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Not riding on the coattails of their first masterpiece, Alcest continue to expand their sound and find more places and themes to explore in search for a perfect soundtrack to Neige's fairy land dream. Their choice of theme this time around, the ocean. The great, vast blue. While this keeps the same sort of mood created in the last album, the atmosphere is entirely different, and not to say that this album doesn't fit with anything else than with views of a body of water, but that's where I imagine this would work best as a soundtrack. If that's what they were going for with this release, they hit the target.
In addition to new themes, Neige enlisted the help of Winterhalter, known mainly from Amesoeurs, Les Discrets and Peste Noire (for which Neige contributed to as well) for drum duties. And what a fine job he does here, adding more finesse and showmanship into the drum playing, making blast beats the traditional speed of which most black metal bands play at, and throwing in a lot of impressive cymbal work. Fills aren't completely random and actually compliment the guitars rather well and contribute to the buildup of the songs energy-wise. While the rest of the songs don't ever escalate to the speed and the intensity of the first two songs, the mid-paced, more traditional rhythms provide a nice backbone for the other instruments.
Speaking of energy, the guitar work sounds filled with it, so full of life, at times even pummeling given the beat behind it. The first two songs show Neige tremolo picking chords with the most aggression you'll ever hear on an Alcest album. Fitting the blasts behind it and slowing itself for the more mid-paced rhythms behind it, fluctuating almost seamlessly through these tempos. More major chords are at work here, helping it give the more uplifting feel. Bass isn't as innovative as the preceding album was, stepping out much less often, seeming more like pure support rather than letting it flesh out as it's own addition to the music.
The vocals are still as graceful and amazing as before, with a consistent high tone, creating a nice cohesion of different harmonies with the guitars, even adding some traditional black metal screams, though while highly reverberated, are as consistent and fitting as his cleans. But this aspect is the most contrasting, not with the instruments, but the lyrics. With proper translation, most of these lyrics seem rather morose and sad, and that doesn't exactly go well with the bright aura this album creates. It's delivery is nearly impeccable, what it's delivering, not so much.
The flow of the songs are great, the riffs in these songs aren't interchangeable, they're all very memorable and they stand well on their own, but after the first two songs they don't fit too well with each other. The album flow is good in general, but from "Percees de Lumiere" going into an ambient track "Abysses", then into another track that's almost just like "Percees" named "Solar Song", it doesn't fit very well, the flow feels very rough and the tracks don't transition well into one another. If Abysses were to lead into the last track "Sur l'ocean couleur de fer", I wouldn't have this problem, but because it's placed in the middle of two tracks that would fit very well together seeming to add nothing to either one, I felt it had to be brought into question.
Other than that, there are no real complaints I have with this album. It's an extremely solid work by Alcest, showcasing some of their most intense moments and best songs. While not as strong as Souvenirs d'un autre monde, it's a great album in its own right and well worth the listen. It's the album with the most black metal incorporation, probably mainly due to Winterhalter's addition, but it's fitting nonetheless, and it was a welcome addition at this point in their career.
Alcest has proven to be a very controversial band with their unique blend of black metal with shoegazing and post-rock elements. Their softer and lighter nature of the music as well as their concept of a "fairy land" was a complete 180 from what black metal was supposed to be about. This was especially evident in their debut record, Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde, which featured literally no harsh vocals typical of black metal and a happy mood that makes you want to frolic in the meadows in springtime rather than running amok in the woods in the winter. The resulting reception was one of the most polarizing I have ever seen on this website with one side praising the more lighthearted take on black metal while the other side thinks it's one of the worst things that has happened to black metal since Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir went commercial. While I did like Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde because of its concept, the songs are often samey and uneventful. Three years later, with the assistance of drummer Winterhalter, Alcest returned with Écailles de Lune. And I was fucking amazed. This is Neige's visions of "fairy land" fully realized.
Not even three minutes into the first song and already, I am stunned by Alcest’s beautiful music. The guitar melodies are downright gorgeous, often multi-layered with a reverb effect to create such ethereal tones. Neige’s clean vocals have the ability to touch your heart and sooth the soul and it sounds as if he is singing right next to you. He also incorporates shrieked black metal-styled vocals, which were absent in Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde, that sounds like a tortured soul reaching out from an otherworldly place. The reverberating effect on the clean vocals, strangely enough, somewhat reminded me of the method used by a lot of “bedroom black metal” bands like Xasthur and Funeral Mourning, where the vocals are fairly buried in the mix, but without the grimness and ugliness, of course. I like that Neige decided to stay with his French language; if he sang in English, it would sound too awkward and out-of-place. This is not the type of music to listen to casually; when listening to Écailles de Lune, it really feels like Neige is truly pulling you from reality into this "fairy land" that he envisioned of. The more aggressive moments have a more passive nature that doesn’t ruin the beautiful atmosphere. The production is a step up from their debut with a tight and thicker, yet acoustic sound to the instruments and all the instruments are mixed equally.
Écailles de Lune seems to have a recurring theme of nostalgia and it captures this melancholic longing for a life that was once bright. As a result, this record has a darker and a much more somber tone in comparison to the brighter and happier sounding records in Alcest’s discography. This is especially evident in the two self-titled songs and the final track, ‘Sur l'océan couleur de fer’, which do the greatest job at capturing this melancholic feel. The only exception to the darker nature is the song, ‘Solar Song’, which has a more warmer and light-hearted atmosphere that doesn't sound as different as a track from Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde.
But why do I rate this a 95 instead of a perfect 100? First off, ‘Abysses’ is a pointless interlude that is out of place and adds nothing to the music. Also, after the two-part centerpiece, the other two tracks, ‘Percées de lumière’ and ‘Solar Song’ don’t seem to capture the same level of beauty that the first two tracks have, though they come close. With that said, Alcest’s Écailles de Lune is an excellent record that improves on virtually every aspect that was lacking in their debut and captures the atmosphere that Neige intended to have, which would continue on in the Le Secret remake and their latest record, Les voyages de l'âme. Now click off of this review, put on this record, and immerse yourself in its pure ethereal beauty.
The music I have always found most enjoyable is that which carries the listener into another place, completely absorbing them into the work. On their previous two recordings, Alcest has had a strong focus on this transcendental atmosphere. Écailles de Lune is no different. Once again, Neige writes music with the goal of taking us to his envisioned "fairy land", this time accompanied by Fursy Teyssier's beautiful cover artwork.
The album opens with a calming melody, but before long it switches gears into Alcest's brand of black metal/shoegaze. The production is immediately striking; it is clear and polished, but this doesn't diminish the effect of the music. As a matter of fact, the clarity may well help contribute to the album's overall feel: it gives one a stronger impression of the album's visual component, both of the monochrome blue of the cover and the imagery conjured in the listener's mind. A rawer, more typical black metal production probably wouldn't have achieved the same effect.
The songwriting on this record is superb. All of the compositions absolutely draw in the listener; "Écailles de Lune - Parts 1 & 2" certainly don't feel ten minutes long because you become so absorbed in the atmosphere of the music being played. While it is fast at times (mostly in Écailles de Lune - Part 2), it could never be described as "aggressive". I get the feeling of experiencing a dream when I listen to this - and it's certainly a memorable one, as every single song (save "Abysses", a brief ambient interlude) contains strong, memorable hooks and vocal melodies that refuse to leave the listener's head. Speaking of vocals, Neige's voice is in top shape; his dreamy singing is what is mostly used, but when he does his black metal screams, he lets out a piercing shriek that somehow doesn't detract from the beauty of the music - sometimes it even complements it! While his vocals are strong throughout the release, they truly shine through on "Sur l'océan couleur de fer", a non-metal piece; on this track, vocals take center stage, and Neige imparts the listener with melodies covering every sort of feeling of melancholy and longing.
The instrumentation is not particularly complex, but it doesn't really need to be. The guitars glide along, serving the sole purpose of channeling the atmosphere of Alcest rather than to impress the listener with skill. The percussion and bass never really come to the forefront; they simply serve as rhythm and backdrops to the guitar and singing.
That is not to say the album is perfect, however. My main issue with it personally is that it could have been longer - even just one more song may have brought the album to a more satisfying length. Also, if one is not totally in the mood to become absorbed into the album, the longer songs begin to drag after a while. Overall, however, this is a very strong release and remains a constant on my playlist. Highly recommended.
Écailles de Lune is a dramatic and dynamic album that integrates music from a wide variety of genres into an original, cohesive aesthetic. The album fuses sounds from genres such as shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins), post rock (Mono, Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and black metal (In the Woods, early Ulver). As diverse as these genres are, they all share a deep, reflective sensibility that lends to fluid blending. The culminating sound is very reflective—the soundtrack to the emergence of long lost memories and imaginings. Layers of regret and nostalgia clash with the sharper emotions of the present (i.e. hope, strength, and sorrow). The production creates a wide, hollow space where past and present emotions clash off each other like tides pulling in and out of a cove.
Singer/ songwriter Neige preforms excellent vocals throughout. The clean vocals are soulful and choir-like- imagine blending the vocals from Sigur Ros and Ulver’s Bergtatt. The growled vocals are high-pitched and sharp, like those on early In the Woods records. However, the depth of the production softens their edge, making them more suitable for such a reflective work. The riffs are mostly a hybrid of shoegaze and post-rock. The best riffs are big, full and monumental, reaching cathartic peaks. There are also a number of black metal riffs with a post rock edge. For example, the final riff of the first track is a classic black metal riff, yet the melody loops and swirls in a way that in more reminiscent of Godspeed than any black metal band.
The strength of the album is the first three tracks. These songs travel through mazes of mood and melody. There is little repetition, as the music moves steadily in one direction and then another. Nonetheless, these songs don’t feel disjointed, but rather sound fully thought out. The highlight is part 2 of the title track. The song travels through sweeping, epic black metal, soft, somber clean passages and a powerful post-rock climax. It also contains Neige’s best vocal performance of the album. However, the second half of the album is a bit of a step down. The final two tracks lack the dynamics of the others- in part because the black metal dimension is removed and it part because the pace is slowed. The consequence is songs that flounder, sticking with tunes for too long and at times bordering on trite.
In spite of two weaker tracks, the first three tracks show Alcest to be an original and innovative band. Niege has the capacity to capture the power of memory, reflection, imagination and the other mysterious processes of the mind and manifest them in musical form. In sum, a strong release and a band with a lot of promise.
Originally written for http://listenwell-nocturnal.blogspot.com/
While I enjoyed the album 'Souvenirs d'un autre monde' overall, I found that it often lacked variation both melodically and stylistically. This album, however, seems reincorporate black metal into the mix fairly effectively, as well as allowing for greater variation in style on each track.
