It's no secret where Alcest stands on the list of this humble blog and, in particular, this humble writer; mastermind Neige has secured his project a place in the "can do no wrong" arena. But there has been a tectonic shift in both sound and concept, one that has changed the very landscape of Alcest's music. And with the new year upon us, a new album has been readied, moving the band further down the melodic, almost soothing path that came to center stage on "Les Voyages de L'âme," almost exactly to years ago. While the pained screams and black metal homage has not completely vanished, it is now a background player; a shadow to the well lit body of the music itself. This does not speak to the sounds quality, of course, but its appeal has evolved and, in the opinions of some, alienated the core audience Neige has enjoyed over his lengthy and extensive career. It was inevitable, of course, for things to move down the line. But on "Shelter," Alcest reel in their art metal tendencies for a trip through the divine' with some speed bumps along the way.
Rather than the brooding, moody tone of past works, "Opale" starts on the lighter side of the spectrum, a delicately strummed and darting set of riffs cascading alongside a beautifully melodic vocal. What the band gives us in emotion, it regains in accessibility; it would be a crime not to find yourself swaying to the beat. It's light and fluffy in texture, and it's simplicity that keeps it fresh. Forming the bridge between tracks, "Wings" is sullen and airy, a reprise of the previous structure, albeit stripped down to a bare bones minute and a half. It stirs the pot in a barely noticeable way, bringing about a more intricate approach in "La Nuit Marce Avec Moi." Singing in his normal French, Neige has a way of crafting his vocal melodies to supersede language barriers; whether or not you speak French, you feel as though you can understand. What is missing here, though, is a sense of contrast, something that was always achieved on previous works by a short screamed passage, or high speed drum work. You will begin to expect that first sign of aggression, sitting in anticipation as the first clean chords of "Voix Sereines" trickle from your speakers. But this is neither the time nor the place for that, as Neige relies heavily on the structural integrity of his melodies, rather than the short bursts of bleakness.
Even the extended intro to "L'Eveil Des Muses" feels like it is hiding something just below the surface. The drumming becomes more insistent, each tap of cymbal and snare cutting through the mix with a snap of energy. It's as though the mood has completely changed, leaving behind the sugary sweet in favor of the uptempo melancholy. The tempo builds, but with only a bevy of repeated chords and melodies, it fails to get over that final hump, rolling backwards to where it started. And therein lies the logistical problem the album faces, as it simply lacks the burst to get over the top. The title track is beautiful, not to mention fitting of the title, but it only adds to the wheels spinning in the mud, lacking any forward motion or advancement of the albums theme. And then "Away" happens. Rest assured, this is the same man, the same band you're hearing, but in a way that you never expected, and likely never wanted. Gone are the poetic French wordsmiths and the distinctly moody lyrical themes. In their place, a lyric sheet with English words that fail to deliver any sort of emotional investment. It is, sadly, a bland and uninspired effort. In an album of a different arc, "Delivrance" would be a fitting and enjoyable finale; but without a standout moment to look back on, it simply does the best with what it is. It bends and sways in profoundly beautiful stanzas, but it builds only to a simmer, rather than a rolling boil of distortion, snare beats and energy.
It is difficult to separate what you want from an album from what you inevitably get. Perhaps Alcest are now victims of their own skill, their fans growing to expect too much with each effort. Or, more likely, they have outgrown the sounds of "Le Secret" and "Ecailles de Lune," and have moved on to a new, and wholly separate, side of the music world. To say this album is disappointing is unfair, nor does it tell the whole story. There is a lot to like scattered over these eight songs, but far less to love. From a lesser band, this album might even be seen as the next step towards greatness. But for an established band, and a top tier artist in Neige, it won't be able to hold up when compared to the rest of the back catalog. The saving grace, if there is one to hang your hat on, is that these songs, for better or worse, are a live show waiting to happen. Having seen and heard what can be done with these delicate numbers on a small venue stage, it leaves a great deal of hope for the future of Alcest, as a studio and live. "Shelter" might not be the album you wanted, or the album you needed right now; but it is the album you get.
Official Site - http://www.alcest-music.com/
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