Alcest


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde (2007), 7.5/10
Ecailles De Lune (2010), 6.5/10
Les Voyages de l'ame (2012) , 6/10
b>Shelter (2014), 5/10
b>Kodama (2016), 6.5/10
b>Spiritual Instinct (2019) , 6.5/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Stephane Paut (aka Neige), who had been a member of Peste Noire during its early days, launched the project Alcest with the "poppy" and noisy single Le Secret/ Elevation (2005 - Prophecy, 2011) and went on to coin a new subgenre of black metal.

Alcest's first album Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde (Prophecy, 2007) turned out to be one of the great shoegazing albums of the time. The protracted crashing solemn agonizing riff Printemps Emeraude is the launching pad for a vocal melody that rises like a religious hymn, which in turn propels the guitar to intone an even more majestic distortion, one of the most uplifting shoegaze anthems of all time. An equal moving pathos is secreted in Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde, created by another explosion of guitar feedback but this time for a gentle whispered elegy (at one point even reduced to just a dreamy "la-la-la"). The more incandescent and frenzied Les Iris exhales a more delicate transcendent ethereal wordless mantra, further decoupling sound and melody. The shifting textures and dynamics of the previous songs verge on post-rock in the slightly brainier Ciel Errant. The jarring edges are further explored in Sur L'Autre Rive Je T'Attendrai, whose lengthy instrumental part is purely atmospheric and almost impressionistic. The finale, instead, returns to the simpler format: a much more traditional singsong Tir Nan Og that soars into an electronic new-age melody. This impeccable album distilled the romantic essence of shoegazing, almost removing its original psychedelic foundations. Alcest's Ecailles De Lune (Prophecy, 2010) is titled after its main suite, the two-movement Ecailles De Lune. The first movement is actually comprised of sub-movements. It begins as a rather traditional psychedelic ballad, but then implodes into an introverted guitar solo, and finally explodes into a frenzied finale. The second movement surprisingly resurrects Neige's roots and begins in the vein of magniloquent hysterical black metal. This too implodes, this time in a fragile folk lullaby, which in turn slowly decomposes into abstract soundpainting. Percees De Lumiere (the real standout) is another slab of black metal vocals but spaced out like in Pink Floyd's soundtrack More. Solar Song, the only song that continues the shoegazing program of the first album, is a bit too poppy and dreamy to stand out on its own and the fat guitar that reinforce it are not enough. The eight-minute acoustic ballad Sur L'Ocean Couleur De Fer is a disturbing detour that might presage a more commercial future. With these albums, Alcest became a pioneer of the "blackgaze" genre.

Alcest's Les Voyages de l'ame (2012) feels like an introduction to Alcest for those who missed the previous offerings of their textural post-metal. The solemn hymn of Autre Temps (not too far from Scorpions and the like) is Alcest for mass consumption. On the positive side, the improved production values bring out the introverted and spiritual core of Niege's music, especially in the ethereal wordless chanting of Beings of Light pummeled by infernal blast-beats, perhaps the most creative detour of the album. The mystical tones of the opener resurface in the nine-minute La Ou Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles, a case of slo-core with burning guitars, a piece that has time to evolve along a dramatic plot, with a burst (or, better, blast) of black metal and a pastoral intermezzo before the incendiary ending; the Stairway to Heaven of shoegazing metal. Then comes Les Voyages De L'Ame, another folkish litany (but even slower) laid bare over a bed of loud guitar distortion with a strong melodic undercurrent. By the time Niege hums Nous Sommes L'Emeraude, we got the point, and can predict which way the music will move. He has exhausted the directions where he can run with his idea (mixing black metal and shoegaze-rock). Faiseurs De Mondes tries to rescue the concept with a theatrical interplay of desperate growls and ecstatic wails The most obvious power-ballad, Summer's Glory, a skeletal tune attached to dense whirling guitar arrangements, is much closer to Cocteau Twins' dream-pop than to, say, My Bloody Valentine. Too simplified to retain the dramatic power of the Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde, this album marks the end of the unlikely experiment and the beginning of the dignified monetization.

Alcest abandoned their blackgaze post-metal for a much more predictable form of dream-pop (no blastbeats and no shrieks) on the mundane Shelter (Prophecy Productions, 2014), their worst album yet, produced by Sigur Ros' producer Birgir Birgisson. The bulk of the album consists of tedious litanies like L'Eveil Des Muses and Away (sung by Slowdive's Neil Halstead), but the ethereal and serene Voix Sereine, with its emotional shoegazing crescendo, and the lyrical ten-minute hymn-like Delivrance find an interesting compromise between Cocteau Twins and Pink Floyd.

Kodama (Prophecy Productions, 2016) was a compromise between dream-pop and blackgaze, with blastbeats and shrieks back in moderation. The nine-minute Kodama is another confused take on shoegazing and dream-pop, but, luckily, the nine-minute Eclosion manouevres better around the wall of guitar distortion, especially in the furious moments, where Alcest's blackgaze returns in all its splendor. The seven-minute Je Suis D'ailleurs, another highlight, sounds like a Catholic priest singing a "kyrie eleison" while Neil Young unleashes a torrential solo on the altar. Untouched is a poignant vignette with a suspense and a refrain that evokes the Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin. There is still very little metal, and where there is any (like in the eight-minute Oiseaux De Proie) it is not well amalgamated with the new melodic course.

Spiritual Instinct (2019) boasts Neige's most cohesive songs yet, songs that don't alternate between fast and slow, hard and soft, but simply create a continuous flow, fluid and melodic songs, while recovering much of the metal energy of the early albums, both virulent and hummable. The eight-minute Les Jardins De Minuit employs blastbeats and guitar tremolos to build tension and suspense, not to terrorize. Protection, one of their friendliest songs ever, begins at a stately pace with a languid hymn-like chant that eventually explodes in a desperate scream. A lively rhythm propels Sapphire, with singing and guitar riffs that evokes the dark-punk of the 1980s. The nine-minute L'Ile Des Morts is the theatrical tour de force of the album, the one composition that adopts the unstable post-rock dynamics, with Neige initially screaming his head off. Le Miroir is a surreal electroacoustic interlude. The eight-minute Spiritual Instinct is a crescendo of esoteric transcendental "om"-like invocations. The album in general is his most "romantic", both melodic and angst-tinged.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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