Album review: Écailles de Lune by Alcest

8 Mar

In 2007, I was completely broadsided by Alcest, essentially the solo project of French musician Neige. Fear Of A Blank Planet by Porcupine Tree had settled in quite comfortably as my obvious candidate for Album of 2007 in April. In late June, just before I was to depart for a week in New Zealand, Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde leaked onto the Intarwebz and all I could do was investigate it after reading it described as “shoegaze black metal”. The album blew me away. I rank it in my ten favourite albums ever, and it is inextricably tied up with memories of the Tasman Bay region, where I spent rainsoaked July nights listening to it. Very swiftly, Fear Of A Blank Planet was dethroned, and nothing has subsequently challenged Souvenirs for the title of Album of 2007. Indeed, it has only two or three challengers for the distinction of my Album of the 2000s.

Where next for Neige? I could barely contain my excitement when I learnt Écailles de Lune, Alcest’s second album, would be released on the 29th of March. I was especially keen in light of Percées de Lumière, an extraordinary song on last year’s split with Les Discrets that has now been included in Écailles de Lune’s tracklist. But could Neige possibly replicate the revelatory, beautiful grandeur of Souvenirs?

Écailles de Lune has now leaked online, and maybe I’m going to jinx myself here, but it is far and away the early contender for the title of Album of 2010. I’m not entirely sure Neige has outdone his effort on Souvenirs, but he has released another truly exceptional album. The basic Alcest sound of shoegaze being played by black metal musicians remains present, but it has been augmented and Neige has employed some techniques not found on Souvenirs. Drum duties are now handled by Winterhalter, already known to those of you who have listened to another one of Neige’s bands, Amesoeurs, and he brings some different nuances to the drumming, though still unmistakably in keeping with Alcest’s sound.

Perhaps the most noticeable evolution of the sound is the fact that Écailles de Lune is more rooted in black metal than the last. Souvenirs was much more a shoegaze album that by convenient happenstance rested on a foundation of black metal; Écailles de Lune actually incorporates black metal into the structure with the shoegaze. I won’t say too much, because some of this really must be discovered for itself, but I never knew you could make black metal shrieks sound so beautiful.

For the most part, however, Neige continues singing in the ethereal, almost childlike voice we know from Souvenirs. Could any voice be more perfectly suited to the music? His floating vocals and his chiming, echoing, shimmering guitar lines blur together into a serene and unutterably gorgeous atmosphere. The post-rock elements are accentuated more than last time; if you loved Sur L’autre Rive Je T’attendrai or Tir Nan Og from Souvenirs, you are going to adore some of the extended passages on Écailles de Lune. Furthermore, if you were a fan of Circe Poisoning The Sea on the split album with Les Discrets, a song that was effectively an outro for Percées de Lumière, then closing track Sur l’Océan Couleur de Fer should capture your interest – it is kind of Circe Poisoning The Sea’s full song sibling.

However, for me the centrepiece of the album, at least on my preliminary listens, is undoubtedly the first three songs; the title track in two parts, and Percées de Lumière. It is a winning combination, a trio of tracks arguably superior to any trio on Souvenirs. The two parts of the title track are a sprawling composition that sweeps through varied musical styles with the utmost ease and cohesion, captivating in its atmosphere. It is on a par with the heights Neige scaled in 2007 with Printemps Emeraude and Tir Nan Og. Then there is Percées de Lumière, in terms of songwriting one of the most conventional Alcest tracks out there, and in some ways it sounds like a merger of one of Neige’s other projects, Amesoeurs, with Alcest. It is stunningly effective, and its chiming intro has me weak at the knees. I love a good chiming guitar.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Why are you still reading? Go snare yourself a copy of Écailles de Lune; it’s all over the blogosphere. Don’t know about you, but I’ll be picking up a hard copy of this on its release date too. I’m not hesitating to award it a full 5/5.

PS Apologies to the French language. Especially for the presumably horrendous song title pronunciations in my mind.

One Response to “Album review: Écailles de Lune by Alcest”

  1. Mike 07/06/2010 at 08:16 #

    I completely agree. I didn’t even realize this was going to come out until I saw it on the new release end-cap at the local metal shop. I picked it up and bought it without a second thought and could not be happier. I thoroughly enjoyed the incorporation of the more shrill black metal vocals, especially on the second track. This album is a definite winner in my book. I have been listening to it pretty repetitively since I got it (which was right after it came out) and it still hasn’t gotten old. The only thing I wish was that this album was a little longer. Every time I get to the end I want it to just keep going. Oh well I guess though, It seems most of my favorite albums are like that.

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