Overall, I would rank this album as one of the most impressive metal albums of 2010. As a fan of shoegaze, black metal, and post-metal/post-rock, I really appreciate how masterfully Neige is able to fuze all three of these genres throughout this album. He is able to take the feelings of isolation often associated with black metal, the introspection associated with post-rock/metal, and the uplifting feel of shoegaze and combine the three to create an album that is beautiful and unique. Many metalheads will find this album to be too soft for their tastes, and I would advise those who want to listen to metal that is aggressive and heavy not to listen to this, you probably won't enjoy it if that's the case.
For the most part, Neige favors a mellow and introspective approach on this album (similar to that of other releases), occasionally employing black metal shrieks to reflect the mood of the song, which he uses effectively for the most part. Every song is filled with emotional vocals and instrumentals, yet the album succeeds in that the finished product sounds neither depressing nor excessively uplifting. The highlights of the album are probably the first two tracks, which do the best job of mixing genres and moods and are also the two most emotional songs on the album (at least in my opinion).
However, as impressed with this album as I was when I first heard it, there are a couple of shortcomings as well, which need to be addressed. First, the track 'Abysses' shouldn't even be on the album. For an album with six songs, having one of them be ambient noise that lasts for 1 minute and 30 seconds seems to be cheating fans out of their money a bit. I probably would have been happier if he decided not to release that song with the album. Also, as it is with every album, some melodies on this are much more memorable than others. There are a couple of spots on this album, notably on the last track, where although the music is quite beautiful, the same quiet, introspective melodies lag on for unprecedented amounts of time, often making the listener feel like falling asleep. However, despite a couple small flaws, Neige surpasses all of his previous work on this album, creating a solid release which I will probably still enjoying occasionally listening to five years from now.
Throughout post-metal circles, the name of Alcest has been one that is chatted back and forth alot lately. A French one man black metal project that incorperates the starkly mellow and ethereal sounds of shoegaze psychedelia, this band has become one of the more highly regarded bands in the genre, even after only two records produced. With frontman Neige's second effort with this solo project, the sound of Alcest becomes more defined, and what we have with 'Écailles De Lune' is a beautiful piece of emotionally stirring music that carries quite a bit more emotion that your typical heavy metal record.
In a sense, it may be unfair to consider this album 'metal,' the energy generally infused with the genre is sacrificed for a much more introspective sound. While there are maybe one or two sections throughout the album that make liberal use of blastbeats and Neige's high pitched shriek, 'Écailles De Lune' relies very heavily on it's mellowness and quiet beauty. The main focus of the music is on the beautiful textures of the guitar work, and Neige's clean vocal work, which may sound a bit too fragile for some, but works with the emotionally vulnerable mood of the music.
The first half of the album is dominated by the two part title track, 'Écailles De Lune.' While the first two songs here share the same name, they can generally be considered separate compositions. They do, however make up the heaviest and darkest component of 'Écailles De Lune,' and maintain a clear distinction from the rest of the album. The best moments on the album are when Neige takes things to their most mellow and beautiful; the latter half of 'Ecailles De Lune II' and the absolutely blissful closer 'Sur L'Ocean Couleur De Fer' make use of both the tastefully spacy guitarwork and the higher-key vocal work. While the lyrics here are in French and cannot be understand merely from listening, the lyrics have a very poetic resonance to them, and carry well with the ethereal nature of the album.
The album keeps a generally dark, melancholic sound throughout. The only exception to this is the uncharacteristically cheerful and upbeat 'Solar Song,' which is really the only moment on the album that feels out of place, despite it being a decent alternative rocker. Barring that, 'Écailles De Lune' is quite a consistent and enjoyable release. The brooding nature of the music can wear thin at times, but there's no doubt that Neige is a talented and distinguished member of the post-metal scene. A perfect album to listen to at night.
Bands like Alcest sure do make a mockery of stereotypes and boundaries separating black metal and softer, melody-based forms of what once upon a time was called indie shoegazer pop. It's possible indeed to combine harsh music like BM, noise or industrial with melodic and sonically smooth song-based structures and elements to create a style of accessible and highly expressive music in which the darkest emotions and the brightest emotions such as joy and exultation co-exist easily. Alcest achieves this fusion of dark and light genres seamlessly on "Ecailles de Lune"; the music expresses melancholy, longing, grace and hope as well as anger and urgency in ways that are beautiful, elegant and spacious. The sound is usually clear and liquid, even when the BM guitar textures are at their grimmest and most abrasive. Though harsh and soft musical elements might be expected to create tension and a sense of unease and foreboding, here they produce a sense of wholeness which may not necessarily be reflected in the lyrics. Indeed the danger here is that sometimes the music is a bit too smooth and happy and lacking in the spark that a rougher and sharper approach in the music's recording might have given.
The two tracks that make up the two parts to "Ecailles de Lune" run the gamut from pensive and sombre to hope and longing to be at one with nature in their mood. Acoustic, melodic guitar melodies touched with reverb can be dark, jangly and dreamy and put the listener in a slightly hypnotic mood. Batteries of BM guitar riffs that might suddenly hit the ears after episodes of sparkling dreaminess might look ill-advised on paper but the impact and contrast in sound in texture between the acoustic and BM elements are not that great. There may be folk influences in some of the guitar-playing which smooth over any differences and awkward juxtapositions. The vocals vary a great deal from smooth and contemplative clean-toned singing and murmuring to throaty BM-styled screeching.
