Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Introspective Sound: Alcest

Ecailles de Lune (Part I)

We have our classic black metal bands.  These are the Celtic Frost's and Hellhammer's and Bathory's of the world.  Then we have our next wave of black metal, which has a slightly wider variance in sound.  These would be our Immortal's and Satyricon's and Emperor's (and the newest, Triptykon, which was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2010), so on and so on.  

Then there's… Alcest.  

Let me start by saying the production value is ace.  And this is what we would expect from Markus Stock (the brain behind Empyrium, The Vision Bleak, and Autumnblaze).  

With Écailles de Lune, this band has taken black metal in its own direction, and the results have been nothing short of fantastic.  It would probably be unfair to call them a black metal band, just because black metal is only one of many incorporations they throw into their sound.  It's extremely shoegazish.  You'll find few blastbeats, and absolutely no pounding "D" chords played over and over (retreat!, Whitechapel fans, retreat!).  Rather, most of the album is gentle and mellow, and creates an ethereal sense of beauty in an extremely emotional way.  This is where the post-rock influence finds its way in.  Black metal is a genre that, to a large extent, seems to quickly be becoming stale… still producing great music, just not much in the way of innovation.  Clean vocals of this sort are uncharted grounds for this genre. The vocals on the opening track engulf the song with a wave of sentimentality and serenity.  And they compliment the guitars beautifully, creating truly stirring music with a painstakingly transparent emotional core.   

There are few metal records that evoke so much emotion in the listener (or at least that's the case with me), hence why I usually turn to post-rock for feeling, whether it be depression, inspiration, tranquility, or whatever else.  But this record absolutely does.  This music brings me to a state of introversion.  I've never heard music so beautiful and dreamlike, yet so longing with lingering undertones of lonesomeness and pain.  The lingering follows the album throughout, appearing and reappearing, right to the very end with Sur L'Ocean Couleur de Fer, which is one of the most dreamlike songs I've ever heard.  This is the song I would expect to hear when voyaging to a different realm.  I can almost see the valor behind the clouds…

The slow gentle echoing guitars and the harmonious vocal pattern draw a beautiful romantic ambiance; it's the perfect album closer.  But it still has that strange sense of depression and anguish, like it's trying to seek out the beauty, but just can't get past the heartache… a theme I thought lasted throughout. 

The blackest part of the album was Écailles de Lune (Part II) and Percées de Lumiére, where we heard a lot of that 90's shoegaze meet Agalloch-type intensity and black metal vocals. Percées de Lumiére, especially, ads a lot of diversity to this record.  Neige displays his fantastic shrill screams, which are extremely impressive because I've never actually been convinced he's a black metal vocalist, so I'm not quite sure how he pulls it off.  The drums aren't too technical, but they're interesting, and they mesh well with the bass. There are some great uptempo rifts.  This song invoked a nice feeling of nostalgia, in a way that's not quite so "down" in mood, but still incredibly heartfelt.  

Abysses is definitely the weakest track on the record, but it serves as a nice interlude between the first three tracks and Solar Song and Sur L'Ocean de Fer.  

Sur L'Ocean Couleur de Fer

There have been a lot of comparisons made between Alcest and Agalloch, maybe because they're both on Profound Lore, or maybe because most see them as similar artists, but whatever the reason(s), these are two of the greatest current artists producing music.  Écailles de Lune got #2 on my top albums of 2010 list behind Agalloch's.  Both are blackened post-metal.  Both can be folksy.  Alcest delves more into the shoegaze area than Agalloch.  Agalloch delves more into doom.  But they are similar, and I think comparing them is justifiable.  While I feel Agalloch creates better song structure, greater depth, and slightly more instrumental efficiency, Alcest creates in an area where Agalloch lacks (slightly): atmosphere and emotion.  I definitely get emotional responses from Agalloch's music, but not quite in the sense, or to the extent, I do from Alcest's.  And I think that rolls back around to atmospherics.

Écailles de Lune: 9.4/10 

A special thanks to the Metal Archives and the Mayhem Boards. 

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