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Les voyages de l'âme (The Journeys of the Soul) is Alcest's third album and contains the quintessence of the group's creative work to date. This is what Prophecy Productions stated about this very album and I believe they are quite right. Barely two years after the amazing Écailles de lune, which gained a lot of unfair criticism due to its structure, Alcest are back with a really strong album.
This release incorporates all the elements that Alcest are precisely known for. It’s definitely an album that you have to feel, an album that you have to listen to with your heart rather than your ears, and even though it could be the soundtrack for a lachrymose occasion, it is the peacefulness and tranquility, rather than the pessimism that will win you over. The first track of the album "Autre Temps", which is also the band’s first ever music video, is an outstanding opener, which, unlike the previous records, features a verse-chorus-verse structure that I find quite ideal, as it is a great way to dive into the joyfulness of this difficult-to-digest album. As we travel further with "Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles" we come across all the gloomy, melancholic passages we have grown to love in Alcest, tied with very few black metal elements that offer greatly to the songs. And that’s what is so unique about this album. Les voyages de l'âme features the most significant ingredients all of Neige’s previous works had; even though all the tracks are fairly long, each and every one of them has something to offer. Moving on, the noticeable female vocals in the beginning of "Beings of Light" create a mystical atmosphere which explodes into a beautiful guitar passage that goes on for the rest of the song with that very vocal layer on the top, giving that airy and exquisite feel that basically runs through the whole album.
The performances from Neige and Winterhalter are exceptional to say the least. The musical aspect of this record is nothing less than genius. Even though that characterization seems to be a bit exaggerating; I believe that it takes real talent to write such musical pieces. The vocals of the entire album are angelic and ethereal and the drums that Winterhalter has graced us with in this release couldn’t have been more fitting. Everything is well-executed and the ideas are impressive. Also, I can’t end this review without sharing some words about this amazing cover art by the one and only Fursy Teyssier of fellow French Les Discrets which is the perfect fit for Les voyages de l'âme.
To make a long story short, with this thrilling release, Alcest manage to remain at the top of their game. Les voyages de l'âme offers harmonies, dissonance, and everything in between. The whole album is a soundscape, a musical companion that will present itself through your most disconsolate times to give you the warmth you were longing for. It is a grandiose album that many will not be able to appreciate because it is really something that one should let himself/herself into.
Alcest have come quite a way as far as creativity goes, even with only two albums. With this release, they haven't taken any more steps forward, but they haven't exactly regressed either. They played it safe, while at the same time having it's own identity, however similar it is to the two previous works. I would be expected to be let down completely by a band releasing a safe album, but in its own right, it's still generally impressive, given that it has its own set of breathtaking and beautiful moments.
However its identity is crafted by the fact that other than the first track (and arguably the best) "Autre temps", this album doesn't seem to find its own niche atmosphere. It can be taken as just simple feel good music, which I certainly don't have a problem with, but only in this regard would I be let down by Alcest. Usually all of their releases show some sort of ethereal beauty with its own separate theme, deliberately or not, but this one doesn't. It seems convincing however, it sounds like they've tried to craft some sort of transcendental experience like in previous attempts, and I can't fault them for at least trying.
As far as instruments go though, Winterhalter shows no signs of stopping as far as how showy, smooth and intense his drumming can be, with more smoothly transitioning beats to fills than before providing a nice backbone once again. His playing still sounds energetic, especially during the faster sections like the middle of "La ou naissent les couleurs nouvelles" and "Beings of Light". But no matter the tempo, each beat is carefully placed and well arranged, not seeming unfitting anywhere on this album. Guitars provide the same major chord backing as per usual in Alcest, with separate melodies floating above them. Keyboards are employed much more in this album, though not having their own identity, it's basically what the bass is, just guitar support. It's not disappointing though, because the riffs are enough to not lose my attention throughout the songs, and while not as creative as in past efforts, they carry the songs along just fine.
The vocals are what you'd expect from Alcest, high-pitched cleans and reverbed echoing screams, though the latter style isn't employed nearly as much as they were in the previous effort Ecailles de Lune. They still show up a couple of times throughout the album, but they aren't exactly memorable moments. Lyrics, when properly translated, are very well written and poetic, and perhaps give a hint of atmosphere within themselves.
Speaking of memorable moments, that's what this album lacks the most other than atmosphere. The beginning of "Autre temps" and some moments through the title track are some of the only moments throughout the album that truly stuck with me, and while are the songs are carefully crafted and they aren't interchangeable, and while the flow of songs throughout the album is nearly impeccable and smoothly transitioning, I really wish there was more to get out of this, and more amazing moments to identify this album with.
Nonetheless after only two major complaints, I can't say I left completely disappointed. It's still a solid effort from Alcest, but it's only an occasional listen for me. This album is really for people who just want a soundtrack to a good day or just want to listen to something to brighten their mood. If they aren't looking for a specific theme in music, or they aren't looking to travel to another place via the music, this album should suit them just fine. At least Neige would make a better effort soon after this.
On "Les Voyages de l'Ame", Neige continues his quest to rediscover a lost world of perfect beauty, memory and innocence. Of course, he and the rest of us here know that such a world exists mainly in our minds but as long as it's there, plus the very fact that we can imagine such places, gives humans hope that the real world in which we live can be transformed into something much better and more positive. And why not use black metal and indie pop, in the past the musics of choice to express negative emotions, to paint pictures of hope, serenity and impossible beauty and convey them to audiences? As Neige demonstrates here, the black metal can add a sharp fresh zest and meaty substance which enhance the optimistic and hopeful mood conveyed in the melodies and jangly guitar tones.
The early songs begin energetically with dreamy, jewel-like guitar raindrop tones, smooth vocals with occasional black metal rasping, good drumming and some noisy effects mixed into a general melodic structure and a sharp, raw (but not too much so) black metal guitar texture. The pace is constant but not varied: usually in my book, this is a sign of trouble in an album where emotional expression might be important. Into the title track and I start to sniff something not quite right here: the songs lack distinctiveness and tend to sound much the same to the point where parts of them could be cut, swapped around and pasted into other songs, and regular listeners not notice much difference. The singing is rarely impassioned: Neige has a narrow vocal range and there might be at most two emotions expressed throughout. There is not even any attempt to add effects to the singing and so it sounds the same on just about every track that features vocals. As a result, listeners must rely on the music, pace and ambience of the songs to express a range of emotions; disappointingly, only a few tracks (mostly the more overtly black metal ones, like "Faiseurs de Mondes") do so.
This could be a very uplifting and joyous album but after hearing it all the way through, I still have the feeling that while Neige has found what he's after, he's portraying it in a way that appears stereotyped and bland. There is too much reliance on structure, as if Neige is afraid to let the music go and wander where it will. This to me is strange because you would think, when you find freedom and beauty, wouldn't you let the music run freely? Yet even with the aggressive black metal passages and lovely lead guitar teardrop tones, the spirit of the music still seems to be in chains. The album has a very commercial feel in parts, especially in the last track "Summer's Glory" which has a triumphal feel in parts that people might have heard many times before on other folks' albums (!) and which also feels enervated and washed out. It's not a good look.
Best tracks are "Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles" for tipping over in a more black metal direction and featuring a swathe or two of digital noise scrape and "Faiseurs de Monde", also a more BM-oriented song in parts. At the other extreme, listeners can skip over the repetitive instrumental track "Havens" which adds very little to the album that isn't already there.
“We humans tend to allow the past to destroy our lives. I implore you not to let this happen. It is time to look forward, to rediscover love, and embrace the beauty of life.”
This is a quote that comes to my mind when trying to describe the essence of Les Voyages de l'Âme (literal translation: "The Voyages of the Soul"). Alcest has released a brew of controversy by hypercritical metal elitists everywhere by releasing music like this. Black metal has always earned its controversial reception by being dark and sinister (as well as Satanic, but that's irrelevant). Alcest, however, roves about the black metal scene in controversy by doing the very opposite: evoking hope and tranquility, adjectives I'd never thought I'd hear fittingly for any band or project falling under the black metal genre.
So, if I haven't said it yet, I'll say it now: Alcest is an enchanting manifestation of hope and beauty. Every song on Les Voyages de l'Âme is laced with calming melodies, constructed by simple yet powerful riffing and Neige's ethereal voice. What sets this back from doom bands and the ilk is the uplifting atmosphere of the melodies. Other atmospheric bands search for a dark, somber, and haunting feel to impress upon its listeners, but Les Voyages de l'Âme does things far differently. While some songs have a touch of melancholy, they, more often than not, possess a hopeful aura about them. Uniquely to any metal band, I can listen to these songs and forget about the pains and sufferings of my past. I listen to this, and it touches my soul with a will to..."embrace the beauty of life."
What, then, holds this album back? Once the veil of beauty is pierced, the listener is left with little to enjoy. The entire music is constructed around the ethereal soundscapes of Alcest's music, harkening the listener to Neige's "Fairy Land." While this may be enough for some people, it ultimately feels unfinished... as if something is missing. I believe there are three key aspects to music: heart, soul, and thought. Les Voyages de l'Âme contains plenty "heart" and "soul," but something about it seems to neglect on "thought." It is for this reason I believe that Alcest is the perfect example of mood music. Those ethereal soundscapes are certain to whisk away any listener who lets it. And, in the right mood, you too may understand the Fairy Land...
Furthermore, while all the songs are indeed different, there's little deviation to the formula. The music is so beautiful it certainly leaves specific melodies stuck in my head. The problem is that, until I began to really memorize the songs, I was left wondering where those specific melodies came from - because, to be honest, they could've been inserted in any song and it would've worked. To put it simply, the entire album is doing the same thing. Sure, "Faiseurs de Mondes" is a little more abrasive, with the first half or so using black metal screams. Yes, "Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles" is more "riffy" - the guitar licks really stick, but don't detract from Alcest's beauty. Even so, it all still feels a little too "similar." It doesn't help that "Beings of Light" and "Havens" seem like filler; "Beings of Light" meanders for 6 minutes on same-ish songwriting, double bass, and constant unintelligible chanting, while "Havens" is a fairly generic interlude. They work for what they are, and aren't bad by any means, but they just can't hold up to the rest of the album.
Still, all of that said, I cannot deny one thing: the music Neige portrays here may be a complete coalescing of beauty and serenity in its absolute form. It will not sate a thirst for progressive riffing and complexity, and it will not satisfy a craving for brutality in a portrayal of death and destruction. No, this music is definitely not technical, and it's certainly not brutal... but damn, is it beautiful.
Yes, the new Alcest is here, and at the rate of pissing off just about everyone (for the album either being scored too high or too low), I have placed Les Voyages De L'Ame directly in the better-than-average-but-still-not-memorable category. Since the band's inception, Alcest has strangely become one of the most polarizing bands in metal today. By now, most people probably have very strong opinions about the band -- opinions that are probably more necessary to address at this point rather than reiterate past words that writers have used to describe just what Alcest is all about.
First order of business: all you overprotective parents of black metal, could you kindly stop whining about this band? Never in my life would I have ever imagined such a large group of crybabies to come from a subculture as controversial as black metal. On the contrary, perhaps I just don't have very good hindsight. Traditional black metal fans, with their internal disdain for society aside, are nowhere near as problematic or dangerous to society as many of them appear or wish to be. "Shut the fuck up already and talk about the music, you stupid hipster" is something people are probably saying to themselves at this point in the review. That's fine, but you guys are the ones who sound like a bunch of pampered pussies for complaining so damn much, not me.
In short, Les Voyages De L'Ame, or Travels of the Soul for those who can't pronounce French and would like to prevent people from using the word lame in the same sentence as this album, sounds as characteristically "Alcest" as fans could ever hope for. All of the album's eight tracks are as etherial as Neige's past works, and contain production that is absolutely marvelous. Although most of Voyages is on the softer side, the album contains a small share of heavier moments as well, and falls directly between Écailles de Lune and Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde as far as extreme moments are concerned. Unlike the former full-lengths, this year's release lacks both the brevity and individuality needed to stand out among other efforts in Alcest's catalog.
The main problem with Voyages is that the songs mostly sound like they could be filler for Alcest's past works. That description is not meant to be all-inclusive, but merely a general observation that Neige hasn't really attempted to expand the sound of his most prized project this go-around. And perhaps he doesn't need to. After all, the man does have a habit of starting new bands and side-projects all the time. (Insert 5,000 Neige side-projects here.) But that doesn't change the fact that 50 minutes of black metal-infused shoegaze can be pretty fuckin' boring, to put it eloquently.
