I don’t always gape open mouthed at bands, but when I do it’s by how much they radically change their sound. Be it TesseracT (well not by much) or Katatonia, or as we are discussing them, Alcest (Linkin Park too, eh?).
Alcest’s sound in “Shelter” can be essentially good lighter fluid for several debates – given how the current trend is to push the envelope, sometimes for the sake of change, some times for the sake of growth and education, sometimes just to sell records. However, here is a band that has seamlessly transformed from a copacetic Black Metal act to a visionary ensemble. Why visionary? Here’s why.
“Shelter”, staying true to its name, opens with the blissful “Wings” which features a minute long choral piece that flows into 2nd track “Opale”. Perhaps the band took the album name a tad bit too seriously and never let the distortion soar. Frontman Neige treads the cool dreamily sung verses path throughout most of the album, starting right here, with the choral voices to do the backing job. “La nuit marce avec moi” takes a slightly upbeat path with atmospheric synthesizer-based walls used to substitute the choral backing. “Voix Sereines” is obviously the one which stands out the most among the 8 tracks. It’s probably the only track which spares no room for criticism of any nature.“Voix Sereines” maintains a feel-good vibe from the word go with some of my favourite clean lead guitar sections on the album. Neige’s melancholic vocals lend the perfect touch, which leads to one question… Why do the actual Post-Rock acts never employ someone with vocal maturity like this instead of someone more suited to mainstream Indie acts in the veins of Death Cab?
The elusive distortion finally finds its way into “Shelter” for what seems like the first time, once the bridge part of the track kicks in. The title track which comes up at 6th is obviously the one with the most applied conventional Rock instruments. The only other noteworthy additions to the sound are Slowdive’s Neal Halstead lending his vocals on penultimate track “Away” and the sheer brilliance of the 10 minute juggernaut finale that’s “Deliverance”, where Neige is on his haunting best.
There’s not much to complain about when it comes to “Shelter” other than tiny personal opinions that fit a listener’s bill. For example, I would have been happier to have some more of the fuzzy, warm toned rhythm guitars that were available on the track “Voix Sereines”. Too much clean guitar is sometimes all you need to overkill a masterpiece of a record that relies heavily on minimalist song structuring and complexity. Also, there is precious little to distinguish between one track and another, I mean they are all centered around appregiated clean guitar parts, minimal fuzzy rhythm sections, gentle drum and bass and a whole lot of orchestra.
Here’s the deal between Alcest and I; the band’s name has always been thrown around as conversation filler, while discussing music with peers, but I have never really paid much attention to the recommendations. Having only heard a single or two from each record in the body of work, I was never able to tell the gradient of change. However, hearing the mixed reviews that “Shelter” received, I made it a point to check their current release and the earliest ones back to back. Personally, I have never been much of a Black Metal aficionado, Depressive, Suicidal, Symphonic, any kind. Given that prejudice, “Shelter” sounds like a swell record to me on several fronts. Anyone who likes Post-Rock or Metal for that matter should find themselves returning to give this baby a spin over and over.
Believe me you when I say this, anyone who has sat through dicographies of bands like Porcupine Tree/Blackfield, Opeth, or even Cloudkicker might be able to fathom why the band did what they did. This seems like the gradual progression of an artist with an oeuvre akin to Alcest. While the ambient guitar passages melded with screamed vocals is a template that set the path for many contemporary nascent acts, Alcest have moved from the spitfire discord inspired theme to a more meditative orchestral sound; there’s nothing wrong in that and if anything it’s beautiful, and even more beautifully executed with poetic finesse. Now you can either go all “To call it Metal or not to call it Metal” on it like they did when TesseracT’s “One” was out or you can mind your pie hole and open up to some brilliant compositions.