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Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' - Alcest (7/10)

For a genre of music which is infamous for often basing its content on male bravado, gore, misanthropy and depression, it takes some serious balls to be a metal band that looks to fairy tales and uplifting emotion in their music. Alcest may have once been a typical black metal band a decade or so ago, but this project has since dissolved their ties to a dark sound, now gravitating towards an atmospheric mix of post metal and shoegaze. Led by frontman Neige, Alcest's sound culminated in 2010 with the masterpiece 'Ecailles De Lune', an album which ranked as my unlikely favourite of that year. Although I rushed to the opportunity of hearing a sample from this follow-up to 'Ecailles' about a month ago, the song 'Autre Temps' had me worried that Alcest had now fallen into a strict formula for their music, and that I could not hope to be surprised by the band any longer. Although 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a worthy follow-up to my favourite album of 2010, my fears are sadly confirmed; Alcest's third record feels like a reprise of ideas and sounds from their past. While 'Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde' and 'Ecailles De Lune' took their listeners to two separate- albeit similar- realms of fantasy, 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a nostalgic return to the second.

People will cry the familiar 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' rationelle, but I think 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' might have felt more otherworldly and atmospheric if it didn't sound so damned familiar from the first listen onward. Alcest's music is full of vast reverb, emotionally stirring guitars, and the presence of seemingly out-of-place drum blastbeats; an homage to the time when Alcest was a straight-up black metal act. Neige's voice is the most distinctive sound of the band, a soft clean vocal that often wanders about the higher register rather loosely. There are also black metal shrieks, but there are even less of those this time around than on 'Ecailles'. With a conventionally beautiful sound that is instantly pleasant to the ear, Alcest will attract listeners who don't usually like metal. The black metal elements are scarce, but they are there, and it makes them a perfect potential gateway to heavier, darker sounds. Although Alcest have spawned a legion of clones, their sound remains individual and unique. Even at the most intense moments of 'Les Voyages De L'Âme', things never feel dark; there is always a soaring melody to keep the listener planted firmly in the light.

'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a move for Alcest that reminds me much of what Wolves In The Throne Room did with their last album 'Celestial Lineage'. Instead of experimenting with something new, they chose to further develop the ideas of their best work and see where it went. For Wolves In The Throne Room, that album of inspiration was 'Two Hunters'. In Alcest's case, 'Ecailles De Lune' is the most obvious palette from which Neige draws his brush. 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is a sequel in every sense of the word; a slightly different angle of what is essentially the same thing. In terms of differences, 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is more optimistic than the often melancholic 'Ecailles'. The listener is meant to feel light and hopeful the entire time through. Although this album achieves that feeling in me, there is nothing else in the music to contrast it; no conflict, no tension. As a result, 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' does not have that same lasting emotional impact that 'Ecailles De Lune' was graced with, despite being nearly as successful in terms of its musicianship and composition.

'Les Voyages De L'Âme' will always be compared to its predecessor, and in the end, I think it will be 'Ecailles' that enjoys the status of a 'classic'. This album has all of the traits that have made Alcest great in the past, and 'Les Voyages De L'Âme' is good, but there isn't much here to set the album apart as an independent work. My insistent complaints aside, this is a great way to star the year.

Report this review (#603885)
Posted Friday, January 6, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars 7/10

"Le Voyages De L'Ame", despite being too similar to it's predecessor, is a wonderful experience of unearthly, fairytale-like atmospheres.

This project has wowed Metal fans and many others since the 2007 release "Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde", and gained even more popularity with the beautiful "Ecailles De Lune"; There was the strong suspicion among the hype surrounding "Le Voyages De L'Ame" that it was going to be too similar to the previous albums, without breaking new boundaries or bringing Alcest to a even higher level. These predictions ended up being true, sadly: but even though it's not as brave as it should have been, it miraculously a la par with "Ecailles De Lune" in terms of quality.

