Thursday, January 16, 2014

Alcest - Shelter

While it’s an unsurprising move to make, French “blackgaze” act Alcest takes out the “black” and focuses more on the “gaze” on their fourth full length release, Shelter, it still leaves a little something to be desired. Let me clarify what I mean when I say “taking out the black.” There is a complete, total, all-encompassing lack of metal influences on Shelter, which perhaps is where the concept of “shelter” comes in, but we’ll cover that in a bit. Alcest dishes out nothing but soft easy listening this time around, and while slightly disappointing it’s not necessarily detrimental to the album’s footprint.

The album opens up with grandiose almost choir like voices that chant a tune that foreshadows the chorus of the album’s first single, “Opale.” This track along with the track that follows, “La nuit marce avec moi,” are some of the most cookie cutter songs you’ve ever heard Alcest come up with. This isn’t to say the songs are bad, but there’s nothing really to them…just very straightforward and rather underwhelming tracks following predictable song structures. It isn’t until we reach the second half of the album that Alcest seems to pick up their stride. While still simply structured, the tracks on the second half of Shelter hit much deeper. The ethereal riffs feel much more heartfelt and genuine than the blandness of the first half of the album.

Like noted before, this isn’t a metal album. Never once do you hear a shrill scream from lead singer Neige, a distorted black metallish guitar sound, or one blasting drum beat. Certainly this absence of metal, however, would leave more room for Alcest to focus on what people are really to drawn to about the band in the first place, the beauty. Few would argue that Neige and company know how to put together some heartstring pulling tunes (and there certainly are a few to be had here), but it’s this very strength of Shelter that also makes it pale in comparison to albums like Ecailles de Lune or Les Voyages de L'Âme. With no black metal present, Shelter is left to drown in its dated alt rock approach. The familiarity of shoegaze is Alcest’s only tie to its former black metal street cred. It’s much like the whole “there is no yin without yang” argument. Without any black metal, there’s nothing to give the cleaner sections more emphasis. However, this absence of metal may be the very point of Shelter’s very concept. Shelter implies protection and safety. In this case, protection from those aforementioned darker elements. Even the album artwork reflects a turn towards the brighter more embracing aspects of Alcest’s sound.

Shelter may not be Alcest’s most impressive release to date, but it’s still worth a listen or two. A riff here and there will certainly grab and give you that warmness in your soul that you so long for with an Alcest album. However, if you were hoping for the dichotomy between these soul warming moments with the coldness of black metal then you’ll be sorely disappointed.

- Mick

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