A band that calls the untouched majesty of Iceland their home, tonight's openers Kælan Mikla (7) present the monochrome effulgence associated with their headlining counterparts in innovative and newfound forms. Whereas their touring contemporaries pursue their atmospherics through metallic intensity, the Reykjavik trio weld the illusive power of draconian darkwave, swashing The Fleece with profane punk poetry and shimmering soundscapes that project the wildlands of their respective home.
Certainly, the prospect of a synthwave act on this bill does appear to be unprecedented for a lot of the early arrivals, but Kælan Mikla don’t just hold their own this evening; they seize the attention of their new peers with pagan charm. Performing the majority of their 2018 release Nött Eftir Nött, the freezing electronic motifs and choking atmospherics within their weaved craft animates thoughts of their fellow country folk in Hatari at their most barbed and Godless. A choking and possessive element of cult like blaspheme raises forth from their future thinking sound, an element that is certainly appreciated given the demographic this evening. Kælan Mikla are a certainly an unprecedented surprise tonight, but one that is welcomed with open arms and applause; It’s transparent that many have been indoctrinated into their cult tonight.
Compared to their more sensual and aromatic predecessors, Alcest’s fellow countrymen Birds In Row (9) are harrowingly forefront and inescapable. Of course however, such sonic abrasion is all to be expected given their respective reputation. Since their humble inceptions in 2009, the Maynenne hardcore trio have become trendsetters within the shrouded underground DIY movement, animating punk at it’s most harrowing, emotional and fervent. Still, even with this in consideration, Birds In Row are all omnipresent and vertebrae shattering tonight.
Even with silicone plugs defending one’s hearing, deafening and tormented content from 2018’s We Already Lost The World punches through the membrane of the ear drum; ravaging the inner mind with hardcore fury. It’s the kind of sonic ravaging that you simply witness in awe and reverence. Even as the group rip through ‘Love Is Political’, 'I Don't Dance', ‘We vs. Us’ and ‘Remember Us Better Then We Are’ - a track dedicated to the idiocracy of Brexit – to pit or carelessly dance feels like a violation; It’s a showcase of violent energy and passion almost unrivalled within their genre.
As the Frenchmen dive into deeper cuts from their earlier releases, it comes evident that this this set feels akin to a white hot fever dream; one that’s brief but contorts the body and mind whilst involuntarily manifesting imagery of the torment that is underlying in their content. Yet, despite this onslaught, love and calls for union dominate this set. Birds In Row are one those live acts that are crucially required in this modern age - Sincere, intimate and authentic, one can not help but wonder why the hardcore scene of this nation is howling their name with glee.
As sweat still glistens upon the monitors of The Fleece, an air of anticipation for tonight’s headliner is palpable. Gracing the stage to heavenly light and sounds of sermon blasting from the PA, Alcest (9), like always, are the subject of rapturous applause, a reception that peaks once the pioneering act plunge into the stately haste of ‘Les Jardins De Minuit’. The penultimate date of their European headline run in support of Spiritual Instinct, tonight ultimately proves to be not just a celebration of last year’s tremendous offering but a concise showcase of their illustrious career as musical pioneers thus far.
A band that flawlessly incapsulate dense ambience regardless of their tone or timbre, the introduction of new material in the form of ‘Protection’ and ‘Sapphire’ effortlessly diffuses metallic elegance into the air of this confined environment. Backed by the forlorn Sphinx, such material takes it rightful place within this tailored set light, ensuring their presence for foreseeable future. In relation, the new windswept aura of ‘Le Miroir’ offers a respite from the more punishing content from their past, weaving images of undomesticated landscapes free from human imprint. Going from the faces of pure engagement, it’s a performance that removes the populace away from the stark contrast to this brick and motor venue.
As the group plunge into select offerings from their back catalogue, treating Bristol to impassioned renditions of ‘Autre Temps’, ‘Oiseaux De Proie’ and a particularly scolding version of ‘Ecailles De Lune Pt. 2’, Alcest blanket the sold out venue within a robe of musical silk. It may seem ironic to compare Alcest’s density to something so comforting, but the richness within their live output is almost physically tangible; Neige and his peers allure those before them and allow awash them with the velvet sounds they provide so effortlessly.
Ending on the crystallising shoegazing clarity of ‘Delivrance’, a track that sedates the hundreds in attendance into a near meditative state, Alcest are very much one of the key figureheads of the movement they helped pioneer. Unknown at the time, it’s likely this was one of the very last show many in attendance will be seeing for the foreseeable future, but what a spectacle to take a break on.