01. Autre Temps
02. Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles
03. Les Voyages De L’Âme
04. Nous Sommes L’Emeraude
05. Beings Of Light
06. Faiseurs De Mondes
08. Summer’s Glory
Alcest is and has always been an exceptionally frustrating band. Not only to my ears, but to several others who have written them off as “wimps” or other such knuckle-dragging nonsense. They have polarized fans since their decision to give black metal a firm backseat and embrace the so-called shoegaze genre. Maybe most carry a spark of that knee-jerk impulse, but it is necessary from time-to-time for one to shed the metal elitist slough that many of our kind so often carry. As an exercise in impartiality one must approach this album from outside the strict, intolerant boundaries of what “black metal” should be, and really what any genre should be. As purely strict musical appreciation, beyond pigeon-holed judgement, Les Voyages De L’Âme possesses exceptional moments of emotional turbulence that give it a firm foundation to stand on. Cast aside the jaded lenses through which this album initially appears to start to grasp its meaning. However, it is a long and painful uphill battle. After sifting through the airy-fairy passages, mainstream rock, and forced black metal reminders one will discover that there exists evocative pearls within the mire. Alcest have done little to part the veil of confusion and grant us a sense of what they are presently trying to accomplish with their music, but there still exists fleeting strands reminding why they have endured thus far.
A moniker like “black gaze” is every reason why splitting music into endlessly fragmented micro-genres is not only problematic, but laughably obnoxious. It is hard to analyze a genre that only a small handful of bands participate in, and would suggest it resembles something more like the dreaded anathema of metal – a “trend”. The two genres that attempt to work together do very little to complement one another. Black metal by all intensive purposes is among the most extreme of genres, in terms of sound, accessibility, and ideology. Satanic by nature, black metal is more than just a sound and more than just a style of playing guitar or percussion. It is a primal savagery that pushes an agenda of uncompromising inadaptability. Rooted in alternative rock, Shoegaze exists at the other end of the pendulum swing, and is typified by dense atmospheres of melancholic walls of sound. A strong sense of poignancy comes across in all melodies and sombre tones that exude from the noisy wash of grey. This elucidation is not an attempt to patronize, but more to show the incongruencies between the sounds. The results are a strange concoction that leaves either an unnecessarily harsh shoegaze or a watered-down black metal. If the two pure-form genres represent the opposite extreme ends of a spectrum, “black gaze” is the mediocrity found in between.
From the onset Les Voyages De L’Âme builds an atmosphere of lonely despair that soon shifts into a thick layer of blasé, dangerously bordering on sounds that emanate from the accursed alternative rock radio. The songs are so melodramatic and sickly sorrowful that they counter the beauty so adamantly within reach. The melodies exist in there, they are evocative, and they painfully struggle to come up for air with little success. For a band that boasts that they are inspired by a fantasy land of faeries or what-have-you, their music is incredibly depressing. However, it is clear that Alcest still wants to cling to some residual edginess to desperately retain any “blackness” the music may possess. At the worst of times the result is unfortunately reminiscent of badly executed hard alt rock, and at the lowest point the forced black metal screeches do absolutely nothing. Not all hope is lost though. There are still glimmers of where this genre experiment does find a footing, and some actually strong passages find their way through the fog. They are sprinkled throughout and rarely last longer than so dearly hoped for: at this point the listen will take whatever they can get!
Miraculously, somewhere around the midway point the album develops a momentum and the emotive melodies begin to outnumber the mediocrity. The female led “Beings of Light” is a refreshing break from what Alcest has just put us through. The drumming is hard hitting (blast beats, double kicks) over the melodic, tremolo picked chord changes, all the while supporting the lovely Siren vocals of some mysterious, unknown source. From here on out the album becomes much more listenable and dare-say enjoyable. Is it perhaps due to our ears becoming acclimatized to the less-than-exceptional first half? By comparison do these latter songs sound better? There is no doubt that the material on Les Voyages De L’Âme progressively improves in terms of song writing and quality. If they had scrapped the first half of the album and took only the best parts combined into songs, you would be reading a very different review. Closing this shaky endurance is the highest point found through “Faiseurs du Mondes” and “Summer’s Glory”, two tracks that pay specific attention to the potential power in effective song writing. In fact, the last melodic riff in each song saves everything from teetering on the edge of painful mundanity.
Diatribes aside, Alcest’s history has either been one of love or hate. Polar opposites are completely to the advantage of an artist. Breeding animosity or total devotion is indicative that something is going right. With Les Voyages De L’Âme it is increasingly clear that they are shifting more towards the centre of this polarity: when even the devotees are scratching their heads, something is awry. With only a handful of incredible riffs as a saving grace, warning signs of some well-needed quality control are acutely perceptible.