Alcest + Heirs

Bald Faced Stag Hotel, Leichhardt NSW
October 21, 2011

It seemed way too early to even be at show with the sun having barely set but The Veil already had a decent and appreciative crowd when they unfurled a brand new song to open proceedings this evening. The Sydney quintet’s evocative and progressive melodic doom had the room spellbound right from the start with moments that recall the grand drama of My Dying Bride (particularly Che’s rich vocals) and the eloquence of Opeth. Yet this band is its own, shifting gear to a rock pace midset before rolling the dark doom of “Deathcult” across the stage in a set that otherwise highlighted their forthcoming album that, judging by the strength of the material on display tonight, will be one to seek out.

Despite the proliferation of black metal fans at the place, with their studded leather and warpaint, Pestilential Shadows at first appeared to be an odd inclusion on the bill. Yet while their style leans far more toward traditional black metal than any of the other acts, nonetheless their songs have a similar epic scope, albeit with a more sinister tone and darker theme. Bristling with spikes and with rasping vocals that at times seemed like an afterthought to the musical fury, Pestilential Shadows summoned malevolence with a heaviness that was almost crushing.

Heirs followed and the Stag’s audience simply fell into a trance. I don’t know how long they played for. It may have been forty minutes or it may have been hours. With Theramin in place of traditional vocals, the band’s epic, rambling noise-based jams of dark ambience, feedback,  tribal drum beats and angry explosions of metal guitars were so mesmerising that I was completely enraptured. The roof wasn’t high enough for the accompanying visuals, but even that was of no consequence. This was haunting, experimental avant-garde rock at its finest, pure atmospheric sonic architecture uncluttered by singing or any form of conventional structure. Frontman Brett Stegeman said later that it was the worst gig they’d ever played (drummer Damian Coward actually stormed off stage at the end), but if that’s so then a good show must open portals to another universe.

After that, Alcest was an anti-climax. They certainly weren’t terrible (although the drumming did let them down a bit) with Neige’s clear, high vocals soaring over the hypnotically repetitive minor-key mini-epics, but the Frenchmen just didn’t seem to have the same magnetic ability that Heirs possessed. Still, there were moments of dark beauty in their performance that pointedly defined Neige’s artistic intentions. Into the second half of the show however it was clear the natives were getting restless awating the end and the finale, when it came, seemed to fade rather than flare.

All said however, tonight’s event was a showcase for some truly powerful music.