Release Date: Jan 21, 2014
Record label: Prophecy
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Heavy Metal, International, Shoegaze
Review Summary: The sound of springtime's first blossom peaking from beneath the snow.I honestly think that there is no other band which has had as much of a game changing impact on the underground metal scene over the last decade quite like Alcest. Despite their beginnings as just another European folk metal band with lo-fi recordings and a traditionalist pride in all things medieval, Alcest's greatest achievements can be found in their least “metal” moments. 2007's Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde made it okay for black metal to be anything but.
Throughout their career Alcest have expertly balanced their sound between black metal and shoegaze, but with the release of their latest album Shelter, they're tipping the scales in favour of the latter. As the title suggests, the album explores the concept of shelter, which for Alcest's mastermind Neige is the serenity he experiences being close to the sea.With the help of Sigur Rós producer Birgir Jón Birgisson, the music expertly mimics that safe and uplifting feeling with cascading melodies and a very airy yet expansive sound throughout. Birgisson also influenced the arrangements heard on Shelter, with keys, horns and strings figuring much more prominently in this material than ever before.
Over the course of its history Alcest has been pegged as a metal band, and as such rarely garnering much attention outside the sphere of the genre. Yet, from the band’s beginnings they’ve been ploughing a different furrow, mixing up black metal leanings (there’s always an argument about just how black Alcest really is; where’s all the Satan?) with elements of shoegaze. Over the years this approach has been adopted by a number of bands, most successfully by Deafheaven, whose album Sunbather was rightfully one of the most successful and critically acclaimed of 2013.
French blackgaze pioneers Alcest (the project of Neige, aka Stéphane Paut) have broken from the old-fangled black metal of earlier releases like their Tristesse Hivernale demo and Le Secret EP. Gone is the push-pull between dreamy exploration and bayed anguish that enlivened 2010's Écailles De Lune and 2012's Les Voyages De l'Âme. Alcest is now a shoegaze band, straight up.
As an artist develops a greater understanding of how they envisage their music progressing, changes to their core creative values raise the possibility of alienating those who have followed from the beginning. History is beleaguered with examples of bands who have, because of misjudged experimentation, altered their sound too severely. The tragic results of which can cause them to scurry back to try salvage what brought them to the table in the first place.
Do you like pretty music? Because Alcest have made a very pretty album. Not that Stéphane Paut, a.k.a. Neige, ever made exclusively heavy music, but stop after those first two sentences and large-enough segments of the French act’s fanbase will have their first complaint about Shelter. Following the brash layers of distortion that lined past avalanches like Écailles de Lune (Moon Scales), Alcest’s fourth album is never metal, it’s not even the systematically named sub-subgenre “blackgaze,” but it sounds more carefully composed than anything Neige has done before.
Like Opeth’s Heritage or Darkthrone’s The Cult is Alive, Alcest’s Shelter is the sound of a band that has undergone a decisive yet inevitable metamorphosis. In all these cases, extreme metal was the chrysalis or catalyst; what emerged wasn’t the same as what came before. Opeth shed death metal for bucolic prog; Darkthrone bent black metal toward d-beat crust.
Even with hindsight being 20/20, it was easy to predict that France's Alcest, would eventually cast off black metal's influence on its sound. While Burzum's Filosofem provided inspiration for 2007's full-length debut, Souvenirs d'un Autre, recordings by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, and Lush did too. Alcest may not have been the first "blackgaze" band, but until Deafheaven broke through with 2013's brilliant Sunbather, they were its most famous proponents.
It's telling that when metal mag Decibel asked Alcest frontman Neige for a playlist, he submitted whole albums by Smashing Pumpkins, Dead Can Dance and Slowdive. While Alcest's brand of black metal has always been off-center thanks to influences ranging from folk to shoegaze, the band's uneven new album, Shelter, is perhaps their least "true metal" to date. The songs are slow and more melodic.
When critics compared the delicate parts of French erstwhile-black-metal band Alcest to English '90s group Slowdive, main man Neige checked out the shoegazer pioneers and fell hard for their hazy sound. He even recruited Slowdive vocalist Neil Halstead to sing on Alcest's fourth album, Shelter. The gauzy guitars, gliding violins, and reflective melodies are well-crafted , but unlike past Alcest albums, the gentle tones aren't balanced by torrents of distorted guitar, growling vocals, or rapid-fire drumming.
Sun Kil Moon, Benji (Stream) Heartbreaking and raw, Benji is Sun Kil Moon’s best album to date, and indisputably cements Mark Kozelek’s reputation as one of the finest storytellers in contemporary indie music. Kozelek focuses each song around a central character or theme—usually friends or family from Ohio who have died or in some way encountered death—and combines tightly woven narratives with his own captivating and idiosyncratic free association to explore the way in which humans process other people’s tragedies through their own experiences. The sparse musical arrangements and haunting production only serve to heighten the album’s intimacy and ultimately render it a masterpiece of reflection and introspection, destined to be played on repeat in scores of late-night, tired, and lonely rooms.
Alcest — Shelter (Prophecy)A gorgeous swirl of diffusive sound, Alcest’s Shelter falls pretty far from frontman Neige’s black metal past, or even black-gaze, the metal-shoegaze hybrid that he did so much to define in the ’00s. Shelter’s weightless textures, its pretty, folk-derived guitar figures and its gleaming edifices of shimmering, amp-altered sound all argue for post-rock (Explosions in the Sky), space rock (Sigur Rós) or even avant experimenters like Ghost. Its sweeping, swooning scope gives it a fog-bound 1990s shoegaze feel, augmented, no doubt, by Neil Halstead’s English language cameo.Metal? Hah.