Alcest - Islington Academy Hall, London
We might have found their latest record a little disappointing, but there was no chance of missing Alcest on a rare visit to the UK. It is baffling that one London date is all these shores are getting, at least for now, especially given its sold-out status and people getting turned away at the doors. Stellar turns at the Bloodstock festival and Katatonia support slots in recent years has enhanced their reputation on the live front and it would be strange for them not to take advantage of that obvious demand.
Finnish doom folk masters Hexvessel are captivating tonight, their funereal paced dirges bringing to life the myths of the northern forests with such vivid clarity. The music is not so much evil, more unsettling and bewitching as more than a hint of the psychedelic ties the meaty guitars and rustic themes together. The power in each of these mini epics comes across so much stronger in the live environment than they have ever managed on record, and they're are a joy to behold in the flesh.
Tonight only serves to reinforce misgivings over Alcest's fourth full length Shelter, its material jarring badly against older tracks. Primarily crammed into the first half, the new stuff is pale and thin, a comparison made all too apparent in Academy Hall setting. Sounding almost poppy at times, they feel scarcely more than the rehashing of old tricks with a less extreme and dreamlike slant than previously.
It remains the case that when they take their particularly euphoric brand of post-rock into much proggier waters and let the music breath and develop, we see the band at their very best. Tracks such as 'Summer's Glory' and 'Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde' exemplify the band at their mesmeric best, a wash of vocal harmonies married with uplifting guitars that bely their raw heaviness. So we leave with mixed feelings by the end of the night, the stark contrast of the new and the old tainting what was so nearly another brilliant showcase of Alcest's talent.