The rest of the album sounds like a footnote to the "Ecailles ..." parts even though it carries the bulk of the album's theme. Listeners might be forgiven for thinking they've stumbled into well-worn Burzumesque melody territory with "Percees de Lumieres" with the poppy-sounding melody and steady drum-beats - but then the song detours into some darkly moody and meandering paths of stuttering guitar sparkle and steady-as-it-goes drumming. "Abysses" is a welcome if too brief and undeveloped venture into alien deep-space ambience. The last two tracks form a complementary pair: "Solar Song" sounds an easy-listening, easy-going celebratory piece but it seems drained of energy, perhaps because it's too steady in pace; and outro track "Sur l'Ocean Couleur de Fer" is its dark twin, sorrowful and wistful in mood and style as the alternative universe shuts shop and recedes away from the listener.
Main Alcest man Neige has put a lot of love, care and thought into crafting this album - and beautifully crafted it is too, the songs following a narrative which is partly reflected in the album's whimsical cover art, seen through a portal - but the entire work is missing a distinctive flavour, a zest that would give it real life and inidividuality and lift it into a realm of greatness. The album's theme is a well-worn one - going on an internal or mystical journey in a different dimension and ending up perhaps abandoned or alone - and needs something to really freshen it and make the alternative universe in the ocean seem like it's being visited for the very first time even though listeners may have made the journey many times before. Perhaps if Neige had used more folk music elements, maybe drawn on French folk cultures connected with fishing or the sea for inspiration, such elements would have given the necessary zing and individuality to Alcest's particular BM / post-rock / shoegazer pop fusion.
My personal feeling is that with this kind of shoegazer BM, it needs something a bit off-kilter about it, some slight eccentricity, that would make it intriguing to listeners and get them curious to explore it more. With all due respect for Neige, who's probably sweated more than a few buckets over his Alcest project, I don't think it's enough that the music be well-made technically and have a beautiful sound - it must have something that actually makes it a bit less than perfect. Otherwise over time, the music will lose its freshness and end up sounding too smooth and generic.
I have only listened to "Ecailles de lune" about three or four times now, I never heard music so beautiful and dreamlike yet with tinges of a lingering lonesomeness and pain. There is an extreme sense of longing in this album. Neige really is a talented musician to be able to incorporate the dichotomies of black metal with new age, post-rock and shoegaze. It is such a unique idea for a metal album, and it turns out it is absolutely astonishing.
I have been having a real hard time trying to find that one album that really makes me think about everything before me as well as ahead. So many memories immediately made themselves known after listening to the tracks off of "Ecailles de lune". The one-two punch of "Ecailles de Lune (Part 1 and 2)" are so mesmerizing, images of the loved ones of my past felt like they entered the room with me and sat there with me listening to these two tracks. Though there is a sense of anger and pain in these two tracks as well, the rasps Neige incorporated in Part 2 were very sudden, and chilling like something very dark and terrible bubbled to the surface. I feel pain is like that, there are those ethereal vocal jaunts he uses to show that maybe he really loved and cared for someone, but the rasps showed the pain that the said person caused him.
The other tracks on this album have their own poignant/nostalgic elements and beautiful parts; the track "Percess De Lumiere" is probably the most "metal" sounding song there is some great uptempo beautiful riffs on this song, this song invokes a feeling of driving down a highway in the mountains with the full moon high in the sky, you can see the cascading peaks speed by and you can see memories speed by like flash photography, little snippets of faces. laughs, and voices of people who entered or left your life. Then we come to the track "Abysses" I wish this song wasn't in the album it kind of ruins the flow of the music, I wish Neige could of done another great full song here instead of making it a bridge to "Solar Song" it also seems to counter with the rest of the themes found in the album, it sounded like something Leviathan would do, not Alcest. "Abysses" is the reason why I gave this a 95 instead of a 100.
The last two tracks are really interesting, "Solar Song" is gorgeous and when you hear it, it hearkens back to a song "My Bloody Valentine" would of done. The shoegaze element is most prominent in this track. When I listened to "Solar Song" it brought such a catharsis to myself, all the stresses of life and work just disappeared for a brief moment in time. The vocals soar like wind , and the guitar riffing drones on in a beautiful controlled manner. The last track " Sur L'Ocean Couleur De Fer " is probably the most interesting, and complete song, there are elements of folk, new age, post rock, black metal all put into one monstrous track. When I heard it it reminded me of a longer version of Draconian's track "Akherousia" I could picture journeying into a different realm, beyond the ocean, beyond everything. If the most vivid dreams I ever had were put into music this would be the song.
Alcest has given the metal world a beautiful album to listen to. There is nothing else like it that I have heard. I think anyone from any musical leaning would find some appreciation for "Ecailles de lune" there is just something everyone can get from this album in some way or another. I hope Neige continues to grow and develop as a musician because he really has a unique idea that can definitely be stretched to infinite possibilities. It really sounds like he is putting his whole heart and soul into this album, like he did in "Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde" and I hope he continues to make excellent albums.
Alcest are a fairly household name in the metal scene these days, their hybrid of metal and airy shoegaze propelled them to the fore in the French metal scene back in 2007. Many black metal purists were appalled by this apparent 'wuss metal' which Neige was now producing, such a contrast to his humble beginnings in Mortifera and Peste Noire. While these bands have produced some fantastic black metal, they haven’t managed anything yet comparable to 'Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde'.
Opinions on the album were heavily polarized. On one side of the coin, people were lavishing praise on Neige for attempting something completely contradictory to the norm in Black Metal and refreshing in a genre otherwise fast becoming stale. Neige probably never anticipated how revered Alcest would become in the following year or so. So much that 'Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde' basically spawned a new sub genre of metal on it's own it was that groundbreaking.