To me, Alcest has always been about telling a story. Just like a good story does when given the chance, the music will take any listener into Neige's awe-inspiring fantasy world filled with colors, warm feelings, confidence and even a few accents of melancholy. This years tale, although a tad bit redundant, is no less heartfelt than any of the others. All in all, Voyages contains some alluring tunes that are both introspectively soothing and emotionally captivating.
Originally written for MetalReview.com
Welcome to the music of nature, where you can easily forget yourself inside the voids of the soft black metal - shoegaze sounds, where the chord progression falls like a colorful cascade of charming and atmospheric melodies around your ears. It doesn't matter how we classify the music of Alcest, because the materials spread to cover a wide range of musical taste, from the slow drifting single-note melodies until the black metal riffs that coat the blast-beats. Neige has come back with a fifty-minutes album to continue his captivating career with Alcest, eight tracks of true relaxation and memorable melodies, eight tracks of seductive clean vocals and crispy black metal vocals from time to time, Les Voyages de l'Ame (The Journeys Of The Soul) is the third full-length album, and it represents the same prosperous factors of the great previous albums, I've always been a fan for this French band and I can say clearly that this album is satisfying.
The album starts with the track "Autre Temps" (Another Time),this track can slowly rape the attention of the listeners because this song is a great experience to live, the progressive acoustic guitar progression is splitting the imagination into a thousand fields, the clean vocals of Neige surrounds the guitar sounds like a big black cloud covering the winter sky. The second track "Là Où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles" (Where New Colors Are Born) shows more aggressive distorted guitar works and grim crispy black metal vocals, the riffs here are memorable enough for you to remember them in the last day of your life, more than eight minutes of a daydream experience exists here in this track.
The arrangement and the compositions on the tracks are way better than the previous albums, the tone of the distorted guitars are heavier and clear enough to draw you an unmistakable visions of grimness and professionalism while listening to the songs, and we can easily notice that in the third track "Les Voyages de l'Ame" (The Journeys Of The Soul). The tremolo picking in this band was always my best element in the previous albums and here is the tremolo picking is chasing another direction but with the same touches and with the same effects. The track "Nous Sommes L'Emeraude" (We are the Emerald) has more misty riffing work and more fuzzy guitar sounds, and it also represents a great drums work.
The ethereal intro of the track "Beings Of Light" masquerades as a slow relaxing song, but the blast-beats and the catchy black metal riffs haunt the ambiance of the song, between these walls of distorted guitars I expected some crispy screams and vocals, but no one single black metal has been born here, only spiritual voices surround the whole heaviness. The sixth track "Faiseurs De Mondes" (World makers) contained grim black metal vocals and even clean vocals, the guitars work and the drums-line followed the same path of the previous tracks, a break in the middle of the song has been composed as well to create a very wonderful world within the outer world, the drummer Winterhalter did a great job here.
Havens is a short Instrumental track followed by the last track "Summer's Glory", this track is simply one of the best tracks in this record, this song is majestic journey into your own imaginary world, a world full of memories and unforgettable moments, the vocals are floating above the surface of the total sound as the drums-line builds a mystic base under the total sound, the guitar tone is grim enough to jail you inside this world for more than eight minutes.
The influences of this album is really countless, the formula of the total sound is a total enigma, Neige creates his own imaginary world and translated successfully into eight tracks of shoegaze-black metal melodies, If you are searching for creativity and fresh extreme metal experience then you have to own this record in your library.
Recommended tracks : Autre Temps, Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles, Les Voyages de l'Ame, Summer's Glory.
Level Of Originality : 9/10
Level Of Ferocity: 7/10
Originally Written For:
The start of 2012 brings us back to the snowy “Fairy Land” of French musician Neige. This was my first exposure to Alcest, so coming in with expectations derived from Neige’s black metal pedigree (session musician for Peste Noire), I was startled by the gentle approach. Perhaps “gentle” isn’t quite the right word. The music is enchanting and powerful, but leave any expectations of harsh aesthetics in the dark, because Les Voyages De L'Âme is a light-dwelling beast.