What Alcest does in music is something that could either turn off some Black Metal fans or turn on even haters of that genre: the band tries to be as accessible as possible with their wonderfully dreamy, shoegazey guitars and reverie-like clean vocals, but also to be faithful to the harsh side of music with intense BM shrieking and abrasive sound. The production and overall sound as always is purposely a little rough, without it being stellar nor crystal clear, so that it accentuates the vividness of a more concrete, earthly, human daydream, instead of an unearthly, divine vision. There has always been pain and suffering in Alcest's music, something that shows up even here in "Le Voyages De L'Ame", a more fairytale inspired interpretation of beauty. The songs are a little more unearthly sounding, more surreal, more in the clouds than down to earth. Strictly musically speaking however there isn't much change nor variation, so that it feels like a simple repeat to "Ecailles De Lune".

Some songs here seem though to be even better than the ones we've heard from previous releases: "Autre Temps" is possibly the best Alcest track so far, incredibly touching, beautiful, and full of emotion. However, this song seems to not be coherent to the paradisal atmospheres of the other songs here: "Beings Of Light" is one of the best examples, that uses repetition in order to accentuate the state of reverie Alcest has been aiming for: but there are also the Black Metal moments, which admittedly are only a few, but always very intense, especially thanks to the shrieking vocals, but the guitars give also a credible touch of harsh.

Even if "Le Voyages De L'Ame" is a little too similar to "Ecailles de Lune", it is a wonderful experience and another great album by Alcest, one that could turn on new fans pretty easily, for it's great accessibility and overall dreamy delivery.

Report this review (#622411)
Posted Sunday, January 29, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Wake up, turn off the alarm clock, go to work, get back home, sit in front of the computer, turn it on, open the web browser, check Facebook, watch a couple of videos on Youtube, and finally click on Alcest's "Autre Temps".

The video took a couple of seconds to load, as the gates to heaven take to open. The play button was pressed.

A journey through fantastic landscapes, brutal tenderness, and harmonies and melodies that create a sense of synesthésie, merging both mind and body, was about to begin, and I was totally oblivious to that.

The first minute of "Autre Temps" sets the mood for what is near, an unforgettable experience. The celestial, acoustic guitar strikes its first chords, and when Neige's soothing voice appears, I fly towards a green sky, where all my memories are compressed; but as the progression changes at 1.55, I know something is coming, like a dark and frenzied cloud. At 2.18, I dive into the cloud, and everything evolves into a redeeming experience, elevating me. The song keeps on, making me wish for it to be endless.

Calmness is retrieved, but not for long. "Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles" kicks in with heavy chords, that may relate one self to the earth, and the solid nature of things. Then comes a progression at 1.02 that emancipates that land, and create a rapid river, drifting through colours of the mind, as a lucid dream, or a fever, a memorable and flottante fever. As the harsh vocals appear, one is taken down to the depths of that river, and into the hard consciousness where deep thoughts and feelings tend to stay until something powerful like the blast beat at 3.29 raise them back to the surface. The ending finally connects all of these, and balances the world within, preparing me for the title track.

"Les Voyages De L'Âme" is truly what it indicates, a voyage of the soul, an introspection, an emotional journey that climaxes in each chorus, and rediscovers itself in every verse. Its hard to keep a blank state of mind while listening, as every note take me back to a past, or even future events, and infinite images collide, forming complex, yet completely understandable pictures. As it ends, these marvels fade away, and the mind's eye opens again, tough what I've seen was something memorable.

"Nous Sommes L'Emeraude" is a short break, like a walk through a garden. It is peaceful and calm, yet intense and inspiring towards the end. It may not achieve the same grandeur as the previous tracks, however, it helps oneself rest and get ready for "Beings Of Light".

The fifth track presents an intriguing choir, that breaks, like white angels that get ready to shoot massive amounts of explosive, and finally destroy a fortress of darkness and despair. The mixture of both agressiveness and céleste create a really powerful impact on me, as a younger version of me breaking the walls that my actual self can easily trespass.