Three long years have past since their seminal debut album, and finally the long awaited follow up is upon us. It has a lot to live up to, and that it does. The first track bears a striking resemblance to Amesoeurs, it could easily be described as a continuation of his work in said project, but without Audrey. The shimmering guitar melodies from before are back only with that guitar tone which cult eighties post punk/shoegazers 'The Chameleons' were so synonymous with. It sounds like it could be any one of Neige's sung tracks off the Amesoeur's album, except with an added air of esoteric beauty which was present on neither the debut nor Amesoeur's album. The vocals are clean and engulf the song with a wave of sentimentality and serenity, sweeping around the guitars, as if they were trying to entrap them. The song breaks mid-point where the lead guitar, thick with reverb picks a sullen passage, an insight of what's yet to come, before moving up a gear towards the end again.
'Écailles de Lune (Part 2)’, in contrast to the previous song, starts out with surprisingly vicious, the drums blasting and this is the first we encounter Neige's piercing scream, which caught me off guard, as I thought he had done away with them altogether in Alcest. What's great about his harsh vocals is he doesn't over do it, unlike the demos or his work in Mortifera, he had the tendency to strain a little too hard and ended up off key and sounding quite amateurish at points. His vocals here are perfect, and although he doesn't use his extreme vocals a lot, they're among the best in the black metal scene by a long shot. There are no shoegazey elements to be heard in this section of the song, most comparable to Peste Noire with the speedy riffs and howling vocals. After a few minutes though the real beauty of this album stands out, the Black Metal dies off and the buoyant guitar picking shines down, playing an exquisite melody with an almost midnight like ambience, as if each note being played were reflected off the moon and gently glimmered back while the thick, feedback laced guitar filters through. I guess Slowdive would be the best comparison to pick, if anyone.
Third track 'Percées de Lumière' previously appeared on the split with 'Les Discrets', and is a harrowing hybrid of depressive Black Metal and writhing reverberation of early nineties shoegaze. The vocals display both Neige's shrill screaming and more tranquil side, and for the non Black Metal listeners, will probably be the hardest song to digest on the album. It is slightly similar to the material previously seen on the 'Le Secret' EP early on in the bands career, where we were only getting a glimpse of what was to come, but the alternation between the clean vocals are executed with a lot more maturity than the much more primitive EP. This is the closest to a Black Metal song on the album.
'Abysses' is a brief interlude of swirly ambience, nothing remarkable, but could serve as the most appropriate way to split the album into it's two halves, as the second half completely drops all traces of the majestic, Emperor like riffing and lovelorn brutality giving way to 'Solar Song', with it's undulating, 'Cocteau Twins' like swell. More of a grower, a gradual impact rather than the immediacy of the previous songs, this is a pure shoegaze song, with the wall of distorted feedback hanging over the chiming vocals like a setting sun looming out over a twilight sky. It is a beautiful, drifter of a song, with a nonchalant haziness about it, which the genuine fans of shoegazing dream pop will appreciate more than anyone else.
Closer 'Sur L'Océan Couleur de Fer' could be none more fitting. The slow echoing guitar clothed with Neige's harmonious vocal pattern draw the curtain with a beautiful night like ambience, a musical journey to an Elysian paradise befitted with only the silvery reflection of the moonlight off the ocean and romance. That is the one standout quality of this album beyond anything, the sheer romantic aura that emanates from the music. You may have heard of 'Romantic Black Metal' before, but there is no band more fitting to this term than Alcest, for what way to make the likes of music from Peste Noire and Celestia even more enchanting, but to bind it with one of the most romantic forms of modern day music of course.
One of the things that draws me to certain bands are their ability to conjure certain soundscapes subconsciously in your head, and in this field, no one can rival Alcest. The multiple textures all intertwined, the hypnotic vocals, the effervescent guitar all combine to drug you into a utopian dreamstate of nostalgia, love and past affections full of dark hazy blues, pale mauves and glimmering silver. This is an album to listen to with headphones alone and lose yourself completely and alleviate all the pangs and burdens of everyday life, even if only for a brief time.
Alcest seem to encounter a lot of comparison to Agalloch. Yes there are a few similar aspects to both bands, but Alcest are away above and beyond what Agalloch were ever capable of. Agalloch had their weakpoints, on the otherhand with Alcest, I can't honestly find one. As much as I loathe using the word ‘perfect’ when reviewing albums, this is one which deserves beyond all others I have heard this year so far. Neige has completely outdone himself, building upon that of 'Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde' and finally completed the next step in the evolution of Alcest. With how he plans to develop the sound further, one can only wait. There is no doubt now that Neige is moving Alcest away from their Black Metal roots, and if there was any doubt in your mind about the debut album, this album will probably not change your mind. It won’t change the opinions of bedroom black metal warriors everywhere; Neige never cared for these opinions anyway, why should he when it is that which he was obviously distancing himself from before? This album is a piece of sophisticated beauty emerging from a genre fast becoming stagnant with lifeless clones and banality. A seminal work of art, which you can guarantee will be copied, but doubtful ever matched.
Yes! More black metal that will make the purists howl in anguish! 'Shoegaze black metal', as French residents Alcest seem to be described nowadays by the label and accompanying press, is gloriously another faction of the incredibly diverse black metal tree and one I'm only just entering the world of with their second album, "Écailles De Lune". For those not in the know, shoegaze black metal sounds pretty much like what the genre title would sound like set to music - sombre, sad and emotional black metal, obviously sans the corpsepaint, Satanism, crap sound quality and all the other stereotypes that are usually labelled with the parent genre. I mean just look at that cover – the most beautiful you've ever seen claiming to be BM?
