Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Alcest - Les Voyages de L'âme (2012)

After reimagining the original EP, "Le Secret," and launching yet another side project, Old Silver Keys, Neige has returned to his main attraction, atmospheric post-black metal band Alcest. And oh, the pressures of releasing an album in the first week of a new year. In eight tracks, and some 51 minutes, he controls the fate of the metal world for 2012. Ok, maybe not. But... he could. On "Les Voyages de L'âme," or "journeys of the soul" for the uncultured like myself, Neige and company wander through the world of sound and color, discovering endless forests of sadness and beauty. Happy New Year, indeed.

The decision that most bands face is which song best fits the "lead" role, with so much momentum hanging in the balance. The first single from the album, "Autre Temps," fits the bill to perfection, beginning with softly played notes, evolving into clean strumming. It is enough to welcome you, while also catching your ear with the melody. After a sweetly delivered verse, the chorus erupts with a flurry of drum fills and beautiful chanting vocals. The layered soundscapes that are created here are vintage Alcest, with a bittersweet combination of purity and melancholy seeing you through the haze. This isn't a b-side from "Ecailles de Lune," but rather a step in a more emotional direction. The more atmospheric "Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles" follows, with a strong focus on distorted, but manageable, guitar riffs leading the way. The emergence of a smooth, flowing bass line takes things to a new level. The drumming has been elevated as well, with a myriad of fills, rolls, and precisely timed cymbal crashing sizzling through your speakers. The more raw black metal style makes an appearance, but with a noticeable difference. The vocals have less of effects laden take, with Neige's scream coming through in the most dynamic form, rather than coated with delay and reverb. The driving riffs that dominate the second half of the track will surely burrow into your mind, lingering for days after.

The title track to the album,"Les Voyages de L'âme," emits a blue glow from it's down tempo verse section. But the double kicks roll through the bridge and chorus sections with all the fury of a perfect storm. The build up is incredible, from simple notes to an immense wall of sound and sadness. The emotional weight carried in Neige's voice is tremendous, even for those of us who simply do not have the mental capacity to speak French. It is as if, at times, language is a state of mind. One that, when absorbed can change your mood without any idea of "understanding." Ahem. Sorry. Got a little sidetracked there. Moving on to "Nous Sommes L'Emeraude," a track which finds Alcest at their melodic best, the rich layered guitars take a spotlight all their own. Lightly strummed clean notes fall together with rapid distorted chords in a fractured harmony. Once again, the drums deserve mention, whether it be for the simple things like keeping time, and playing each portion with deadly precision, or for the more intricate fills that tie verse and chorus together. This is a band, a sound, that has evolved into something far beyond previous efforts.

A delicate chanting female voice opens "Beings Of Light," with light synthesizers taking up the rear. The beauty of the intro isn't truly seen until the bands erupts from inside, rapid drumming and chords tearing through the fabric. There is no relaxing from this point on, with this tempo keeping up for nearly the entire six minutes of the track. High speed distortion, paired with chanting, melodic vocals, all forming a perfect match. It seems to fade away far too soon, despite an extended playing time. But stumbling right into "Faiseurs De Mondes" is a piece of planning that should be commended. The music remains melodic and moving, while the vocals descend into a dark place, taking a raw approach in the verse. But, as is the norm, there is a give and take between harsh and heavenly, with the latter seeing it's fair share of time here. The clean guitar work is refreshing after the assault of the previous nine or so minutes. There is a relaxing quality to be found, putting you at ease, but feeling somehow empty at the same time. The pairing of dark and light isn't limited to one style, but there is a flip side as well. The heavy, demonic music can just as easily split time with lighter vocals, as it does here. Rattling drums and guitars can add to the atmospheric tone. The soft, clean interlude "Havens" gives you a moment to breathe and reflect on the previous six tracks, while preparing you for the closing track, "Summer's Glory." There is an understated, simple beauty in each and every note, chord and snare. One that defies description, and simply must be heard to be enjoyed.
Neige and his work with Alcest are not easily pigeonholed into one style or genre. He walks a path that, in my experience, has yet to be explored. The ability to somehow juxtapose the differing styles is what keeps you listening, and what keeps the album flowing from one track to the next. And while this album is certainly a lateral movement from the previous work, they do share common ground. Everything you loved about "Le Secret," "Souvenirs de Autre Monde," and "Ecailles de Lune" can all be found in the shades of blue and gray that the "journeys of the soul" have to offer. But doesn't it just sound better to call it "Les Voyages de L'âme"?


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