Alcest

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Le Secret

Alcest - Le Secret ©2005 Drakkar Records
1. Le Secret
2. Elevation

One-man black metal projects are a dime a dozen these days, but leave it to a gentleman hailing from Avignon, France, and going under the pseudonym of "Neige" to create something truly gorgeous and unique. Consisting of two sprawling songs, Le Secret is an EP that proves that black metal does not necessarily have to be all about being grim or sanctimonious. Rather, joy and nostalgia seem to be the modus operandi under which Neige operates, resulting in a sound that is somewhat akin to what fellow countrymen M83 might sound like if they abandoned electronics entirely and added a healthy black metal influence; Shoegazer Black Metal, perhaps?

"Elevation", actually a Charles Baudelaire poem set to music, could not be more aptly titled. Starting off with a soothing synth intro, the song then moves into a black metal cacophony that, while in keeping with the black metal aesthetic, can only be described as uplifting. Neige’s clever use of major chord progressions completely turns the notion that black metal has to always be "evil" or "melancholy" on its head. The song literally sounds like it is soaring through the sky. Before long, truly pained black metal shrieks are added to the proceedings, but, as with the melodies, they are tasteful and do not so much as simply blend in with the rest of the instruments as they fly above them, adding to the wondrous and ethereal atmosphere.

While clocking in at just under a half hour, this EP is quite unlike anything I have heard in the normally limited confines of its genre. Music this beautiful should not go unheard.

Review by Alec Head

Review date: 08/2007

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Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde

Alcest - Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde ©2007 Prophecy Productions
1. Printemps Emeraude
2. Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde
3. Les Iris
4. Ciel Errant
5. Sur L'Autre Rive Je T'Attendrai
6. Tir Nan Og

In a word, gorgeous.

With Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde, Neige has released an album by the likes of which I am inclined to drop whatever it is I am doing at any given moment, sit down, and listen for its entire 42-minute duration. At once touching, warm, and alive, Alcest makes music that simply "breathes."

Further embracing the shoegazer elements found on the more black metal-influenced Le Secret EP, Souvenirs, despite being the creation of one man, succeeds more at sounding like a full ensemble joyfully playing off one another than a masturbatory solo project, and unlike most shoegazer bands, Neige does not bury the instruments beneath a soporific haze. Rather, the music retains the heft and clarity of a good metal album, but is not overly crisp or slick in the production department. Alcest goes about things organically, slowly building up an atmosphere of endless greenery, French gardens, joy, memory, and nostalgia through epic guitar riffs (both acoustic and electric), light chanting (both male and female), and unobtrusive rhythms.

For one man to compose music that is at once unpretentious and ambitious is certainly a feat. Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2007 and certainly a watershed album for Neige.

Review by Alec Head

Review date: 12/2007

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Ecailles de Lune

Alcest - Ecailles de Lune ©2010 Prophecy Productions
1. Ecailles de Lune Part 1
2. Ecailles de Lune Part 2
3. Percees de Lumiere
4. Abysses
5. Solar Song
6. Sur L'Ocean Couleur de Fer

Question: If you were Stephane "Neige" Paul, and you had a glut of other projects in the pipeline in addition to your main band, what do you do if you composed and released one of the most critically acclaimed and altogether laudatory metal albums to pop up in the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century (entirely by your lonesome, no less)?

Answer: You do it again. And better.

In the four years since the release of the gorgeous Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde, the prolific Mr. Paul found the time, in the midst of the countless projects to which he would lend his talents (either peripherally or in a more active capacity), to compose another album under the Alcest moniker in the form of the equally brilliant and often overwhelmingly beautiful Ecailles de Lune. Trading the verdant, "greener" atmosphere of its predecessor for a darker, more "oceanic" vibe, Ecailles de Lune is the musical equivalent to spending the night floating face-up in the sea while staring at the moon; contemplative, unquestionably pretty, wondrous, and not without a certain sense of danger. Much like the ocean itself, the music ebbs, flows, undulates, and is at once gentle, calm, intense, and menacing. The opening self-titled two-parter encapsulates all of this perfectly, with spectral, effects-driven clean guitars giving way to epic distorted riffs that then crash into Neige's angelic crooning, not to mention a welcome return to the inhuman-sounding grim shrieking found on "Elevation" off of the Le Secret EP. "Percees de Lumiere" continues in this vein, while the short ambient instrumental "Abysses" (actually composed by Neige's former Ameseours bandmate and current Les Discrets mastermind Fursy Teyssier) acts as a bit of an intermission. "Solar Song" introduces a bit of an alt-rock influence into the proceedings, and closer "Sur L'Ocean Couleur du Fer" is an achingly gorgeous ballad that drifts along via nothing more than lonesome clean arpeggios before reaching its tear-jerking, crescendoing conclusion. The end result is something that makes the listener feel as if he or she has been on a true journey; one that the listener does not want to end.

An obvious contender for the top spot of many best-of lists in a year that is rife with good music, Ecailles de Lune is a journey well-worth taking. Over and over again.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 11/2010

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