Considering the path from which Alcest, and their subgenre, have come, "Écailles De Lune" is incredibly ethereal in it's stark and passionate beauty. Doing away with the bravado and outwards show of strength and fortitude that is effectively the bedrock of the entire metal genre, songs like "Sur L'Océan Couleur De Fer" and "Écailles De Lune (Part I)" possess a painstakingly transparent emotional core, allowing the heartfelt feelings of mainman Neige to be laid bare through almost pop-like guitar craft and dreamy vocals in a way one would never believe could still have the words 'black metal' attached to it. It is only during "Écailles De Lune (Part II)" and "Percées De Lumière" when the intensity overflows into Agalloch-ian heathenistic black metal, the riffs resonating beautifully in the manner that makes Wolves in the Throne Room one of the best BM acts around today, where Neige feels implored to scream out his poetic lyrics rather than use the gentle delicate meanderings that epitomise his vocal delivery at all other times. The contrast, naturally, works superbly by lending a strong humane aura to the uptempo moments, however it does make me wish Alcest would utilise this tempo more often across "Écailles De Lune" as the sounds created here ring dramatically with atmosphere, and far more than most 'proper' BM bands can ever muster. Go figure that one out.
'Shoegaze' it may be but much of "Écailles De Lune" pertains a fresh, spring morning feel, gently welcoming back the life that has been hidden away across the dark cold winter months; a feeling recent history will tell us all is a pleasant and joyous one to behold. Like the other bands mentioned here Alcest's potential reach is far beyond the realms of black metal, so let's hope "Écailles De Lune" gets the success it warrants and we all enjoy this shoegazing black metal before it gets crowded out with imposters attempting to convey the depths of feeling Alcest have managed here, because this isn't something you hear every day.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Écailles de Lune is, in short, a modest record that will whisk you away the moment you hear Neige's voice.
Alcest aren't particularly new to this. With a successful couple of EPs, a split with Les Discrets and a full-length behind them, their establishment goes without saying. Souvenirs d'un autre monde dispelled the "leftovers from Amesoeurs" pretense that seemed to poke at the project in its infancy. Écailles de Lune serves to lengthen the distance from it in a very bold, mature manner by introducing Alcest as certain visionaries.
Markus Stock, the brain behind Empyrium, The Vision Bleak and a hand in Autumnblaze (among others) and Neb Xort of Anorexia Nervosa handled this record as it should have been. Simply put, the production value is ace. It allows instruments and effects the chance to breathe without being compressed ad nauseam.
In contrast to the previous album, Neige employs a multitude of vocal ranges and styles. The variation isn't technically what makes each song individual versus what part which is used on. The first track, Écailles de Lune - Part 1 is, for all intents and purposes of this review, a bridge from the musical style of the previous album to this one. While similar in design, he's not as "hopeful" and ascending more than he is reminiscent in performance.
Winterhalter is a beast of burden on this album - where you would see mid-tempo drum work a la Souvenirs, he pulls out all the stops on Écailles de Lune, most notably the end of the first part of Écailles de Lune - Part I and the beginning of Part 2. It engages in some very traditional yet somehow not tasteless blasts. He always manages to transition this very well with a ride or hat section and clear use of toms when it calls for them. This is a man who knows precisely how to craft percussive atmosphere and it has the potential to appeal to anybody at first listen.
The album uses a particular minimalism noted in Abysses, Solar Song and the closer, Sur L'Océan Couleur de Fer. Plenty of parts in each song have their lulls, however the devotion of a couple of tracks that comprise a fair 9 minutes of the album that doesn't follow the trend of a traditional metal production could scream "deal breaker." I'll dare to compare this to Agalloch's use of loose atmosphere on The Mantle, for those familiar.
Fortunately, Écailles de Lune doesn't flirt with acoustics for longer than you've the attention span for. Neige, again, uses his voice as an instrument to cut away from the grain of ambiance and utterly refuses to bore you as much as it seems to entrance, which is a definite point for them.
While not a demonstration of the music's aptitude, the art by Fursy Teyssier (of Les Discrets) is compelling in design and, at least from this perspective, a further addition to the effectiveness of the atmosphere Alcest have to offer on this journey.
As somebody who's been looking forward to this album since Souvenirs, I cannot possibly stress enough how essential this is. From start to finish, this album echoes nostalgic despondency without the disposition of the stuff most people are used to. This isn't another depressive black metal project from some has-been guru - this is an experience. Unparalleled even by its predecessor and a titan from its creator.
Alcest deliver. Get this now.
Seems like more than three years have gone by since Alcest's last effort, and with only a few years of existence, this controversial-on-its-own-way band has gained a place, for better or for worse, in the collective heart of black metal fans all over the world. Alcest has left almost no middle ground around reviewers, people either hate this band, even referring to it as Disney music, or love it completely, calling it one of the best black metal bands this new century which has been extremely convulsed on its first ten years has to offer. A lost has been said about Alcest and Amesoeurs' trademark mix of otherworldly black metal and pop-ish shoegaze infusions, and while one may like it or hate it, no one can deny its originality.
This album here feels more Amesoeurs than ever, the shoegazey elements being more prominent than on the previous album, Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde, while not only maintaining but expanding on said album's (and the previous EP) characteristic black metal sound. We get a much better production, though, distortioned guitars and desolate shrieks underlined by blastbeats stabbing the melodies at different tempos, the wall of sound entangling around the listener's neck without mercy, interspersed with clean guitars unraveling on top of the sliences left between intermittent hordes of electric guitar like mineral water fowling down a mountain on a fine stream, quickly turning into thick rivers and deep lakes once the rest of the instruments join.
