French metal outlet Alcest is influential enough to lay claim to having started a subgenre of metal. And while it has toured the United States with increasing frequency during its 18 years as a band, it’s capping off the touring cycle for its most recent album, 2016’s Kodama, by playing the set in its entirety at Prophecy Fest, the first stateside festival for Alcest’s record label.
Prophecy, a small German label that specializes in black metal and neo-folk, doesn’t have a huge presence in America, but it throws annual music festivals in Europe. On Nov. 2-3, Prophecy Fest will make its American debut at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory. And while the fest’s inaugural U.S. presentation includes other bands mostly from Prophecy’s roster — such as Crowhurst, Eye of Nix, Xasthurand Volur — hearing Alcest’s fifth album from front to back will be a big draw for fans of blackgaze, a subgenre that blends the atmospherics and melody of ’90s-era shoegaze with the heaviness and intensity of black metal.
This isn’t the first time Alcest has played an album in its entirety live, nor is it the first time it has played Prophecy Fest, which took place in a cave in Balve, Germany, two years ago. “We’ve done [entire albums] for special occasions, but this is the first time we’ve done it in the U.S.,” says singer-guitarist Stéphane Paut, aka Neige. “I’m quite sure there will be some people interested in hearing the album in full because it’s a different approach. The first half will be the album, and the second half will be other songs from our previous albums.”
Alcest recognizes the importance of the American market, with Neige telling Billboard it sells more records here than in France, which Neige chalks up to the open-mindedness of music fans. “We’ve been touring in the U.S. from almost the beginning,” he says. “We had fans there before we had fans in our own country, and we’re very grateful for that. And in the U.S., they have a lot less barriers around music. They’re way more open in terms of genre. They can listen to anything — they’ll listen to black metal, hip-hop, whatever. In Europe, it’s either you’re a black metal kid or an indie kid or whatever, and the genres don’t really mix. And our style of music is strange. We have so many different influences, that might be a reason why the American fans stand to understand a little more what we’re doing here.”
When asked what the French metal scene is like, Neige says it lacks a singular identity. “We’ve had a lot of bands for a long time, but it was very underground,” he says. “We didn’t have worldwide known bands until recently. Even outside of Europe, we’ve been traveling a lot. We’ve played China, Japan, Australia, and there’s not too many other French bands that do that. There’s a Scandinavian sound; Swedish bands have this melodic thing in their sound, for example. But in France, all the bands are different. Us, Gojira and Deathspell Omega all sound very different.”
Neige says that Alcest has gotten attention from other labels during the course of its career, but it’s happy with honoring its contract with Prophecy. “I signed with them when I was really young, so I signed for a bunch of records,” he says. “Of course, we’ve gotten the interest of other labels, but we have a contract with them, so we can’t do anything about it. They’ve been doing a really nice job for us, though. Even though they’re a small label, they’ve been listening to our wishes. They also have a thing for special editions. We like the physical formats a lot, and they really want to release beautiful packaging. It’s very important to us, and it’s not something we could get with other labels.”
Vinyl is Neige’s format of choice. “I don’t know if that’s really the way people listen to music these days,” he acknowledges. “But I know a lot of people that like to listen to records. I like to listen to records myself, and you don’t just listen to one song on vinyl. You listen to the first side and then the second side. With Spotify and YouTube, the way people listen to music is different, but I don’t want that to influence the way I make music, so I ignore it.”
Another thing he ignored was the backlash the band received after its fourth album, 2014’s Shelter, where the group entirely embraced its softer side. “I was listening to a lot of shoegaze at the time, particularly Slowdive,” says Neige. “I wanted to see what a shoegaze Alcest album without any metal influences would sound like. No blast beats, no screaming, nothing. It was quite an interesting experiment because we were doing something quite fresh. Some fans wanted the heavy side, so some of them were quite pissed off, but some really liked it.”
Neige sees Kodama as a return to the band’s heavy side. “Some people that didn’t like Shelter are happy because they’re saying we’re back to our roots. It’s never great to hear critiques of your music, but when you make something really personal, you know there’s going to be someone critiquing it. It’s part of the game. I have no regrets because that’s exactly what I wanted to write at that moment.”
With the touring cycle for Kodama ending after Alcest’s American tour, Neige says that the band has been working on the follow-up for a while now, but don’t look for it any time soon. “We really want to take our time on it and not release something for the sake of releasing something,” he says. “We want to do something fresh every time and don’t want to put the same record out over and over. It’s quite slow, but we’re getting there and hope to release something by the end of next year.”
When it finally does come out, Neige says it will be a dark, heavy album. “It’s going to be a very introspective album, a bit more connected to my own ups and downs, especially the downside,” he says. “I think it’s going to be quite dark for being Alcest, and that’s something we don’t really explore that much. It’s not like Kodama was a happy record, but I would say it’s a continuation from Kodama, but in a slightly heavier direction, maybe.”
For other North American Alcest tour dates, go here.