(We present Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by the French duo Alcest, which will be released by Nuclear Blast this coming Friday, October 25th.)
Back in the days of yore, it was commonly believed that the world we inhabit, the terrestrial sphere, was surrounded and permeated by an omnipresent, invisible essence called aether.
More fundamental than earth, more intangible than wind, more primal than fire, and more fluid than water, the search for this unseen fifth element (which, thanks to Luc Besson, we now know was actually “love” all along) consumed the lives of many of the most prominent scientists, thinkers, and philosophers of the time but, ultimately, was all for naught.
Of course, if they’d had access to the music of Alcest then the results might have been very different.
Although these days the band are widely regarded as one of the pioneers of “Post Black Metal”, the truth is that, much like aether itself, Alcest have always defied easy classification.
Of a certainty, the base elements of their sound, rooted in Black Metal, yet owing just as much (these days especially) to Shoegaze and Dream Pop, are as familiar and recognisable as the day is long. But the energy which animates their music is something else entirely, brimming with life and an ethereal beauty that’s a far cry from the dreary, death-obsessed aesthetic which dominates and drives the work of so many of their peers.
As a matter of fact I’d say that it was the relative lack of this sublime, and eminently hard to define, energy which underpinned much of the backlash to 2014’s divisive Shelter, as although the album itself was well written and well put together, in hindsight it was definitely missing something.
Spiritual Instinct, however, suffers from no such lack, and is undoubtedly the band’s best album since 2012’s Les voyages de l’âme, and may even be the best thing they’ve produced since the career-defining release of Écailles de lune.
These are bold words, of course, particularly in light of how highly (and widely) the band’s last record was praised as a “return to form”. But context is, as always, important, and I can now see that I (and others) may have jumped the gun a little in reacting so zealously to Kodama, as Spiritual Instinct is a superior album in practically every way.
This is made immediately apparent on “Les jardins de minuit”, the album’s striking, scene-setting opener, which displays both a keen grasp of the “classic” Alcest sound (including the use of some raw, yet subtly restrained, harsh vocals as a counterpoint to Neige’s more dreamlike crooning) and a revitalised sense of urgency.
This is especially apparent when listening to the drums and bass, both of which crackle with an energy and spontaneity we’ve not heard from the band in years.
This urgency (I hesitate to use the word “intensity”, as I fear this might give the wrong impression) carries over into the majestic, melancholy “Protection”, and it’s here that the album truly hits its stride, with every element (there’s that word again) of the band’s sound coalescing into something which allows them all to shine more brightly together than they would in isolation.
From this point on Spiritual Instinct continually and consistently stakes its claim to being the band’s best work in almost a decade, moving from the hypnotic, holistic strains of “Sapphire” to the raw vitality and naked emotion of “L’île des morts” to the poignant, pensive slow-burn of “Le Miroir” without a single stutter or stumble along the way.
Concluding with its luminous title-track, it’s clear to me (and I hope it will be to you too) that Alcest’s sixth album is one of the finest of their career, one which captures and crystallises the quintessence of their sound in all its rare and unique wonder, while also providing some much needed catharsis for both its creators and its audience alike.