late in 2015. Their fifth studio album, Kodama, was conceptually inspired by the animated film Princess Mononoke; it marked a stylistic return to metal and offered a hint of the musical terrain explored on 2010's Écailles de Lune. Kodama was issued by Prophecy Productions in the fall of 2016. Working from January to May of 2019 with producer Benoît Roux at France’s Drudenhaus studios, Alcest delivered Spiritual Instinct. Written in bursts during and after a prolonged period of touring in support of Kodama, Neige regarded it as his most personal and cathartic recording, telling his publicist that "It's ...something that needed to get out of me. It’s darker than usual, and heavier." Released in the fall of 2019, a deluxe version of the six-track album included the bonus remixes of "Sapphire" by synth-wave producer Perturbator and "Protection" by Ben Chisholm. The set was followed in early 2020 by an international tour. ~ Chris True