I’ve been going through a serious ALCEST phase right now, listening to Neige’s records all the way through a couple of times in the last few days. Alcest is (primarily) a one-man French project by Neige, who’s been active in the underground European metal scene for almost two decades now.
There’s something about his music that speaks to me. Even though he sings in French, I empathize with it so much. His guttural and clean vocals build an atmosphere of conflicting extremes and the Shoegazey wall of sound and ringing clean arpeggios sit on top of Black Metal influences between long stretches of staid rhythms. The hints about the content of the songs and his intent come from his tone, his melody, the mood of the music, and the covers of albums like Les voyages de l’âme and Écailles de lune. There is something old-fashioned about this music, the obscure lyrics, the indecipherable music, the underground nature of it all.
But for me, Alcest is more than the sum of its musical components. It’s like Neige is translating my thoughts and feelings into music, there are moments of clarity, dramatic shifts of tone, evocative mood and texture, and he obviously cares about every measure of music that makes the cut. It’s the kind of care and love that speaks volumes about the empathy of the person building the piece.
It’s the kind of music that I adore – made without any considerations made to the listener, a pure expression of the artist’s feelings. And the feelings are a combination of wonder and loss, a melancholy tribute to lost dreams or a simple exploration of beauty through a haze of wispy fog sitting on Alsatian hills in a French spring. It’s music intending to portray something positive, a love-letter to something better than the here and now, despite the layers of sadness hovering underneath.
Anyway, I spent some time reading about Neige recently and noticed he’d played on some early PESTE NOIRE albums. While a lot of ink has been spilled on it, essentially, PN at least has a national socialist bent and Famine, the man behind the band, seems like a pro-fascist right-wing person who recorded a track called “Aryan Supremacy.” Neige has a drums credit on that track.
It’s not easy to track down responses to this. Black Metal fans like to cultivate a real “Tru Kult” feeling of outsiderness to it, with the National Socialist Black Metal being an active genre within the scope. Some people ignore the Nationalist elements to embrace bands that keep the scene feeling far more extreme and underground when political stances make up for what can’t be attained through musical extremism alone when a reasonably mainstream band like Deafhaven can release a Depressive Black Metal album in America and get lauded for it.
I get it. Maybe they really believe this shit, maybe they don’t and are just using it as a way to make themselves more shocking or underground. But I have to deal with musicians I adore who played with these guys, and there’s no way to talk to people online about it, it’s either “Burn all your Alcest records immediately,” or, “Go back to your mom’s basement, SJW!”
Happily, I was able to find an interview in a German magazine which had an English quote wherein Neige says he was 15, and playing for the band as a session musician and he certainly isn’t a racist and didn’t consider the implications of playing on the record as a teenager. The very short article itself is worth a Google translate, as it wrestles with the exact same issue I’m faced with – what do you do when you find out that musicians you love have a spotted past?
And I mean, that makes sense. Alcest has an Indian bassist, their last album was inspired by Japanese spiritualism which they encountered playing live dates in Buddhist temples on a tour of Japan… it seems like Neige is a multicultural and modern person with modern sensibilities who made a mistake as a kid. And also, what am I going to do, criticize a 15-year-old kid for playing in a Black Metal band? I was scared of feminism at 21 and worried about my own rights as a man. What did I know?
I suppose I’m glad that Alcest doesn’t fall into one of these bands that I just can’t listen to anymore, like Burzum or Emperor, who’ve committed actual hate crimes or hold ideologies that I just can’t condone, no matter how good the music is. While Alcest holds a niche spot in Black Metal, and the band transcends genre, it’s where Neige came from.
It’d be easy to just throw out all my Black Metal and tar it all with one brush, but I can’t. There is some truly wonderful and beautiful and important art here, but it comes with baggage. There are conflicting, important, complicated stories here. Whether it’s the silent homosexuality of Gaahl who remained in the closet while playing in the controversial Gorgoroth or the property crimes against churches by second wave bands in the nineties, the suicides and deaths of prominent members of Mayhem, the Nationalist scene active across Europe and in the UK – Black Metal isn’t a safe scene, it never has been. Even going to see a band like Opeth or Enslaved can cause run-ins with people wearing Nazi symbols, and those bands have never had anything to do with Nationalism.
A casual fan like me has to step carefully. I need to do my research, and it isn’t easy trying to find primary sources or quotes when most of the press coverage is in Europe and the community is polar extremes. The scene barely exists in America, and most American sources don’t seem to cover the controversy, gushing fanboyishly at bands that that do come over.
Coming back to Alcest, I’m glad I was able to find that quote. Neige’s music is very important to me, and I don’t want to lose it.