Vocals are clearer and more on foreground but otherwise as ghostly as ever, if more melodic and layered, and growls are even more extreme and desperate in tone, but recorded an balanced with quality and detail. Sadly(?) they're even more sparse than on previous albums. Nevertheless and shoegazey moments aside, this is still black metal, and it still plays quite powerfully at times, mainly on the epic opener, which is divided in two parts, ringing familiar bells, bringing to mind albums like Ulver's Bergtatt or even Nattens Madrigal (only not even close in terms of sheer rawness). Be warned, thou black metal purist, this is the only real, "pure" black metal section of the album. On this two-part song, compositions seem more thoughtful, seems more time has been invested in the creation of melodies, sections, interludes and codas, to a point in which the songs play off as many smaller songs connected with precision, while previous efforts seemed more focused on a sense of adventure and spontaneity.
Even though this has more in common with Amesoeurs' only Full-length than with pevious efforts by Alcest (or Amesoeurs, for that matter), it comes off not just as a fusion of both bands, but rather as if Alcest decided to continue Amesoeurs' sound, mixing it with its own, after the demise of its (younger) sister band. Percées de Lumière illustrates this point perfectly.
We're treated to all-new features with Abysses, a soft noisy/ambient interlude which separates the two halves of this album swiftly and Solar Song, the only song so far with an english title (and I can only guess, english lyrics?) by Alcest, which brings to mind bands like JANVS, especially their last album, Vega, a clean, mid-paced, quite elegant song with a prominent bass line and crawling wall of sound, punctuated with an echoing clean guitar.
The album's last song is more of a clean-guitar driven ambient song, Neige covers the whole of it with soft, droning vocals while a clean electric guitar marks the simple and repetitive melody, on top of which other layers of clean guitar are added, until halfway through acoustic guitars join to give the listener a farewell, the music building up towards its end and concluding the album on a subtle and elegant note.
As a closer, if you were disappointed by both Alcest and Amesoeurs' evolution, away from a pure black metal sound and into a rock-ish outfit, you won't be enjoying this album too much, since it carries this evolution to new heights. And if you actually prefer the softer aspects of both bands, you may find it a bit hard to digest this album, since it still carries the banner of black metal, and there's still aggressiveness (albeit of a ethereal and elegant nature) to be found on behalf of Neige and company. This album, as I said, comes off as not only a mixture of both bands, but an evolution of their common grounds. And it plays off extremely well.
I think like many I was excited about a new Alcest album, due to the strength of ‘Souvenirs…’ and of course Neiges skill when it comes to crafting songs. ‘Souvenirs’ and its brand of shoegaze/post BM was definitely an acquired taste. It may have seemed a little wishy washy for some, however I was intrigued and enjoyed the album for the most part.
‘Ecailles de Lune’ is easily on a par with the previous album and introduces some austerity that the other full length maybe lacked. The title track and album opener ‘Ecalliles de lune (part I)’ kickstarts this release in a style that will be familiar to most. Buzzing guitars strumming out unaggressive melodies, slow drumming easing the track along. Neige sings for the first few lines (you’ll find no screaming… yet), with a contained voice well suited to the music, it floats along in his native tongue. Things speed up momentarily before finding its way back to dreamy picked lines, thick with reverb. Neige always seems to create a little riff or chord movement that just sticks out, even if for a second, but it will highlight the song. You’ll find them throughout this release. In contrast Part II commences with a blast beat and black metal screams. It doesn’t last long though before settling back to gliding oohs and aahs.
If you couldn’t wait and bought the Alcest / Les Discrets split released just before this you’ll have heard ‘Percees de Lumiere’. Maybe a little disappointing as it makes the album shorter, in essence, but this is a great track and gives the album extra diversity. It could easily have been on the Amesoeurs album (another development of Neige) as it’s more of a straight forward BM track with some rasping tremolo guitar and Neiges fantastic shrill screams. Definitely one of the best Black Metal vocals around and how he manages it I’ll never know. The drums, while not technical, are interesting and well handled with the bass lines standing out too. Next ‘Abysses’ serves as a forgettable interlude and ‘Solar Song’ is similarly unremarkable.
It doesn’t take long then to get to the final and most poignant track ‘Sur l’ocean couleur de fer’. Translated it means ‘On the iron coloured Ocean’ with the lyrics being from a poem of the same name by 19th century bard Paul-Jean Toulet (A few other bands have a tradition of doing this, a nice little touch I always liked). I often listen to a lot of my music at night in bed. It’s perfect for absorbing songs uninterrupted, unfortunately it’s also easy to drift off too. Anyway I put this album on a few times and this track stirred me with its haunting arpeggio and soft vocal. For me it evoked memories and emotions and almost had me in tears. It’s heartbreaking music but beautiful and uplifting too if you have a tendency towards it. Here Neige shows he can sing cleanly just as well as he can scream.
I don’t think this is an album for many repeat listens in a single week, it needs a certain mood and could leave you feeling a little underwhelmed if listened to too much. However, it’s definitely a solid album and just as good, if not better, than its predecessor. The band are tight, it’s well produced and varied. If you weren’t quite sure about the last album or shoegaze BM in general maybe better to avoid this, otherwise a good buy.
