If you take ethereal shoegazing music such as that of the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine and combine that with the aural magnitude of black metal and extreme metal such as Dimmu Borgir and Emperor, you will get the band Alcest from Bagnols-sur-Cèze, France.
Originally starting out as a black metal outfit of the raw and aggressive variety, Alcest mastermind Neige took the band in a new direction that was atmospheric and uplifting. The clean sound became a key feature to Alcest’s sound, alongside the distorted guitars and drums, together coalescing into a form of heavy ambience. Although Alcest’s songs and instrumentals are geared towards a lighter, contemplative mood commonly found in the shoegaze and post-rock genres, one can deduce that their black metal roots still show, as screeches and blast beats are incorporated in segments of their music.
Alcest released their third album, Les Voyages de l’Âme, on Jan. 6 of this year. This album is certainly a continuation of the sound that made them distinctive, however the songs and instrumentation seem to be the most structured and the most confident that Alcest have ever sounded.
In Les Voyages de l’Âme however, every song projects the feeling of a complete entity, and better songs were being written and performed after they have established their sound in the past two albums. It is as if Alcest knew that they had nothing more to prove in terms of what their sound is about, and began engaging in more elaborate songs using their musical textures. The songs flow very nicely and although the tempos usually don’t vary (the drum beats, however, can vary in speed in a surprisingly organic fashion) the listener is drawn to the experience and is never bored.
An interesting aspect of this album in contrast to their earlier work is that some of the influences from their black metal past shine through more as well. Songs like “Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles” and “Faiseurs de Mondes” incorporate harsh screams instead of the clean, hazy vocals normally used by Neige. The instrumental “Beings of Light” uses fast blast beats and fast guitars one could find in a typical black metal song and yet is done in a way that contemplates the harmonious melody prevalent in the song. It is commendable that Alcest’s use of repetition serves to their advantage instead of disinteresting the listener.
There are no shortages of ambience, clean melodies, atmosphere, or heavy rock in this recording. It is impossible to point out any flaws as artistically everything on this album is meticulously constructed and it is senseless to desire changes to the final product. A fan of shoegaze and atmospheric music would relish in this band and a fan of hard rock or metal could certainly appreciate the rhythms, melodies, and instrumentation. Les Voyages de l’Âme is recommended for any lover of clean shoegaze, or experimental post-rock, any lover of rock and metal, or anyone curious of the heavier, ethereal side of the French music underground.