Those pesky French post metallers Alcest are back to bother us all with ethereal melodies and soaring guitar lines constructed to make hearts soar.
It was only a couple of years ago that “Kodama” drifted in on a breath of wind then plummeted into my ear holes carried by the sheer metallic weight that its initial clouds disguised so well. That album saw the “Blackgaze” formula that Neige helped cement, along with Winterhalter tip more towards the dreamy shoegaze . Spiritual Instincy has a decidedly more Black Metal flavour.
Opener “Les Jardins De Minuit” quickly shifts from Pixies esque experimental college rock to full on black metal brutal assault within the opening minute. There are time changes and a myriad of textures but there is an overwhelming feeling of dark brutality in this opening 8 minutes. Dual vocals – both proggy clean and blackened rasping clamber over each other to great effect with the lighter cousin winning. Alcest like to paint broad stokes when they write, offering up huge hooks and riffs and then filing in the gaps with intricate percussion and subtle melodies that pop like bubbles on the shiny black surface and “Spiritual Instinct” shows great evidence of this even if the main material is a lot darker.
“Protection” is a wall of sound. It reminds me of Tool at first before leaving the Maynards of this world for something far more celestial. This is as uplifting as you can get. There is something innately spiritual about Alcest’s sound that makes even this wizened old cynic sway and lift my arms. It is bizarre that shoegaze is named after the actions of some it’s progenitors when those that listen to it are more likely to gaze wistfully skywards. For fucks sake there is even a singalongavowel “ah ah ah ah ah ah” section which helps those whose French is not great. Bit of an Anathema feel here but with the balls that they used to have.
“Sapphire” starts nice and airy and then changes to a ballsy, bassy almost post grunge track with genre-bending rawk/gaze breaks. The bassline could almost be by L7 but there are still the breathy wisps of the Cocteaus behind. Tom Toms roll over building guitars and then a rasped scream is released. Quite, quite wonderful. A delightful collage of styles.
L’ile des morts opens with Gabba type bass electronics which have me making a WTF face at this page. They are swamped by gigantic drums and hypnotic guitar and vocals. The drums take the lead here with Neige’s voice and guitars floating underneath Winterhalter’s loose limbed rolls and fills which seem to teeter on the edge of control before reigning in. The mix of clean and blackened vocals adds further texture to this epic 9-minute beast. As the track nears its end it trails off into Morse code style drums and scant guitars before crashing back in with full pomp and vigour.
Momentous drums and a mighty riff herald “Le Miroir” before a calming Maidenesque 6 stringed melody gently leads in the vocals. There are slices of (Bretagne?) Celtic elements within this track without going too fiddle de dee. It builds but quickly trails off into a Maidenesque outro. Maybe the lads were listening to some Bruce and the boys when they penned this one.
The title track is the curtain closer here. Again the drums are at the forefront followed by a layered guitar riff that ushers in a track that is melancholy and uplifting in equal measure. The track wafts along like smoke on a breeze before building into another hypnotic, big riff laden skyrocket.
Alcest are always able to elicit big emotional responses with their music. It is not visceral. There is no raising of fists or rushes of blood to the extremities. Instead there are rushes of thoughts to the mind and flutters in the conscious. Long may they continue to produce such works.
(7.5/10 Matt Mason)