The album begins with a cascade of shimmering melodies that pull the listener in with their elegance, conjuring images of a spirited trek through snow blanketed forests. The instruments each move with their own character and the unassertive vocals meld with the smooth texture of the production. While this may have something to do with the fact that I don’t understand French very well, I have a feeling that it only makes a slight difference. With or without the linguistic barrier, Neige’s melodies are very expressive of his message.
“Beings of Light” marks something of a turning point in the middle of the album. The songs take on a bit more aggressiveness. Screaming vocals dominate “Faiseurs de Mondes.” The production even takes a bit of a harder edge with increased compression and some (presumably intentional) comb-filtering characterizing the percussive march in places. This effect killed Krallice’s 2011 offering, Diotima, for me, but here it is used sparingly and, thus, preserves the listening experience with no harm done.
As a whole, Les Voyages is a welcome step into brighter territory for serious metal music. When not everything has to be bleak and filled with despair, it is great to know that musicians like Neige are producing emotional, imaginative, and, above all, worthy metal.
Alcest is a band from France whom have gained mass attention in the Metal scene by mixing the melodies, atmosphere and heart of shoe gaze and post-rock with the distorted riffs, heavy emotion and vocals of black metal. The band has since become renowned for this sound and for being the band which kicked off the style now known as the post-black metal or blackgaze genre. The group is masterminded by French black metal veteran Neige, who rose to prominence as a session musician amongst some of the more established black metal acts such as Peste Noir and Mortifera. In 2004 he came together with Alcest, his solo project, and after a very raw black metal demo, totally switched gears and dropped the LP Souvenirs D’un Autre monde (Memories of another World) in 2007, showcasing the then completely unique blackgaze style I described above. When asked about the change of style and what influences Alcest’s music he said it came from a reoccurring dream he had as a child about a beautiful world outside of our own, one that showcased forms, colours and sounds not even conceivable within our reality and I got to say I can see how such an influence led to such beautiful music.
Fast forward past the amazing sophomore, Écailles de Lune (Moon Scales) and we have the first notable Metal release of 2012: Les Voyages De L’Âme (Voyage of the Soul). With this record I got a bit of a surprise as when Ecailles came out, it was a lot grittier and black metal leaning then I was expecting, as the debut was chalk full of acoustic guitars and rarely any harsh vocals, and I only expected things to get cleaner. With the 2012 output, we see somewhat of a modest amount of the two styles; definitely holding onto, albeit reducing, the amount of harsh vocals and melancholic, black metal riffs found on Ecailles but also containing a lot more of the floating and soothing vocals from the debut, creating a middle ground of the two, leading to an album that has pleased fans of both sides equally.
Les Voyages is filled with clean, echo laden guitar leads tastefully intertwined with the distorted, trebley and sometimes aggressive guitar riffs, combining to create a melodic composition that complements to multiple emotions without being dissonant to the dream like mood of the concept. These are then endorsed by vocals of both the dreamy, clean variety and the tortured shrieks found in black metal today, all glued together with a mellow rhythm section that also isn’t intrusive while still being able to keep up with the emotions of the riffs even at their harshest.
All in all this is another great release from Alcest, and definitely keeps them on the path of consistency that every artist strives for, but to be honest there were parts of this record that leave me wanting a little more. Hopefully Neige will throw in some curve balls on the next release, as cutting and pasting himself with this project could be detrimental to atmosphere he is trying to portray, but none the less a great record.
I guess it’s no big surprise when I say, that Les Voyages De L’Âme is a stylistic successor of Ecailles de Lune - especially if you take a close look on the cover. There are some differences though, at least formal ones, as Les Voyages De L’Âme offers eight songs (instead of six) with a total playing time of 50:24 minutes. Speculations, that this record will be boring etc. – with the new records of Lantlôs or Old Silver Key in mind – are soon refuted as Neige shows that he still knows how to compose.
