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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.