Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Mono & AlcestPrevious Next
author AP date 22/11/16 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN
When the day eventually arrives for one of your most anticipated concerts of the year, it is strange how mixed your feelings suddenly turn. I would describe it as a mixture of dread and euphoria (will the band(s) be able to justify the hype, not to mention your own expectations?) — certainly that is my state of mind as I walk into VEGA’s small hall to reacquaint myself with the reasons for Alcest’s swift growth into one of my absolute favourite artists, and to gauge the qualities of the widely lauded co-headliner, Mono. Given the decoration of the two bands, it is hardly surprising that the venue is a few tickets short of sold-out despite this being a Tuesday evening, but nevertheless, the affirmation that so many others see what you see and hear what you hear, never gets old.
Norrköping-based pg.lost certainly have their credentials in order: not only is the band signed to The Ocean guitarist Robin Stapps’ label Pelagic Records (an assurance of quality) — bassist/keyboardist Kristian Karlsson has also been in charge of keys and samples in Cult of Luna since 2013. And with one of the stronger post-rock albums of 2016 just released in September (“Versus”), all signs thus point to a potent transmission of their ‘experimental instrumentalism’ tonight. There is a reason that pg.lost is often likened to Caspian; they, too, are fond of incorporating vocal effects as an additional instrument, and unfurl the emotions of the music with an intensely expressive performance. Unlike their Massachusetts-brethren however, pg.lost appear to prefer a darker and more subdued light show which, if I’m honest, does them few favours.
For extended periods, the Swedish four piece is all but obscured by darkness, making their body-rocking, instrument-swinging antics much less captivating than they should be. You feel lost in the harmony and melodiousness of a song like “Ikaros”, but seldom taken aback by the performance itself, which in turn invites you to shut your eyes and just focus on the composition and delivery of the music. Obviously, pg.lost’s music is inspired enough to lend itself to that kind of experience, but it does beg the question, could you not simply do that in the comfort of your home? I suspect that the lack of a premeditated lighting setup comes down to pg.lost’s billing as the opening act though, so in that sense, even if the concert fails to live up to my expectations, it does awaken in me an appetite for seeing the band headline and what they could do in terms of showmanship in that capacity.
With Alcest, the question is not whether French post-metal sensation will impress, but to what degree. The Bagnols-sur-Cèze-based duo (which swells into a quartet live) has been wooing critics and fans alike with frightening consistency since issuing their début album, “Souvenirs d’un autre monde” almost a decade ago. By straddling a tightrope between euphoria and melancholia, the band’s pioneering of the ‘blackgaze’ movement has exposed a savvy for song arrangement that is comparable to a classically trained composer; the music is so euphonic, so grandiose that it leaves even the most hardened connoisseur of black metal revelling in bliss. And no wonder, when the rendition of a song like Écailles de lune - part 1” to which we are treated is larger than life itself, reflecting like a shot of dopamine to the brain in frontman Stéphane ‘Neige’ Paut’s elated expression. No less entrancing is “Autre temps”: the way Neige’s soothing voice and shamanic chants of aah-aah-ah-aah-aah-aaaah” float in and out of the instrumentals is nothing short of dreamy, and has the audience yours truly included gasping for air.
As ever, the magic of Alcest’s concert owes to its subtleties — indeed, a hasty conclusion might even pen it down as a little uneventful. But Neige and his cohorts possess a unique penchant for totally engulfing their venue with moody lighting, an assured use of smoke and an almost guru-like calmness that sits in stark contrast with the members’ black metal pasts (it is hard to imagine, for instance, that Neige once drummed on Peste Noire’s infamous 2001 EP “Aryan Supremacy”). The show is intense but not physically so — it is riveting by virtue of how immersed in it you become, and how a song like “Oiseaux de proie” can absolve you of all anger, frustration and pain and install this incredible sensation of lightness in their stead. If ever there was a band capable of summoning catharsis, Alcest is it.