You can stop reading here if you know anything from Alcest, as not really much has changed on Les Voyages De L’Âme and so the typical sound is still provided. Long-drawn layers of guitar sounds are combined with clear or harsh, nagged vocals and underlined with the brilliant drum patterns of Winterhalter. The orchestration seems to be monolithic, which is quite normal for Alcest and therefore are enhancing the created atmosphere, which is somewhat between dreamy, melancholic, esoteric and/or majestic. The lead melodies are hearable the whole time, but there are only some passages in which they are shaping the whole sound as they become louder. Another big element of their music stayed the same and so the songs are mostly defined through the high pitched, clean voice of Neige which is creating this dream-like atmosphere.
The songs are mostly held in mid-tempo but there are some black-metal passages as well. Those passages are either defined through the orchestration or the vocals, whereby the most parts are defined through orchestration. When the black metal influences are implented through the orchestration, the guitars are playing fast tremolo-picked lead melodies while the drums are offering double bass and blast beat patterns while the vocals are still slow and high-pitched with this dreamy, majestic atmosphere. A good example would be Being Of Light, as the song itself is quite fast but through the high-pitched, monotonal vocals there is still a dreamlike atmosphere. The other way round would be a mixture of post-rock/black metal patterns with Neige’s brilliant harsh vocals which still creates a dreamlike atmosphere but with something unsettling in it.
Les Voyages De L’Âme still is no perfectly done record though and so there are some minor flaws. One of the diseases of the genre is the repition of several elements throughout a record and even Alcest is suffering from it. It’s no really bad case, as there is enough variation left with the different mixtures of calmer or more aggressive passages/elements, but there still is this feeling that the songs are a bit akin. Besides this fact, there isn’t much to complain about as Alcest are really skilled and so the songs are well played and composed. There is no real highlight song on this record, but that’s balanced with the fact that the overall quality is really high and no song – even if it exceeds the eight minute mark – is getting boring.
You can blame Neige with a lot of things, but he is still doing everything right when it comes to Alcest. Les Voyages De L’Âme is a worthy successor of the previous records they released and it’s surprisingly – as there are no new elements or influences here – long-living and won’t get boring soon. If you like the atmospheric style of their songs you will find enough material to dream about here and if you loved their previous records you should like this one, too. When Alcest never produced something you loved you shouldn’t risk an ear as nothing has changed so far. Everyone who is still unsure if he or she should buy the record can risk an ear on the youtube channel of Prophecy
Written for http://threnodies.com
One of the more controversial acts in the metal underground, Alcest has spun its fine thread of atmospheric wonder to an astounding degree of success and quality already in the band's short existence--paving the way for dozens of other 'blackgaze' projects in the process. Neige produced three bright-eyed, heterogeneous elixirs of black metal, shoegaze, and post-rock from 2005 to 2010, even the least successful of which (probably Le Secret) I would consider no less than great. And the most successful? A beautiful masterpiece from start to finish (or, namely, Souvinirs D'un Autre Monde). For a while I could have sworn I'd never grow tired of the sound created in these works. However, Les Voyages de L'âme has sadly proven that a sound, no matter how great, can only take you so far. Yes, I'd say Neige finally dropped the ball.
Okay, so Alcest's latest isn't a total failure, or even 'bad' for that matter, but for an album titled something as introspective as The Voyage of the Soul, the music beneath its slick cover is surprisingly devoid of spirit or personality. Keeping with the tradition of utilizing fewer metallic elements with each subsequent release, Voyages is the cleanest, most streamlined Alcest album yet, with a production cleaner than a brand new whistle...Too clean, in fact, destroying the natural vibe of the personal dreamland Neige undoubtedly tried to evoke. There's just this overall sense of artifice that fails to hide itself in the midst of its surroundings; imagine catching someone who is attempting to pickpocket you while he or she is in the middle of the act and confronting the awkwardness to follow. That's the feeling I had listening to this. It's as if the emotions were openly robbed and halfheartedly replaced with a tedious stream lacking the harrowing the lows or the optimistic highs I've come to expect from Alcest.
Even though it stands as the longest release to date from this project at fifty minutes, Les Voyages de L'âme feels the least thought out and the most rushed of them all. Songs are either too structured (like the transparent "Nous Sommes l'Emeraude") or appear to have no point at all, voyaging everywhere while truly going nowhere. Just see the interminable "Là où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles," a song that feels as long as its title; throughout its nine minute journey it fails to achieve any sense of euphoric melody or plant itself in the memory for more than the time it takes to listen to it. "Summer's Glory" is a little more successful, but it still hangs too much on its 90s alternative rock influences, coming off as a Smashing Pumpkins track with Alcestian elements rather than the other way around. To my ears, only the title track even gets close to the same league as something off Souvinirs or its followup, briefly creating the essence of beauty I expected upon entry. The rest are comprised of a half-baked mess of ideas.
