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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.