This sensation brings me to the next song, "Faiseurs De Mondes", that involves all kind of feelings and thoughts. Through choirs, acoustic guitars, harsh vocals, tremolo riffing and fast-paced drums, Alcest creates a world where I am inmortal, and everything around me is both black and white, and red and blue, as obscurity, fury, purity and tranquility. Reaching its climax, the track reaches unimaginable heights, and penetrates the sky and ultimate elevation, like a firework in a clear grey sky.

"Havens" pacifies and clears the path, in a celestial and, as the title implies, heavenly way. The chords calm down any emotion that may try to escape, and generate a sense of easy anticipation, without being boring or dull.

Finally "Summer's Glory" surrounds the mind and the soul, and create a bittersweet and reflexive soundscape. Nothing can be wrong or impure now, tough some moments of the track reminds me of the fragility of ourselves. At 4.13 one can visualize the arrival of something omnipotent yet natural. Chords strike at 5.04, and the last journey begins. Heaven, earth, sky and ground merge, and everything encompassed in life is consumated into a single formation. A formation divine and pure, involving a clear guitar, a global choir, and a distorted rhythm. A formation capable of moving mountains and changing hearts. A formation unique to a dream, or a revelation. The last chord illuminates all, and glory is achieved.

As the last chord glides and fades, I open my eyes once again, and close the web browser.

Wake up, turn off the alarm clock, go to work, and live my life once again. But this time, something is different. Now I understand my soul.

This was a beautiful voyage.

Report this review (#624508)
Posted Wednesday, February 1, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars I know nothing. This is given especially with regard to Alcest. The previous album was of such quality that I decided to get this one.

Somebody help me, this is a fine ride!

For a change, let's get the complaints out of the way first. The singer should scream at the top of his lungs a bit more, though I do enjoy the more caressing vocals as well. The production is better than the last one but only barely, because there still is no bottom end.

That said, at my age I should not be listening to this kind of music at all. I'm the wrong demographic. That their sound can resound throughout the ages, which it does, should give everyone a clue. And I don't even understand French. This kind of stuff is universal. We needn't know the lyrics when the music is right on, when the music assumes the correct forms and draws us in like moths to the candle. That's what Alcest does. And they do it so well on this album.

We understand the guitar motifs in their guises. We understand the choir-like vocals. We understand the infuences, whether it be The Wipers or Neil Young. We absolutely understand that universal stuff, which in this case occasionally drops us to our knees and makes us weep like babies.

LIsten to Autre Temps. The soothing intro with its chiming guitar. You are amongst friends. All is well. Then a wall of guitars appears. Is it not all the better? I enjoy long pieces of music, pieces that reveal themselves to me in stages, A reverberating guitar there, a plaintive vocal there, a wall of sound here. It's the here that I hear HERE. I love a metal-ish racket as much as anyone, and I always appreciate it when done with the utmost care.

Summer's Glory is the final track here. It's perhaps the best, certainly not musically, but in some ways well.... It recalls that Summer of '67, and maybe a little Guns N Roses, maybe intentionally, maybe not. If I knew I'd tell you. But it sure sounds to me like a band paying some homage to those that came before, those whose wagons dug the ruts at no small expense. And it sounds like a band who is happy to follow in those ruts, and in fact maybe dig a few new ones as long as they are heading down that road.

What the hell, this is a great album.

Report this review (#654406)
Posted Sunday, March 11, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars I have not felt the drive (or honestly had the time) to write a review in a good while, but Les Voyages De L'Ame by Alcest has pulled me out of my nest and required me to write something. This was a black sheep buy for me--one of those occasions in which I grab something I know nothing about yet find somehow compelling (it's often an alluring cover, as it was this time). Sometimes the black-sheep-buying principle does not pay off, but this time it really did. I cannot stop listening to this lovely, lovely album.

