It’s good when the project evolves with the person... otherwise you’re just repeating yourself.
At the onset of his music career, Alcest’s elusive frontman Neige (née Stéphane Paut) was only 14 years old and very intent on replicating his favorite Norwegian black metal bands—groups such as Darkthrone, Emperor and Mayhem. But over a decade has passed since their first demo, and Alcest has veered far off the post-metal path they’ve helped pave and completely crossed over into dream pop terrain with their latest album, Shelter.
Recorded in two months at Sundlaugin Studio in Iceland, with the help of Sigur Rós’ right-hand-man Birgir Jón Birgisson, Shelter hovers lithely beyond the leaden melodies of previous Alcest releases. Enhanced by oceanic reverberations and celestial harmonies, Neige aimed to articulate visions he had as a child; visions he suggests were channeled from an astral plane.“I had pictures come into my mind… [They] felt truer than what was around me,” he says. “I thought they were memories from the place I was before this life. Maybe not a past life, but in-between lives. It could probably be an intermediate stage… of reincarnation.” He cites Raymond Moody’s book, Life After Life as a catalyst in understanding this phenomenon.
In order to properly convey these visualizations, it made sense to drop all the aural dead weight that the band had shouldered from their post-metal days. “My goal was to translate a very spiritual experience,” says Neige, “I needed to make a transition to this very ethereal and dreamy kind of sound to share that. I needed to feel the escape. So we left behind all our metal influences, all our heavy metal guitars. This time we wanted something lighter and very cinematic—like 4AD bands from the ’90s, like Cocteau Twins — or Slowdive. They’re like my favorite band of all time.”
Slowdive has been more than just an influence in the making of Shelter. Neige’s dreams came true when he asked Slowdive’s own Neil Halstead to be a guest in the new album, and he accepted. “I was really, really happy when he came to the studio in Iceland,” says Neige, “His performance fits with the whole album.” His voice duskier with age, but wholesome as ever, Halstead takes charge in “Away,” a folky ballad grounded in the yearning for transcendence.
Despite Alcest’s consuming reverence for ’90s shoegaze, Neige stays up to date with other contemporary musicians. His guest role in Deafheaven’s deeply ruminant track, “Please Remember” was a fitting one as Deafheaven also toes the line between post-metal and shoegaze. But some of his band crushes may be unexpected for even long-time Alcest fans. “M83 is my favorite French band,” he says, “They’re also from the South of France. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Purity Ring, and Hammock. They’re one of the most beautiful and spiritual bands, ever… Just crazy emotional.” When asked about his dream collaborations, Neige says, “You know what? Maybe it’s unrealistic, but… I’d love to collaborate with Grimes. She’s so great, I’m a super fan. But she’s very famous now and probably very busy.”
Though Shelter is set for release on January 18 (Europe) and 21st (everywhere else), the band is already at work on their next album. Neige still thinks it’s too soon to decide exactly where the next record will go, but says the band is experimenting with more rhythmic elements. “In Shelter the drums were very, very low in the mix, because we wanted that ethereal sound,” he says, “But in the next record, it’s going to be a bit more powerful.” And, once and for all, he is positive that Alcest won’t be returning to black metal. After his long history of performing with hard acts like the theatrically repugnant Peste Noire (Black Plague) and the moody post-punk outfit Amesoeurs, he seems more than ready to turn Alcest towards the light.
“I was doing the metal thing for a long time,” he says, “But I think it’s good when the project evolves with the person. It’s very important to change your style; otherwise you’re just repeating yourself. Though the medium is always changing– the core, the intent behind Alcest will not change.”