Looking past the metaphysical aspects of the concert though, one might place a question mark next to the sound technician’s decision to reduce the presence of Jean ‘Winterhalter’ Deflandre’s drumming whenever it crosses over into a black metal style. The presence of his blastbeats is almost negligible in parts of e.g. “Je suis d’ailleurs” and "Eclosion”, which in turn nullifies some of the contrasts that are so essential to what makes those songs — both off the band’s latest opus “Kodama” — so gripping. On a more positive note however, it is a welcome change to hear Indria Saray’s bass-playing taking on a more pronounced role in the new material. The instrument sometimes feels neglected in Alcest’s earlier works, but now that Saray was invited to participate in the album’s recording, the difference in terms of song dynamics is striking.
With just the occasional flattening of the mix standing in between Alcest and perfection then, it is hardly surprising the group’s presentation emerges as one of the very finest this year. Often I find myself waiting for a concert to end at some point — even when good, this would curb the danger that were it any longer, boredom might set in. But with Alcest, the knowledge that “Délivrance" marks the beginning of the end is actually saddening, as magnificent as this wisely chosen “Shelter”-era piece is. That the band could press on for a time of their own discretion is quite indicative of how evocative and spiritually cleansing the music is. You want to hear more of it because it feels like what heroin coursing through your veins presumably feels like — just one more fix and then it is over, I swear.
- 01. Kodama
- 02. Je suis d'ailleurs
- 03. Écailles de lune - part 1
- 04. Autre temps
- 05. Oiseaux de proie
- 06. L'eveil des muses
- 07. Eclosion
- 08. Percées de lumière
- 09. Délivrance
I must admit that in the wake of Alcest’s grandeur just before, I house a certain skepticism about even a band as renowned as Japan’s Mono being able to deliver on par. What little knowledge I have of the Tokyo-born four-piece suggests that their music is rather more demanding on the patience, with songs that easily surpass even the more long-winding snippets of Alcest’s discography and do so at a glacial pace. If anything, on the basis of their show tonight, I am inclined to dub Mono the very quintessence of shoegaze as originally conceived by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins (a significant influence on Alcest, by the way). That is to say, the component musical parts are blurred together in cascade upon cascade of heavily distorted sound by four musicians (of whom all but bassist Tamaki Kunishi remain seated throughout) assuming still, detached and introspective stances — heads down of course. And by god, this band plays loud.
What is super interesting is that amidst all the disheveling noise output, no detail is ever lost. It is one thing to crank up the amplifiers and dislodge the skin of your audience through sheer volume; it is another to then succeed in presenting the full wealth of your intricately woven compositions — and in this regard, Mono stands apart as perhaps the most complete audio experience I have ever had. At once paralysing and vivid, it is as if Kunishi and her colleagues — guitarists Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto & Hideki ‘Yoda’ Suematsu and drummer Yasunori Takada — capture the entire sound of our world, from the loftiest atmospherics all the way down to the lumbering tectonics of the Earth’s crust. It is humbling to behold, and absolutely a thing that every fan of music must experience at least once in their lifetime.
You would expect the fact that 75 percent of Mono prefers to be seated to place certain limitations on their performance, but against all the odds, it actually works in their favour. The expressive movements and gesticulations of the four musicians are beyond what most post-rock/metal bands can muster, intensifying with each step in the construction of a colossi such as “Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)” and “Recoil, Ignite” until it looks like the entire band has descended into a trance — and then, suddenly, the collapse. But although Mono’s songs tend to subscribe to a pretty basic formula modelled by an exponential curve representing the detail, noise, volume and intensity of the music, there is a wealth of sub-dynamics to them that constantly tug at your fascination. The monolithic final song “Requiem for Hell”, for instance, features two distinctive crescendos within its 17-minute span, the first uplifting in tone — the second very sinister.
That second half of “Requiem for Hell” provides the context for a spectacular finale, pulsating red and orange lights and plumes of smoke creating the impression that Mono is playing in the midst of Hell itself. It serves as the perfect ending to an enthralling concert. Or perhaps the better word might be ‘all-consuming’, given how incapacitating and thoroughly arresting the six walls of noise and the fervour of the delivery are.
- 01. Ashes in the Snow
- 02. Death in Rebirth
- 03. Dream Odyssey
- 04. Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)
- 05. Recoil, Ignite
- 06. Requiem for Hell