Let me set the scene for you; a stage illuminated with Christmas lights hung from the ceiling, wooden panel walls adorned with custom band skate decks, a fixed gear bike, a mounted zombie-esque deer head, and an endless obsession with Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Hideaway, by any measure, is a hipster paradise tucked away in the form of a hole-in-the-wall bar in Johnson City, Tennessee. This place certainly had its niche carved into its walls, as evidenced by the Baroness Blue Record house music and Weedeater and Black Cobra posters. This is where the sincere and dirty southern flair of Tennessee and the ironic hipster scene intertwine. During sets, it wasn’t unusual to hear the loud shattering of beer bottles as they’re tossed into the garbage. Without a doubt, The Hideaway makes good on the aesthetic evoked by its name, being the smallest and most intimate legitimate venue I’ve ever personally been to. Given this scenery, it’s only fitting that the two most premier post-black metal touring acts would bring their sense of atmosphere into a venue seemingly build specifically for sludge. Trust me, it all works in context.
The Les Voyages De L’Âme North American tour brings together the oft-acclaimed progenitors in France’s Alcest and promising up-and-comers Deafheaven, a pairing that could not have been more perfect and suitable, short of getting what is apparently an incredibly rare Agalloch tour out East. A round of congratulations goes out to all involved in putting together such a bill — it may seem like a no-brainer, but these two leading forces in their fledgeling genre coming together for a tour might involve some sort of synchronicity. Given hectic touring schedules, both acclaimed acts being free for a tour at the same time must have been a stroke of brilliant luck. It also helps that the local opener of the evening, Asheville, NC’s Autarch, were in the post-metal ballpark. Everything about this particular show — from the collective atmospheric qualities of the lineup, to the aesthetic of the venue and the midnight start time for Alcest’s headlining set — just felt perfect.
Autarch tied the venue’s sludgy leanings to the night’s sonic palette with a sound best described as melodic and atmospheric crust punk. Their set included some of the fastest post-metal material I had ever heard, with surprisingly frantic drums, huge riffs, and bellowing howls shared by the band’s guitar duo. It’s hard to make fast music still feel atmospheric, but they pull it off. Many bands do the NeurIsis thing these days, but this four-piece monster puts a nice spin on the sound. Autarch undoubtedly sounds excellent and put on a good show, but it’s a damn shame they don’t have much of an online presence or any studio-recorded material available. Trust me, if and when these guys put out music, if it’s anything like I heard during the opening of this show, it will definitely be worth your time. Autarch are a band to keep your eye on in the Asheville area.
Deafheaven, I’ve been told, are a must-see. I’m not the most well-versed in their material, but their debut album Roads to Judah is really something special. They’re a band that’s really doing a lot for the United States Black Metal scene, and seemingly growing bigger by the day. I was unsure of what to expect from them live, as I have never attended a black metal show in person before, but Deafheaven delivered. As great as Roads to Judah sounds on record, its material comes to life when the band are performing it in front of you. The sound of lush tremolo picking and rushing blast beats is quite an enveloping sound, and the emotional aspects of the compositions really make sense and connect live. What really sells their show though is frontman George Clarke, whose intense delivery is a sight to behold. Angst seemed to pour from his being (in the best way), and he clearly connects with the music on an emotional and perhaps a spiritual level. It was questioned whether or not Clarke was on any psychedelics, and given the way he moved around on the stage and performed, it wouldn’t surprise me either way. Luckily, performance enhancing drugs aren’t really all that frowned upon during metal shows, if that was the case. Deafheaven are definitely a band to be experienced, and are a phenomenal live act.
It wasn’t until midnight when Alcest took the stage, which is fairly unusual for the shows I’ve been to. I was facing a two and a half hour drive back home once the set was over, so I was struggling with the panic of staying awake during the drive back home. However, once Alcest took the stage and played the instantly recognizable opening track from Les Voyages De L’Âme, ‘Autre Temps,’ my heart began to race as the haunting melodies emanated from before me. Like Deafheaven, the reflective and nostalgic emotions of the Alcest material were exponential during live performances. As expected, Niege & Co. played a set heavy in material from their new album, but played select songs from the past discography, including ‘Souvenirs d’un autre monde,’ the first half of the title track from Écailles de Lune, and a song dedication to Deafheaven in ‘Percées de Lumière.’ The only thing that could have made the set better would have been a finale in ‘Sur L’océan Couleur De Fer.‘ Such a climactic and emotional track could have ended the night explosively. Regardless, Alcest put on an excellent show, ending it all with an explosion of chords and roaring feedback.
This was a night that wasn’t to be forgotten. Such a showcase of atmosphere, emotion, and nostalgia leaves an impression, which was compounded by the intimacy of the venue. Do yourself a favor and catch this tour while and if you can. Even if you aren’t into post-black metal, you’re bound to enjoy a show this sincere.