Before Alcest became a shoegazing post-metal hit, they were a humble garage dwelling raw black metal outfit intent upon proving themselves as legitimate musicians. At the time consisting of mainman Neige (who was a mere fifteen years of age), guitarist Hegnor (who later changed his stage name to Famine and left Alcest to form Peste Noire), and bassist Argoth, Alcest proved with their Tristesse Hivernale
demo that these young musicians were a force to be reckoned with in the black metal underground.
often hearkens to the melodic and romantic style of French black metal that was played by many bands in the LLN. Some sections are more somber and make use of arpeggios to give texture to the piece, bringing to mind Mütiilation at their best moments. Much of the faster melodic riffing is similar to what Vlad Tepes did on March to the Black Holocaust
in that they’re lengthy and build off of one another in a carefully architected manner. The carefully crafted acoustic sections are beautiful. They deliver much needed aesthetic variety to the songs and add a deeper sense of melancholy that the rest of the album merely hints at. I suppose it isn’t any coincidence that Tristesse Hivernale
shares so much in common with the LLN as Alcest too hails from France; these young musicians may have looked at their countrymen as big brothers in a way.
Even at fifteen, Neige had a knack for writing standout basslines which he has become well known for in Ameseours and the newer Alcest material. The bassline in “En Mémoire Aux Valeureux Guerriers” stands proudly apart from the guitars and plays a melody of its own that fits the song’s trudging nature rather well. Though not nearly as elaborate as some of the bass work on his later ventures, you have to give him credit for stepping outside the box so confidently at this stage in his career. Famine also gets the chance to shine; the blazing guitar solo in “La Mort Plane Sur Ces Contrées Glacées” shows that he can play with flair and a style of his own.
Black metal is often criticized for its low fidelity production values and it seems as though releases like Tristesse Hivernale
are the main reason for it. The production, in all honesty, is quite bad; the guitars are filthy sounding in an almost good way but are often very difficult to decipher and you can barely hear the bass drums at all. This type of production isn’t all that uncommon in underground black metal, but all too often it does more harm than good. The playing isn’t at all sloppy however; this would be a nightmare to listen to if it was. For being so young these guys handle their instruments competently and stay tight throughout the demo, which is more than what can be said for many black metal bands of similar stature.
Though far from professionally executed, Tristesse Hivernale
is still a worthwhile gem. In many respects, this demo is something of a preview of the material that Neige and Famine would go on to produce in the future. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend this to everyone, Alcest completists and fans of Peste Noire and LLN-style raw black metal would do well to track this one down.