Alcest
Shelter

Alcest is one of the very few bands for which I say: if you like it, you like it; if you don’t, you don’t. There is nothing bad about it. It needs to be taken on its own terms, and once it is, whatever opinion you form about it is your own, and it’s okay.

Shelter is the much-anticipated Alcest album that completely does away with the black metal element of their sound. What we’re left with is a well-produced post-rock/shoegaze/bliss-pop that is at times reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, Sigur Ros, and Smashing Pumpkins. It is what it is. A part of me enjoys this a lot, another part of me really misses the black metal counterpoint to their sound, and another part of me dismisses it as fluff.

But let’s back up a minute. Once upon a time, black metal was a scary underground movement of scary music for scary people – and that’s it. There was no legitimizing, and no half-hearted hipster scene-following. If you knew about it, you were either a part of it, or it kind of scared you and you stayed away from it. Eventually, the movement grew, and became even scarier with U.S. bands like Leviathan taking the music to the absolute pit of ugliness and Weakling turning black metal’s misanthropy toward the self, while French bands Antaeus, Blut Aus Nord, bands of Les Legions Noires and others churned out brutal, twisted abominations of sound. It was around the mid 2000s when recordings with the “blackgaze” sound first started to appear, not the least of which was Alcest’s own Le Secret. Although a minor aberration at first, this deviation caught hold and exploded within the scene.

The reason I mention this is because context is important when listening to Alcest’s music. I have no problem with what Alcest is doing. What I have a problem with is people not understanding the context of this music. Alcest’s music comes out of a scene with its roots deep in ugliness and evil. Understanding what black metal as a movement had to go through to get where it is now gives Alcest’s music the weight it needs to truly appreciate what’s being done here. Maybe I’m reading into it all too heavily, but I believe that Alcest, among others, represents the redemption of black metal.

Alcest’s story is that of so many people, myself included, that it’s impossible for me to take this album out of context of the narrative. It’s the story of emerging from whatever trials you might be dealing with – addictions, rage, broken relationships, whatever it might be – into a moment of peace that comes with maturity. It doesn’t ignore the past, and it doesn’t last for long, but it brings a sense of reconciliation with a new, broader framework.

This music is an honest and sincere attempt to create that bittersweet, yearning sense of momentary reconciliation, although unfortunately, the album has more than its share of missteps. Without the black metal arrangements to lend power to the music, the climax of “Voix Sereines” falls flat. “L’Eveil des Muses” never consummates its moody buildup. Neil Halstead’s (Slowdive) vocals on “Away” are distractingly weak.

It’s “Delivrance” that legitimizes this thing for me. When I first heard it, I thought to myself, I’m glad somebody is making music like this, because it pinpoints that particular feeling that I’ve felt so often in my life. Yes, it’s indulgent in its repetition, and the production is perhaps too crystalline, but it’s so honest and somehow true that I can’t help but let it be what it is. The context from which this album emerges and the sincerity of the emotions expressed justify it for me. And what’s more, my wife liked it. And there’s a time and a place for that too.

It’s okay. The darkness is real, but so is the light. And it’s good and right to move toward the light, even if imperfectly so – even if it’s a little bit cheesy.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by J. D. Anderson
January 17th, 2014

Comments

  1. Commented by: Paul

    Wow, that is an extremely well written review! I’m a long time (20yr+) black metal listener and your review perfectly captures the relevance of this band to me and why it is an important part of my listening routine (which, for better or for worse, gravitates to extreme metal around 95% of the time). Well done.


  2. Commented by: stiffy

    Yes very thought out review, Erik. I have hesitated to listen to this because I know what Im in for but I feel like I may be selling them short. I enjoy “gazy” music and that part of their sound so I think we metal fans should try to look past the fact that they have skipped the harshness here. Although, why they couldn’t keep on the Ecailles De Lune path is puzzling. What a fantastic album that is.


  3. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Not my review. JD anderson’s fine work


  4. Commented by: stiffy

    Your name was on it earlier. Don’t tease us


  5. Commented by: timshel

    This is the best review of this album I’ve read so far. Nice job. The last track is my favorite also. Who said that beauty was its own excuse for being? I think that applies here.


  6. Commented by: redbus

    Smashing pumpkins comparisons? Youve got to be kidding right.just a terrible review.why pop music is being reviewed on this website is beyond myself and everyone else.close it down.


  7. Commented by: j.d.

    Thanks guys. I’m glad other people feel this way about this album too.


  8. Commented by: joe black

    Nice points in this review. The backlash that this album has been receiving is a bit strange from my perspective. I mean, was anyone ever really listening to Alcest purely for black metal riffs? Doubtful…if I want that I will listen to “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”. Why begrudge an artist for making the music he wants for his own project? Critiquing an album on its own merits is one thing, but critiquing an album just because it doesn’t like the last 4 releases by an artist is unfair I think. “There is no darkness without the light…”


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