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Alcest - Écailles de lune - 76%

Avestriel, March 29th, 2010

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.