Words About Music
French musician Neige (real name Stéphane Paut) has been at the forefront of the black metal/post-rock/shoegaze movement in France. He was the frontman of the now defunct post-punk/black metal act Amesoeurs and is also the main contributor to Alcest. He’s also involved himself in acts such as Les Discrets and Peste Noire, and he even had a spoken word guest contribution on Deafheaven’s opus “Sunbather.” Needless to say, at 28 years old Neige is an extremely busy and prolific human being. If you ask me, Alcest is his most consistent act as they grow and change with the growing and changing of the movement he’s a part of. Like it or not, “Sunbather” changed the game for experimental black metal and really thrust acts like Alcest into the limelight. Instead of sticking with their early black metal sound, though, Neige opts to go full shoegazing post-rock on Alcest’s fourth album “Shelter.”
First things first, “Shelter” is one of the most beautiful post-rock records I’ve heard in a while. Deafheaven is a great band, but in terms of climactic and atmospheric beauty, they don’t really compare to this and not many bands do. It doesn’t build on itself in the stereotypical crescendo-core way I mentioned in my review of Mogwai’s newest record, but it does build up rather inconspicuously with more sound and instruments being added with each measure. “Shelter” is a high-volume adventure that is more exciting than it is relaxing, which truly sets it apart from a lot of the Sigur Rós and Explosions in the Sky type music. While a lot of post-rock groups opt for a more ambient sound, Alcest cling a bit to their metal roots and make it an epic journey through time and space and light.
Another notable aspect of “Shelter” is the influence it seems to take from 80s dream pop and darkwave type music. I definitely see influence from The Cure, Mazzy Star, and Tears for Fears a bit, mostly in the vocal stylings of Neige and the reverb effect used throughout. This album is uplifting despite its seemingly dark aspects which is totally reflected by the fact that it was recorded in Iceland, the home of beautiful darkness. Without a doubt “Shelter” gets across the message Neige has been trying to send since the beginning of Alcest’s career, and that’s one of strange beauty without the sinister quality a lot of people thought was intended with their early work.
All of the awesomeness culminates in the 10-minute closing track “Délivrance,” the song that really sold me on the consistency and atmospheric delight of this record. “Shelter” is, without any doubt, Alcest’s best and most bombastic release. With the first post-“Sunbather” shoegazing post-metal album out for the public to digest, it’s clear that Alcest are pretty much past the black metal phase of their career. The band is better than they’ve ever been before without really indulging in a lot of the tropes involved in many of the genres they dabble in. The music is huge and triumphant with a glossy sheen of sunlight to rival “Sunbather” and many albums like it. It’s not perfect as I do wish some of the songs were longer and did a little more, but it’s certainly not a dud record. Watch out Deafheaven and Liturgy and Wolves in the Throne Room and other American black metal groups, France is on the come up.
SCORE – 8.3
FAVORITE TRACKS – Opale, La Nuit Marche avec Moi, Voix Sereines, L’Éveil des Muses, Away, Délivrance
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