Anathema/Alcest/Mamiffer at Empire

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fall concert season has just started, and it looks like it’s going to be a busy one. For some reason I tend to go into a slow period following Maryland Deathfest on Memorial Day, and then once September kicks in it seems like every band from overseas is over in North America to tour and my schedule gets a lot crazier. This year I got to start off my busy season with Anathema, Alcest, and Mamiffer at Empire Springfield, VA. The last time I had seen Alcest was over a year before and it had been an incredible experience, so I was looking forward to seeing them perform again and also discovering what Anathema had to offer live.

The majority of the shows I have been to at Empire have had a lot of local openers added to the bill, so I was surprised to find that there weren’t any this time around. Mamiffer was the first group to perform, and I knew little about them other than the fact that Aaron Turner from Isis was one of the members. As it turns out, while they have used a wide range of musicians on different recordings the core lineup remains Turner and Faith Coloccia and this is who is on tour right now. I was instantly drawn in by what the duo had to offer, as they play sprawling drone and experimental material that is held together by looped instrumentals and somber piano arrangements. It’s the type of music that builds slowly, with Turner playing and then looping some riffs while Coloccia sang and played the piano in ways that create layers of sound. Sometimes drone and ambient loses something in the translation from record to a live setting, but I found myself entranced by the waves of sound as they washed over me. Mamiffer comes off as a bit more approachable when compared to some of the other artists of this type, as Faith Coloccia’s soft, haunting vocals provide an easy focus point and there’s just a bit more structure to this material than I had been anticipating. Based on the noise from the audience it was clear that not everyone got what the group was doing, and that’s to be expected, but everyone around me near the front of the audience seemed to be completely tuned in and soaking up the atmosphere. My only complaint was that the set was over in half an hour and that seemed far too brief, especially considering Alcest and Anathema would each get over an hour to perform. I felt like I was given a teaser into what Mamiffer really has to offer, and I would love to have the opportunity to see them play for twice as long. If you’re into somber and sometimes noisy drone, ambient, or post rock try and get to this tour early so you can catch what this band has to offer.

Alcest took the stage shortly after Mamiffer had finished, and I was excited to see them and potentially have the chance of hearing some new material as Neige has been talking about an upcoming album in recent interviews. The band ended up playing two new tracks during their lengthy set, one of which they were debuting live on this particular evening. As I was expecting based upon the direction Alcest’s music has taken in recent year and comments I have seen in interviews, they appear to have completely made the jump over to shoegaze and exited the black metal spectrum almost entirely. And that’s certainly not a bad thing, as based upon the two songs that I heard the instrumental work continues to be absolutely stellar and is able to draw you in with a warm and dreamlike atmosphere. I’ve also noticed that Neige’s clean singing seems to get better as the years progress, and to me he seems even more comfortable than before both on album and on-stage. Initially it seemed like there was going to be reason for concern as the audio mix was a bit rough during the first song or two. The drums were a bit too overpowering and the vocals were getting drowned out, but thankfully everything was balanced out as things progressed. One thing that I love about Alcest is that they really seem to pull their set list from their entire discography, so you’ll still be able to hear some of the earlier black metal influenced tracks where Neige goes for harsh screams mixed in with the newer shoegaze leaning numbers. I felt like the group played just about every song I wanted to hear and once the initial sound issued has been worked out the melodic instrumentation and softer vocals washed over me just as they had the last time I saw the band play live. While Neige does the majority of the vocal work himself on the albums, during the live performance he has guitarist Zero sing as well and the two balance each other out perfectly. Alcest is one of those groups that I enjoy experiencing live just as much as on record, and I am really glad to see that they’ve been able to return to North America once again and gain further exposure for their material. Whether you’re an established fan dating back to the black metal days or are unfamiliar with the band and have an interest in shoegaze and more atmospheric metal/rock I believe these guys will absolutely blow you away with their performance.

I have to admit that despite knowing Anathema by name and hearing a lot about their earlier doom days and transformation into a progressive/alternative rock band I’ve never really listened to them. But I’ve always found that seeing a group perform live is always a great way to become acquainted with them, as they tend to pull from various points in their discography. My first impression was a very positive one, and after the first song or two passed I came to the conclusion that I really should’ve checked them out earlier. The best way to describe Anathema is as a progressive rock band that’s heavily focused on creating atmosphere that the listener can get swept away in, and this is exactly what they’re able to accomplish live. While Mamiffer and Alcest both sounded great (even with the early sound issues that popped up during Alcest’s set), there was still a significant jump in the audio level when Anathema started and I’m wondering if they had a dedicated soundperson running the boards throughout their set. A lot of rock bands try to create material that has soaring melodies and really sucks the listener in, but often are only able to achieve it on a couple of tracks. But what struck me about Anathema was that every single song they played was able to hit this level while still sounding different from the last. Three members of the group perform vocals and they seemed to switch off on the lead role depending on the song, with Lee Douglas occasionally taking a break when the band returned to some of their older material. All three of them sounded incredible and the depth of their performance drew me in almost as much as the instrumental work. The other thing I noticed (and may have been unaware of), was how much crossover the group has with the metal world. Although their current sound is very mellow and atmospheric and doesn’t have anything close to a heavier feel, there were plenty of people in the audience with black and death metal band t-shirts entranced by Anathema’s performance. They seem to have really transcended the boundaries in this regard, and are capable of appealing to a wide range of people. Overall I was very impressed with what this band had to offer and plan on diving into their discography to further explore all of the different songs I heard them play. Whether you’ve been following them for the past few decades or are a newcomer like me, Anathema will make an impression on you and is able to put on a performance that spans almost an hour and a half yet feels like it is over in just a few minutes.











Leave a Reply