Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Alcest - Les Voyages De l'Åme

Released by Prophecy Productions, 2012.

Les Voyages De l'Âme is not a metal record. It really isn't. But hold on, stop me if you've heard this sort of thing before… Les Voyages De lÂme is a truly groundbreaking record for metal. Alcest, and intrinsically the solitary soul behind its green curtain, Neige (Eng: Snow), has been painstakingly rigging impassioned, congenial explosives at the base of black metal's structure for nearly a decade. But unlike Liturgy, the assault comes unwittingly from within. The reality that Alcest and its creator are slowly tearing down the walls and preconceptions of metal's most infamous and tightly wound subgenre without intent, let alone malcontent, are what make the whole process that much more fascinating. Previous efforts Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde and Écailles de Lune served as the conceptual ordinance; Les Voyages… is nothing if not the arbitrary yet definitive detonator.

Read the rest after the jump.

And don't be fooled. This is no charade or farcical attempt at unveiling the inherent short-sightedness or unctuous contradictions that have always dwelt at the crux of black metal. Les Voyages…does exactly what it's composer intended it to do; captivate and enchant in a multitude of ways with the zealousness of black metal at its crux. More than any other Alcest release, it strides further away from the style that put Neige on the map to begin with. Graceful melodies are everywhere to be found, often times with a certain positive-vibed dissonance that immediately evokes the early material from post-rock titans Mogwai. But similar to past Alcest records, it is tied together by an esoteric heaviness not readily duplicatable. Souvenirs... and Écailles... were both lauded for their ability to package both the intensity and the subtle charm of black metal, but Les Voyages... surpasses both rather convincingly.

Much of this can be credited to its nearly sublime production, the kind that hasn't really been experienced in a post-black (oh, shit, media buzzword!)/dissonant progressive metal setting since (at the very earliest) Enslaved's Axioma Ethica Odini. Its the sort of raw yet polished sheen that hearkens back to a time when staccato palm mutes sounded like staccato palm mutes, not like the sound engineer digitally raped and pillaged any trace of mistakes or fuzziness. While the rampant interspersing of airy, cleanly-sung vocal  arrangements and higher-tone overlaid guitar tracks sometimes border on superfluity, Les Voyages... truly displays Neige at his best as a composer.

Like its predecessors, Les Voyages… (Translating to English as "the journeys of the soul") exhibits Neige's knack for encapsulating the feel of his records in their titles. Each track meticulously floats through his esteemed dreamscape like the "benevolent" Lunesta deathmoth, illuminating the mysteries and eerie elegance of a conceptual world that will only ever be conveyed through sound. Opener "Autre Temps" and its follow-up "Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles" rival the two part title track from Écailles… in effectively setting the tone that both albums set out to provide, and later tracks "Faiseurs De Mondes" and the earnestly climactic finale "Summer's Glory" expertly bookend what is the most convincing and successful vessel in Neige's fleet to tour the place of his imagination. Despite this, the sonic hallmarks of Alcest's metal roots are seldom in appearance, rendering Les Voyages… as the least varied of Alcest's full lengths in terms of aggressiveness. This is a likely a deliberate move by Neige, and one that certainly makes plenty of sense, but the blast beats and tremolo picking that that were craftily woven in on Souvenirs… and Écailles… are all but completely shrouded by the mostly straightforward riffing found on Les Voyages.... Of course, criticizing this aspect could qualify as a worthy candidate for the Splitting Hairs Hall of Fame. Seasoned listeners of Alcest will, however, find this one of the most easily identifiable differences as compared to past records.

It would be a total disservice to the brilliance of Les Voyages... to end on that note, though. The backdrop of metal is one that is extremely difficult to shed, evidenced by the noticeable packs of troglodytes that get butt hurt at recent Opeth shows due to Åkerfeldt and Co.'s change in approach. Alcest and Neige prove again with Les Voyages..., and this time more convincingly than ever, that the intensity and raw energy of heavy music doesn't have to be compromised when crafting an elegant, emotion-laden record that diverges greatly from the roots of (in this case, black) metal. This is 51 minutes of dream-potion for your ear cavities, and is apt for both sleepy settings as well as times when you wanna rock the fuck out to something that doesn't sound like a chainsaw assault.

- Jack

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