31 January 2014

Alcest - Shelter

Black Metal and Indie Shoegazing is like two brother's from different mother's - they are effectively the same thing but with one has a firmer grip on the effects peddle.  But what happens when a band strays slightly from their existing sound onto the lighter side of this musical spectrum?  Before I look into the album, a brief history lesson - Alcest were formed in 2000, coming from Bagnols-sur-Cèze in France.  Starting out as a solo project for Neige, they quickly developed into a trio and have since dropped back down to a duo of Neige and Winterhalter (with people helping the band play live).  For the first three albums they have been building up a reputation for stunning and beautiful metal.  However, they have also been misinterpretations along the way; some people have found their music to be sinister and have also confusion about Neige's vocals which on one EP were thought to have been delivered by a lady (you can tell the difference if the truth be told, he just has a high vocal range).  This could explain a few things about this album......

To start off, it is the first cover which is not placed on a black image; it is a sillouete on a sunny day places on a white background and this is very much unlike the rest of the Alcest back catelogue.  This is a sign of a change, but not as big as some of the black metal purists will fear.  But it is a change none the less has came in a fashion to the band's overall sound on this one.  Because from the outset, the band are looking more at the shoegazing side and less on the black metal.  Starting with the brief interlude of "Wings" which gives way to the first track proper "Opale" which bring to mind a mixture of Pink Floyd era 'Momentry Lapse Of Reason' mixing it with Mogwai.  It is a slight surprise, but not exactly to most dramtic shift I have heard in my life.  The mixture of Neige's vocals with the haunting guitar is a more euphoric than on previous releases and this is the first of many good signs for Alcest here.  "La Nuit Marche avec Moi" (translated to "The Night Walks with Me") is part modern day Opeth mixed in with Slowdive and to be honest is a great piece of music and is a brilliant yet brave step for the band, for they push themselves to a new shore that will be too different for some of the faithful.

"Voix Sereines" (translated to "Serene Voices") keeps up the pace of change to a point.  Starting of with a hypnotic gentle strum that is added to piece by piece you have most subtle of hints to the past which becomes a a breaking of a damm so to speak as the distortion peddle has been found again to help bring to track home.  An effective use of the light and dark aspects of their work, but the shoegazing is more firmly in control over all of this work.  I will not lie and say it is not nice to hear the distortion on the album, but it does remind you of the band's roots.  "L'Éveil des Muses" (translated to "The Awakening Of The Muses") has an almost Placebo effect going through it, but without the nasile shrill of Mr Molko and Co.  It is a driven piece that is unshifting in purpose and a delight to the ears. The title track is up next and it is another step in the past and the future for the band; with a classic sound guitar tone over a pounding drum, a piano playing a haunting melody and Neige's voice is a brilliant mixture of their new future and their early sound.

"Away" follows on with a stirring string section to their work and a simple acoustic guitar.  It is the first track on the album which does not live up to expectation to be honest, whilst you cannot knock the playing on the track it does not hold up to the rest of the album.  "Délivrance" (translate to "Deliverance") ends the album proper with an almost military war sound to the song, it feels like it has been made with that type of percision that would not be out of place in a campaign to start the mournful ballad of a warrior to his tomb.  Being the longest track, it has the most time to expand and reveal its different facets and shades; it also includes the return of the fuss peddle to the album and that most important of dimensions to the shoegazing experience, the build towards a towering moment and ending.  As the original ending point of the album, it is well placed and also maybe about a minute or two above its natural finishing point.  A bonus track on the deluxe version of the album (and the one on the Spotify link as well) comes in the shape of "Into The Waves" which is a decent enough affair but is not as important as the rest of the album; it is also not really worth purchasing as bonus track but it also doesn't mean that it is band, just best not being included on the main album.

Overall this is a great album, one that will undoubtably change their fan base either for the better or worse; time will see which one of these statements is true.  For me, it is a very good album and worth checking out especially if your a fan of the shoegazing genre.  As for people who like it blacker than black, this may be the point were you lose interest as it is like when Opeth released 'Hertige'.  They have just went for broke with a good deal of success, however it is not the jaw dropping success that I was hoping for.  Not a disappointment, but not glory; this is work in progress.

7 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

Top track -  L'Éveil des Muses

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

Here is a link to their page on the Prophecy webstore where you can purchase there work (link took from their own website) 

You can visit the Alcest website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Or if your a Deezer user, you can use this page

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