This is a hard work to describe let alone categorize. The little I know of the group tells me that the roots are metal, but that's not what I really hear. The slightly spacey chorused guitars send me back to a number of 4AD groups, in particular the Pale Saints and Lush, but here that sound is stretched out with greater epic grandeur. Huge swaths of sound pour forth, maybe evoking My Bloody Valentine in a Goth mood, or perhaps Sonic Youth on a breezy yet melancholic day. There are even aggravated post-rock Slint-like moments to be found on later tracks. It's all post-something or other.

Whatever one calls it, atmosphere rules the day. There's a majestic moody beauty to the whole thing that keeps pulling me in. Since I have mentioned Alcest's metal roots, let me say that there are precisely two death growls on the album, but--dare I say it?--they are atmospheric death growls, more breathy than menacing. The singer Neige's voice in general is delicate and tends to mesh into the layers of overall sound. That the lyrics are in French may or not matter. This is not to say that there is no sense here, just that an aesthetics of the ethereal overwhelms all else.

In short, beautiful. A perfect Sunday morning or Saturday night record depending, I guess, on who you are and how you live those times of day.

Report this review (#760169)
Posted Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars I discovered Alcest in 2010 when I accidentally stumbled over the great Ecailles De Lune album. I thought the first half of that album was nothing short of spectacular, but the second half was meh. Same with 2007's Souvenirs d'Un Autre Monde: first half great, second half meh. So Neige's songwriting didn't hold up over an entire album. On Les Voyages De L'Ame however, that fault has been more or less corrected.

With the exception of tracks 4 & 5 which are okay, but not outstanding (track 5 even sounds like Sigur Ròs gone black metal), the album is a culmination of everything Alcest did on the previous albums, only with better and more consistent songwriting. Winterhalter's drumming is also at an all-time high, making tasty fills & tricks here and there while not overshadowing the melodies and riffs.

The best track on the album (and possibly best Alcest song ever) is Faiseurs De Mondes. At 8 mins, it sums up every aspect of Alcest done masterfully: The first 2 mins with black metal screams, melodic breaks, otherworldly atmosphere, tasteful acoustic guitars and a downright beautiful coda that could go on forever (if I could decide :P) This track is #1, just ahead of Percees De Lumiere and Printemps Emeraude.

Autre Temps, the title track and Summer's Glory are also stunningly beautiful tracks. Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles is also good, but 9 mins feels slightly overlong and repetitive at the end.

So I'm happy that Alcest finally unleashed their potential over an entire album. Even though Les Voyages De L'Ame is similar to Ecailles De Lune, its consistent songwriting to me makes it superior. But I do hope Alcest will evolve musically, and not just repeat Ecailles/Voyages ad nauseum.

Report this review (#774696)
Posted Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Alcest's third album finds the band treading water, showing little musical progress over their previous two releases and indicative of a backslide into producing albums and songs by rote formula. The mingling of post-rock and shoegaze guitar textures on here (with the black metal aspects once again scaled back) offers more or less nothing except pale imitations of musical passages already adequately performed on the first two albums, and on the whole there's no captivating, standout moments to elevate this above the status of pleasant but forgettable background music. Neige's skills as a producer and a multi-instrumentalist haven't waned, but in terms of compositions he seems to be in a creative rut this time around.
Report this review (#791085)
Posted Thursday, July 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars This French band or better said "man" has really surprised us with the amazing metal he has proposed. This third effort "Les Voyages De L''me" presents us a more reflexive and melodic experimental post metal than the previous one. Having at some times the influence of early Anathema, Alcest combines the rhythmical sessions with lovely voices throughout the album and at times it gives the growling necessary to indicate a sense of despair and madness. All the album maintains the same style until Faiseurs de Mondes where Neige changes his style of singing to a more dramatic way. A very good album. Much better than the previous one to my consideration!
Report this review (#1020343)
Posted Sunday, August 18, 2013 | Review Permalink

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