Release Date: 25th October 2019
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records
For Fans Of: Deafheaven, Agalloch, møl
Everyone! Get out your skinny jeans, cigarettes, and current musings on existentialism: the definitive hipster metal band are back.
I am of course referring to Alcest, the French metal band/one-man project that arguably pioneered the blending of black metal and shoegaze (into the oh-so eloquently dubbed ‘blackgaze’). Taking the raw aesthetic of the former and merging it with the hypnotic tendencies of the latter (as well as mixing in some post-rock for good measure), band leader Neige produced an ethereal hybrid that not only resulted in a cohesive cocktail of genres, but made listeners wonder why it hadn’t been done sooner.
Tending to lean more to the shoegaze/post-rock side of this modern mash-up, 2014’s Shelter saw the metal elements all but abandoned, with a welcome response to a black metal band thawing the frostiness. Despite the positive reception, it appears that Alcest as of late have decided to flip to the other end of their musical spectrum, and dialling the distortion back up. Spiritual Instinct is the band’s (Neige and drummer Winterhalter) sixth album, and continues on the same path as 2016’s Kodama, featuring more metal tropes and stylings than is usually found on an Alcest record. Across the six tracks, there are very few moments that display the post-rock influence on the band, with clean, reverb drenched guitars making all but a cameo appearance. Distorted guitars and riffs (actual riffs!) are the focus of the record, and while the angelic harmonies provided by Neige (still in French, no less) reassure you that you’re listening to an Alcest release, Spiritual Instinct is a far cry from Shelter.
Opening track ‘Les Jardins De Minuit’ doesn’t take long before tremolo picked guitars and blast beats steer the listener into metal territory, with a layering of clean vocals to provide some familiar comforts. When the drums take a break from their blasts, the patterns are more frenetic, being quite fill heavy and altogether more busy than the drum work of a typical black metal band. Furthermore, despite the tremolo picking and distortion, at no point do the guitars sound ‘evil’ or haunting, or any other adjective synonymous with the black metal genre.
The following tracks follow suit, with the vocals providing the main contrast to the predominantly metal stylings of the album. Despite harsh vocals appearing throughout, they are often accompanied with cleans doubling the same line, with the clean layer being the focus. It isn’t until the penultimate track ‘Le Miroir’ that we are treated to the post-rock side of Alcest, with atmospheric cleans and reverbs aplenty. Unfortunately, the track is comprised of one main passage with layers added throughout and doesn’t showcase any development (a new section is introduced in the last minute or so, but fails to evolve into anything). Furthermore, other passages of post-rock/shoegaze across the album come across as noodling and ideas that haven’t been fully realised, reminding the listener of how strong the clean passages were on older albums.
While it is by no means a criticism for a band to incorporate more metal into their sound (if only more artists did!), it feels Alcest have compromised their USP in doing so. The songs are relatively strong on Spiritual Instinct, and the band can still craft a fresh take on black metal. The two-piece have established a sound that doesn’t resort to being overtly dark and evil, but had this album appeared earlier in their canon (as a debut album, for example), it would probably be overlooked. A relatively successful foray into distinctly metal territory, but please Alcest, bring back the shoegaze.
Recommended Tracks: Sapphire, Spiritual Instinct
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