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SHELTER

Alcest

Experimental/Post Metal


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5 stars Neige continues his musical trip in uncharted waters... After the magnificent and colorful "Les Voyages de l Ames", he takes a trip to Iceland and mesmerized by the landscape (call me Sigur Ros) creates his new album. Or should I say a new prog post subgenre...

If you want to labelize his music nowadays forget the "black" word. No "black" riffs here, not metal but rock, less epic feeling, this is a strickly personal and emotional album. Forget the streams and the woods, just put it on your headphones, take your seat by the fire and close your eyes, this will only take 40 minutes (his preferable duration).

After an Intro the album kicks in with "Opale" and the first thing you feel is happiness. Alcest is back but in an uplifting, majore way. Less feedback on the more acoustic guitars, less lo-fi production, vocals more in front with his angelic voice, still the subtle but essential and wonderful drumming of Winterhalter, this is more organic and warm. Their idea of creating music is still here, aetherial and poetic. but somewhat different. Still sad and melancholic but only if you search beneath the surface. All the tracks are on the top quality of Alcest, everyone a different trip, I will just mention the title track that will stick to your mind and the last 10-minutes- long track "Deliverance" with its strings and the mindblowing melody. This track just destroys me and paints me back again.

You can call it alternative, post rock, (still) shoegaze, etc. I will just call it amazingly prog, cause you get his music you love, you recognise the latest influences but this is something new. 2014 starts with an excellent release, don't miss this one, especially these cold days of winter.

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Send comments to Sophocles (BETA) | Report this review (#1110850)
Posted Thursday, January 09, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars I described this album to my friend in a text message: "This is an album that metal fans would rip to their friends and then enjoy behind closed doors." The Old Alcest is gone. The Juxtaposition of black metal infused with an almost trace-like beauty of shoe-gaze is gone. The black metal element is no more- which is a huge let down. Perhaps this album is akin to Opeth's Damnation- a one time experience of the band's softer side, but I believe this is the new direction of the band. The music is beautiful, but the range- the dichotomy- the juxtaposition- the old Alcest is no more. 2.5 stars

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Send comments to Drew (BETA) | Report this review (#1128949)
Posted Sunday, February 09, 2014 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
COLLABORATOR
Post/Math Rock and Crossover Teams
4 stars The progressive community always gets to me. When a band doesn't change from album to album, they're called stale. However, when they evolve and enter new eras, their fans denounce them for progressing. What?! This makes no sense at all. This is the case with the new Alcest album "Shelter". Alcest was known for their mixture of black metal and beautiful ambiance, but the band has decided to explore other musical territory.

Indeed, Alcest does sound different. Gone is the blackened palette, and in comes a style of shoegaze rock somewhere between Nosound and Anathema. It has a bit more clarity and structure then the former, but less variation of sound and emotion than the latter. So, yes, the band has abandoned their signature style, but this is not the first time a band has done this. I just hope fans calm down and give this gorgeous album a chance.

"Shelter" is definitely a beautiful work. The towering guitars are front and center here, with such melody and such expression of light and joy. Stephane Paut is the pillar of the album, as he performs almost every instrument and also the vocals. Jean Deflandre is on drums here, and does an admirable job of driving the melodies higher and higher. Yes, this album is definitely all in the upper range. Some may find this strange, but I enjoy it as it seems to hit all the right emotional notes. I do feel that it does hit some of the same notes over and over again, though. This album, while excellent, is surely lacking in variety somewhat.

The album does have highs and lows, though. After an amazing opening in "Wings", I feel the album dips a bit, though it is still enjoyable. However, when "Voix Sereines" begins, the album reaches an all-new level. This track is the best on the album in my opinion, as its melody climbs and climbs until it reaches a guitar-fueled climax of intense proportions. After this, the album doesn't let up at all. Every song is as wonderful as the last, and when we reach "Away" (the only English-language track) and "Délivrance", we meet the next two best tracks. Light and ambiance, emotion and smooth vocals: This is what "Shelter" is all about from beginning to end.

So, is it as textured and darkly beautiful as Alcest's previous works? No. Is it a worse album because of it? Not at all. I appreciate evolution of sound, and I respect when musicians feel they are ready to move on to something new. Alcest has done that, and has managed to craft an excellent outing.

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Send comments to Second Life Syndrome (BETA) | Report this review (#1130302)
Posted Tuesday, February 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
2 stars Well this was a surprise, gone is the black metal of 'Ecailles de Lune' and 'Souvenirs', what we have here actually reminds me more of modern day Anathema, very ethereal and truly gorgeous music. That being said, we lost a lot to get to this point, gone is the layered majesty of Ecailles, the adventurous nature of their previous works, gone is any sense of change or growth within the album (despite the sense that there seems to be a great deal of change and growth within the band).

The album, to me at least, feels stale. It's breathtaking, stunning, at times even jaw- dropping but it doesn't go anywhere... It persists, plateau's and then stagnates and this is despite the fact that I feel the two last songs are the albums best. Like Anathema's current albums it showcases only a part of the band and doesn't opt to change the sound or style throughout.

This is good in some ways, it gives a sense of unity and completion to the album but it is extremely detrimental in some other ways. On the one hand it lacks any ambition or creativity on the part of the album (not on the part of the band for making this album). On top of that the album begins to feel like a grind after a while and with so little originality between the songs it is difficult to differentiate one from another making the album, at least to some degree, forgettable.