2010 was bound to be a big year for Alcest and the two musicians respectively given their participation with other notable bands. Whilst Neige is synonymous with Alcest and vice versa, we cannot forget Winterhalter’s impact as the bands drummer. More often than not people seem to assume Alcest are a one man band run solely by Neige and although he does contribute towards most of the music, Winterhalter definitely plays an important role given his growing experience and prowess as a drummer. As I stated, 2010 was always going to be a huge year for these two talented men. Whilst most metal fans familiar with the two will recognise them as being musicians for Alcest, first and foremost, they both have other projects busy at work. Neige is currently offering his vocal services to Lantlôs who’re releasing a highly anticipated sophomore full-length later this year, as well as joining the formidable Forgotten Woods in their bid to recapture their form from the early and late 1990’s, a decade which saw their best material gracing it.
Winterhalter, on the other hand, has been busy at work with Les Discrets, a band who released a split album with Alcest not too long ago in fact. Though the split didn’t highlight the best qualities of either band, though it did more to show why Les Discrets are growing in reputation as a fantastic avant-gardé band, it did give the world an insight into the capabilities of both acts, whilst also, rather unfortunately, showcasing potential problems which Neige could have run into on Alcest’s sophomore. The more I’ve listened to ‘Écailles de lune’, the title for the sophomore, the more I’ve warmed to it. However, this process has been a slow, but steady one. In regards to Alcest’s previous material, namely the ‘Le Secret’ EP and the much loved debut full-length ‘Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde’, I instantly fell in love with the romantic vision that Alcest forged with both of those individual and highly different releases. Perhaps a strange analogy, but I find that I view ‘Écailles de lune’ like a mother suffering from post-natal depression views her child at birth.
She’s distant and though she knows she should love her child, her troublesome depression prevents her from doing so. However, in time, the depression gradually begins to subside and she grows to love and adore her child like there was never any problem. Although I dare not call my troubles in relating to Alcest’s sophomore something on a similar level to post-natal depression, there is a likeness between the two. Given my affections for Neige and Alcest in general, I knew I should adore this record, but there was something preventing me from doing so, something I buried deep inside me in an attempt to unlock the love a person like me, with my adoration of post-whatever black metal and shoegazing black metal, should be able to generate in regards to this somewhat neglected middle child. When I initially started to analyse this record, I noticed a clear distinction between the first and second half of the material. The first half contains material akin to the debut and perhaps even the sometimes furious aggressor that is ‘Le Secret’. Though ‘Le Secret’ is in no way the same type of black metal journey as the lo-fi, angry ‘Tristesse Hivernale’, there is still some of that early angst present in the aforementioned EP.
However, it was around this time that Alcest started to develop a shoegazing sound, one which was very French sounding, very romantic and somewhat idealised. Although I’ve had several months to become accustomed to the individual song that is ‘Percées de Lumière’, it took me time to see it in the same light as the other material present on the sophomore, one which begins strongly and ends cagily. ‘Percées de Lumière’ is very much in a similar vein to the material on ‘Le Secret’. Shoegazing, spirally guitars from Neige and even some of his harsher vocals, which come in a distinctive rasped form. The cohesion between the cleaner and harsher aspects is more mature than on the juvenile ‘Le Secret’ and that adds a freshness to the style, despite the fact that Alcest fans will know and love the approach and have done for many years already. The production definitely helps with its airy and bouncy qualities. The guitars and vocals, though distorted, don’t detract from the cleaner aspects and, as ‘Percées de Lumière’ shows, Neige is capable of factoring in cleaner parts, such as his harmonic vocals into the ocean of distortion that comes towards the end of this particular song.
The title track, which is split into two different parts, also shows these qualities, but not to the same extent as the third song, ‘Percées de Lumière’. In fact, these two title tracks form the basis of the positivity which will probably flow off the page of many reviews. The second part, in particular, is some of Neige’s best work as he shows his talent for song writing and melding different approaches together solidly into one flowing depiction of beauty, in particular, and nature, two themes vividly explored throughout the course and duration of the sophomore. As shown well on part one of the title track, Neige even includes his simplistic vision of beauty and juxtaposed melancholy through the use of tremolo riffs whilst Winterhalter provides a more discrete dynamic side with his often varied drumming. Neige has definitely smoothed his vocals out and a become a softer, gentile front man.
From what I’ve seen of his live performances on YouTube and such, what he lacks in stage presence, he makes up for in beauty through subtle qualities, as shown well through the bass on the record, too. I definitely feel that Alcest have matured with this record, though they still know how to approach the audience with faster, more bombastic stylistic qualities, as shown in the use of double bass blasts and crushing riffs on the opening of the self-titled song (part two). I felt a very different presence in atmospheric tendencies with this record than I did with the debut. The debut seemed to deal more with beauty and innocence, whilst this record spends its time divulging into the topic of beauty through nature, as shown well on the use of oceanic samples and the aquatic atmosphere of some of its songs. ‘Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde’ was a record I felt Alcest may not be able to live up to and the disappointing final two songs highlight exactly why this is.
Though ‘Solar Song’ has grown on me, it doesn’t contain the same sort of emphasis on shoegazing beauty that the opening three songs do. It floats, although rather nicely, through ambient worlds, drifting slowly with Neige’s clean voice obscuring the work beneath it. The guitars themselves have trouble mustering up anything valuable from the mediocre soundscapes. The final song shows precisely why the second half of the record fails to live up to high expectations as it plays out, to me, like an average Novembre song would. Clean vocals, clean instrumentation led by a forgettable guitar and background bass. Nothing too special. Thankfully however, the first half more than makes up for the forgettable ending. Not on the same level as the debut, but good regardless and here’s to hoping when I see Alcest live next month that the performance in the flesh raises my opinion of the material.