Alcest Les voyages de l'âme(Prophecy Records) Buy it from Insound
It’s unfair to argue with how Neige, the brains behind the much genre-addled Alcest, has based the entirety of his current moniker from one defining moment in his life. He’s continually challenging himself to concretize an otherworldly occurrence he had early in his childhood, one he constantly defends so convincingly that it has ultimately taken a whole life of its own. Neige is upfront about having had an astral experience, but there are never any clear answers – from the start, he’s been headstrong about justifying Alcest as one more component to an ongoing spiritual search in which, to superficially summarize, terrestrial life is merely a platform to evolve, learn and repeat until achieving complete liberation.
Neige doesn’t subscribe to any particular school of thought and doesn’t intend to emblemize his music with any preachy overtones. So it makes sense that Les voyages de l'âme is a way of transmitting esoteric gestures as a way of letting out a deeply personal reflection. Though it may imply an insular approach, Neige has achieved a preciosity that is uncommonly found in metal, one that has been accepted by even the most obstinate fans of the genre. Close association to his past projects Amesoeurs or Peste Noire may be part of the reason, but Alcest’s songwriting seamlessly bridges thick chords with an enrapturing splendor that makes it the more inviting to cross over with audiences.
With Les Voyages, Alcest isn’t really taking great strides to erratically alter the post-rock leaning elements found in Écailles de Lune. But there are noticeable differences in how the production now glistens with a metallic gleam – Autre Temps serves as a fitting introduction for Neige to warm up its chilled template with a calm, blithely chord progression. After a short breath, the nine-minute epic Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles kicks into high gear, which emanates with a compositional familiarity right from the get go with its brittle, alt. rock leaning guitar crunches until a distant shriek announces its arrival. As it progresses, Alcest pries with all sorts of operatic rock movements ranging from two-beat thrash and a comfortably numb interlude until finally bookending it with a fairly more hard-hitting series of cresting guitar licks.
After a translucently adventurous centerpiece, the oddly-sequenced title track modulates the tone into a taut, non-threatening tropical depression that loses intensity before reaching its final destination; as the sun rays comes into view, the mood is lightened with extended cresting and an enrapturing wall of noise that is downright inspirational. Throughout, Neige’s restrained menace really comes together with a good-natured bearing. Like in the aptly titled Beings of Light – palpitating with a wraithlike pulse, it opens the gates of heaven with an angelic choral drone that hastily turns into a propelling snare/bass drum assault and a slow driving blast beat, all driven by elaborate clockwork.
Les Voyages sounds so far removed from any metal signifier that it’s inadequate to label it under the same camp – even in the opportune moments Alcest finds to rage and howl, like in Faiseurs de Mondes, they oftentimes gyrate these more punishing power surges with shrewd tremolo playing and acoustic interludes. Even the puffed up by the media shoegaze elements they’ve implemented before has almost been completely sheared besides album closer Summer’s Glory, in which Neige buries his voice in wafts of balmy distortion; and the iridescent guitar work can easily be perceived by even the deafest of ears. Contrary to most of Alcest’s work, the sheer luminance of the production quality in Les Voyages isn’t enough to subterfuge its foreseeable build-ups and even-handed songwriting. It's particularly dispiriting how some of the more intentionally majestic moments leave you wilted instead of giving you a rush of adrenaline. There’s a lot in here that brims with life but, somehow, it never quite unfolds.16 January, 2012 - 08:43 — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez