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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.