Kodama review by Alcest

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  • Released: Sep 30, 2016
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 9.3 (17 votes)
Alcest: Kodama

Sound — 8
Alcest are a blackgaze (black metal + shoegaze) band from France. The sole guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter goes by Neige for his nom de guerre. For some years, Alcest was his project alone however in 2009 drummer Winterhalter became a full-time member and bassist Indria did too earlier this year. Still, Neige is the guide for the band's evolving sound. Many longtime fans would call 2010's "Écailles de Lune" the band's best album, the one most representative of the blackgaze genre. They would similarly call 2014's "Shelter" the band's worst album because it diverged from blackgaze into much more of a dream pop feel.

Nevertheless, "Shelter" still has some fans, myself included, because of its ethereal qualities; I still listen to it if I have a hard time falling asleep at night. That said, it is easy to see how fans would be disappointed with an album that puts them to sleep when they are used to a rough sound that is closer to that of My Bloody Valentine or Deafheaven.

These fans will be pleased with "Kodama," an album that is supposed to have some sort of Japanese influence but really just sounds like the Alcest of old with the remnants of the "Shelter" clouds put on top. The sound on this album is dark and foreboding. The shoegaze soundscape feels much more like a wall instead of a cloud. And Neige's voice, while plain and plodding as always, feels much more tortured than peaceful.

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The weirdest, yet most interesting thing about this album is how Neige achieved the darkness in his sound. One would think that to take a band's sound from dream pop to blackgaze there would have to be more distortion in the guitars or a boomier quality in the drums. But actually, it seems that Alcest's physical sound itself has barely changed from "Shelter" to "Kodama."

The real change is in the songwriting. The songs are longer and have less vocals. There are protracted sections of lightly played guitar without other instruments that give the impression of loneliness. The drums play rhythms that feel kind of off-beat; they don't just play something simple that is easy to count along with. These drum parts don't necessarily mesh with the rhythms that the guitar plays. They add to the feelings of disunity and loneliness that create the overall aura of darkness for the album.

Lyrics — 7
Another factor adding to the darkness of the album is Neige's voice. The return of his growls/screams will surely please longtime fans of the band. Aside from being a nostalgic throwback to the era of five years ago, these growls actually serve a purpose. Neige doesn't growl indiscriminately. Rather, his growls usually come toward the middle or end of the song, acting as the climax or direct prelude to the climax. If most of the album is about feeling lonely, then Neige's growls are the inside of the alone calling for help, asking for a way out.

Of course, all these ideas about loneliness are merely guesswork. All of the album's lyrics are in French. This is a departure from "Shelter" where it seemed like the lyrics were equally split between French and English.

Overall Impression — 7
Taking everything into account, this album is a solid return to the formula that Alcest is known for. The growls have returned, but other than that the base sound has stayed similar to the band's last album, which was for all intents and purposes a journey into dream pop.

It is Neige's songwriting that triggers the fear, the darkness, and the loneliness of the album. The juxtaposition of the relatively benign wall of sound with Neige's songwriting gives this album its flair. To distinguish this album from the rest of Alcest's catalogue, one could look to the bits and pieces of dream pop influence that are still left over. It is these remnants that turn this album's icy, dark abyss of a soundscape into the serene, black rainbow that is left once the storm passes.

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Judging by this reviw I'm in for a treat. I had missed that they had a new album out and after Shelter I wasn't really paying attention. Looking forward to seeing them on tour with Mono later this fall!
    Its a stunning return to form for them. Id say the albums an 8.5 due to its length. Id like more. Musically its awesome. And yes the screams are back.
    I actually quite like Shelter. I thought the closing track Delivrance is one of the strongest song they have done to date. This album is another really strong effort from them but they didn't really do anything different here compared to Souvenirs, Les Voyages and Ecailles De Lune. One of the things that is quite disappointing on this album is the closing track is not as strong as Sur L'Océan Couleur De Fer or Delivrance. Other than that it's a good album. Also the reviewer forgot to mention that it's Neige(Alcest and Amesoeurs) who pioneered the "Blackgaze" sound not fucking deafheaven which the medias has hyped them up for doing something "new" when they didn't.
    If i remember correctly Deafheaven mentioned Alcest as a big inspiration. Can't be sure, but I heard something about it
    I wish i could find a single Alcest article without mention of Cancerheaven's emo whimperings.
    I really like Deafheaven but I don't see them as pioneers of anything neither see the necessity of mentioning them here. If it was Alcest mentioned on a Deafheaven article it would make much more sense anyway
    Kerry McCoy is influenced Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine too. I don't know if I've ever heard him talk about Alcest in interviews.
    Did the retards at Pitchfork claim Deafheaven invented "Blackgaze?" They didn't they just made arguably its' finest concept album to date.
    This album is so fucking good. As someone said, its only fault is being/feeling too short. Amazing experience.
    My quick review of the album: The band focused on their strongest points and made the album a great example of what Blackgaze really is and proved why they are the pioneers of it. Around the album I felt nostalgia, sadness, loneliness, agony, anger and peace. There were lots of blissful moments where I felt like the music was swallowing me. Lyrically speaking, even being a non French speaker, I could feel what Neige was trying to transmit to the listener. There is more instrumental compared to the lyrical content that in the previous records, however the vocals are just added in the right spots and make sense to appear there. The transitions between the cleans and the black metal vocals give you that "punch" which makes you feel the agony and anger that Neige is trying to show. The tracks Eclosion and Oiseaux de proie are prime examples with the powerful transitions to the growls. The highest point in the album for me is the track Kodama. That small motif that comes in different parts of the song and the choirs in the background create a mesmerizing atmosphere arround the whole track. The last two songs Onyx and (the bonus track) Notre Sang et nos Pensées look like a summary of everything you felt during the entire album. Onyx brings a bit of sadness and it's almost like a "sad ending" while Notre Sang makes you feel sort of happy and in peace. For me this album is one of the best things I heard this year by far. I would rate it 9.5/10 since it has one problem: Its short. A few more songs would be appreciated. Can't get tired of it
    Really solid record : good parts from the early blackgaze stuff mixed with the aerial stuff from Shelter. The only imperfection is the relative shortness of the record. Seeing them live for the warm-up show before their next tour, I'm definitely hyped !
    I really enjoyed Shelter, but I have a quite weak spot for ethereal soundings and dream pop in general. That said, it wasn't really on par with their debut or second album, but Alcest are the only ones to blame to let us so spoiled after two absolutely perfect albuns. didn't knew they would release something this year. looking foward to hear it as soon as I can.