One might see my relatively fair score and wonder why I've lingered so much on the negative here, and I must admit that I might have been a tad harsh in this review. After all, this is a serviceable slab of post-metal that can entertain every once in a while if used under the right circumstances. However, based purely off my high expectations and the evidence that Neige can do much better readily available to us, Les Voyages de L'âme simply isn't the caliber of release I was hoping for. I hate to be that guy, but a band's music should progress. I know, I know, change is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" action, but even a vial of nectar can go flat if opened and poured out time and time again. In the end, Voyages isn't the most crushing musical disappointment I've ever experienced, and I do hope that it was just a simple misstep, but it does provide an inauspicious start to a year that promises the apocalypse at it's end. Perhaps this is only the beginning.
For a genre of music which is infamous for often basing its content on male bravado, gore, misanthropy and depression, it takes some serious balls to be a metal band that looks to fairy tales and uplifting emotion in their music. Alcest may have once been a typical black metal band a decade or so ago, but this project has since dissolved their ties to a dark sound, now gravitating towards an atmospheric mix of post metal and shoegaze. Led by frontman Neige, Alcest's sound culminated in 2010 with the masterpiece 'Ecailles De Lune', an album which ranked as my unlikely favourite of that year. Although I rushed to the opportunity of hearing a sample from this follow-up to 'Ecailles' about a month ago, the song 'Autre Temps' had me worried that Alcest had now fallen into a strict formula for their music, and that I could not hope to be surprised by the band any longer. Although 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a worthy follow-up to my favourite album of 2010, my fears are sadly confirmed; Alcest's third record feels like a reprise of ideas and sounds from their past. While 'Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde' and 'Ecailles De Lune' took their listeners to two separate- albeit similar- realms of fantasy, 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a nostalgic return to the second.
People will cry the familiar 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' rationelle, but I think 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' might have felt more otherworldly and atmospheric if it didn't sound so damned familiar from the first listen onward. Alcest's music is full of vast reverb, emotionally stirring guitars, and the presence of seemingly out-of-place drum blastbeats; an homage to the time when Alcest was a straight-up black metal act. Neige's voice is the most distinctive sound of the band, a soft clean vocal that often wanders about the higher register rather loosely. There are also black metal shrieks, but there are even less of those this time around than on 'Ecailles'. With a conventionally beautiful sound that is instantly pleasant to the ear, Alcest will attract listeners who don't usually like metal. The black metal elements are scarce, but they are there, and it makes them a perfect potential gateway to heavier, darker sounds. Although Alcest have spawned a legion of clones, their sound remains individual and unique. Even at the most intense moments of 'Les Voyages De L'Âme', things never feel dark; there is always a soaring melody to keep the listener planted firmly in the light.
'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a move for Alcest that reminds me much of what Wolves In The Throne Room did with their last album 'Celestial Lineage'. Instead of experimenting with something new, they chose to further develop the ideas of their best work and see where it went. For Wolves In The Throne Room, that album of inspiration was 'Two Hunters'. In Alcest's case, 'Ecailles De Lune' is the most obvious palette from which Neige draws his brush. 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a sequel in every sense of the word; a slightly different angle of what is essentially the same thing. In terms of differences, 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is more optimistic than the often melancholic 'Ecailles'. The listener is meant to feel light and hopeful the entire time through. Although this album achieves that feeling in me, there is nothing else in the music to contrast it; no conflict, no tension. As a result, 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' does not have that same lasting emotional impact that 'Ecailles De Lune' was graced with, despite being nearly as successful in terms of its musicianship and composition.
'Les Voyages De L'Âme' will always be compared to its predecessor, and in the end, I think it will be 'Ecailles' that enjoys the status of a 'classic'. This album has all of the traits that have made Alcest great in the past, and 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is good, but there isn't much here to set the album apart as an independent work. My insistent complaints aside, this is a great way to star the year.