Sound — 7
The debut album from the one-man French project took many familiar with its previous efforts by surprise. Alcest started its life as a black metal project with a fairly straightforward, if slightly more artful and melodic sound. The full-length leaves those aspects largely behind, and the six tracks presented here are a strange combination of black metal riffs over shoegaze-like songwriting and aesthetic. From the opening track, the soaring guitars and dreamy, ethereal vocals establish an evocative, contemplative atmosphere. The instrumentation comes through strong and the songs are well constructed; parts and various layers flow in and out of the mix in a very fluid style. My favourite aspect of the instruments are easily the acoustic and clean electric guitars; recorded with wonderful clarity, they are immediate, yet gentle and soothing, evoking a peaceful and melodic ambience. Another note on production. This is a wonderfully recorded album. Every instrument has plenty of room to breathe; clarity ensures that every note gets heard and that the songs sound lively and organic. My only concern was the lack of bass presence in the final mix. This is often the case in black metal, where guitars and drums overpower bass and mid-range frequencies rule the mix, but I feel this album could benefit from more bass guitar to give it extra depth. As mentioned previously, this album owes a lot to shoegaze, and I believe the music benefits from this infusion of influences. Overall, it gives the songs a very epic and open feel, especially where guitar and vocal tracks are concerned. The tracks tend to build up into a great wall of harmony-driven riffs, giving a mood that's melancholic and reflective, but rejoicing at the same time. If I was to make a critical observation about this aspect, my criticism would lie in the heavier parts occasionally wandering into the bland and clich territory. This only happens a few times, and for most of the album it's a very original and enjoyable collection of music.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics are in French, which I sadly do not speak. The general themes of the album, however, are children and the return to youth, regaining the innocence of that age. This atmosphere is reflected in the misty, dreamy vocals from Neige and guest vocalist Audrey Sylvain (Amesoeurs). On the contrary to the black metal of the Tristesse demo and Le Secret EP, there are no screamed vocals at all on this album, furthering the dream-pop/shoegaze comparisons. Either way, they interact wonderfully with the music, providing an interesting counter-point to the bleak riffs. The way the vocals were recorded makes me think of a kite; the music is like the person on the ground, and the vocals are soaring high above the person, yet both are connected by the same thread.
Overall Impression — 7
The element of surprise seems to have split the fans into several camps. Some have completely dismissed the album and locked themselves in the Le Secret universe; others are praising it as the new black metal revolution. I tend to agree somewhat with the latter, if with some reservations. The album definitely breaks some new ground, and can go some way to change the perception about what is black metal. The genre is often considered a sum of its parts, rather than a culmination of one band's effort, so no matter what Venom say in interviews this album is just as valid. Besides the occasional bland touch and somewhat in-the mood feel, the music is very good. Vocals are beautiful and mesmerising, backed up by great production. To the fans of Neige's other efforts (Amesoeurs, Mortifera, Peste Noire) this is a must, but I would also recommend it as a safe purchase to most fans of metal. And as the band recently signed a 5-album contract with their label, one can expect more greatness to come. Very promising.