My final point against this album is that it doesn't reward the listener with a close listening as almost all of the music is understood in its surface. This gives the album a more immediate appeal but also makes the album a bore on repeated listen. I don't dislike the album but I feel it functions fare better as background music than an album that warrants close and repeated listening.

I think this is a good album, and an album worth a listen if you enjoy modern Anathema or shoegaze rock. For everyone else, and for fans of older Alcest, I wouldn't recommend this album... Not a letdown because of its new style but because of the lack of ideas and musical change within the album.

2 stars

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Send comments to MJAben (BETA) | Report this review (#1134848)
Posted Friday, February 21, 2014 | Review Permalink
jammun
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Well this ain't like the others.

But there is a certain ring to it. The song Shelter is more or less perfect and as good a summation of arena rock as you are likely t hear. I do not mean that in a derogatory way.

Put a little smoke in the bowl, my brothers, and fire it up, (these things are legal where I live) and travel with Neige into that aural ether, where you float upon guitars and there is still no credible bottom end. But by the time you get to Délivrance and there's gotta be some Celtic thang going on there, yer hooked.

I personally do not remember hearing guitars that ring just so in the last decade or so.

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Send comments to jammun (BETA) | Report this review (#1152636)
Posted Sunday, March 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars 'Shelter' - Alcest (65/100)

To be honest, I'm surprised Alcest haven't been featured in a Subaru commercial already. If that's a stretch, it's at least a near-certainty we'll be hearing them on a movie trailer for some coming-of-age romantic comedy. Regardless whether this prediction is meant to be taken in jest (It's not), it's pretty clear that Alcest have, by this point, drifted away entirely from the metal sphere. While Les voyages de l'âme suggested that the band's frontman Neige was more inclined towards the shoegazey end of the so-called 'blackgaze' fusion he's said to have pioneered, Shelter is proof of the band's completed shift. For all the discussion and debate this transformation has caused however, surprisingly little has changed in the band's atmosphere and approach. Reverb-laden guitars, fragile vocals and a Romantic longing for childlike essence are all familiar ideas for Alcest. Shelter holds the fort for the most part, but save for a handful of (admittedly brilliant) standout moments, this album does little to compete with the excellence of the first two.

I might describe the work of Alcest as 'dreamlike'. Not surreal or twisted by any means, but rather the sort of innocent atmosphere you might find in a child's storybook. For about as long as Alcest's existed as anything but a demo black metal outfit, they've sought to unlock that Romantic notion of inner-looking melancholy in their listeners. On a more technical level, their fusion of black metal and traditional shoegaze aesthetics has since earned them a legion of imitators. While it's certainly surprising to have seen them turn their backs so absolutely on a style they're said to have invented (or at least popularized), the move into undisputed shoegaze territory hasn't resulted in too much of a practical change in sound. After all, even at their most intense, Alcest were never 'particularly' metal to begin with.

If anything's really evolved since the third album, it's the emotional tone. Particularly on Écailles de lune, Alcest have been caught in a tug-of-war between feelings of sad melancholy and purely optimistic hope. Although the final decision isn't as absolute and one-sided as the metal-shoegaze debate, it's clear that Alcest have taken a turn for the bright and cheery. If the album cover's any indication, the darkness has been swept away; whatever hints of sadness remain are left as suggestions at best. The much-talked about single "Opale" is an example of happiness at its most pure; shimmering guitars, lively leads and gentle vocals convey a rare sense of carefreeness that even Alcest have never before explored. The trite video, which may be summarized as a pair of amorous teens chasing each other around with neon paints, highlights the sweetness to the point of diabetes-inducing saccharine, but the song itself is quite solid.

Let it be known I have nothing against happiness or optimism in music, but listening to Shelter as a whole, I recall the perennial debate whether or not great art is possible without unhappiness. The general quality of songwriting is roughly consistent with "Les voyages de l'âme", but the streamlined emotional palette leaves Shelter feeling a little empty. Looking at "Opale", for example: where the cheerful leads may have been counterpointed with a tinge of sadness on past albums, there's scarcely depth beyond the surface impression. It can be said that others (like "La nuit marche avec moi") lend themselves better to emotional interpretation, but Shelter is largely defined by surface-value cheer and atmosphere.

The clear exception (and emotional highlight) here is the ten minute closing track. "Délivrance" has been earned some well-deserved praise individually, and having seen Alcest close off a live set late last year with it, I can confidently call it one of the best tracks they have ever done. Where most of Shelter sounds like a pleasantly typical shoegaze record, "Délivrance" achieves the sort of transcendental beauty I knew Alcest were capable of. It may take a while to get going, but this mini-epic is structured with purpose and intention. Building gradually, it eventually erupts into a quasi-choral idea that falls nothing short of being gorgeous.

On the topic of voices, Neige's clean vocals have always been fragile, but I have always thought that sense of vulnerability worked well for the tone they were going for. On Shelter however, his voice too-often crosses the boundary into whininess. The voice itself hasn't changed much since the debut, but there's the impression Neige has become a little too confident with his vocals. Where they may have been comfortably muddled in the mix on the debut, they now come front and center relative to all else. Even when I may have found myself annoyed by his voice on past albums, the voice took shelter in the waves of distortion and effects. Neige has little such protection on Shelter; he can still be praised for having a relatively distinctive voice all things considered, but the static elfishness does little to sway me. On a tangential note, it's a shame Neige decided to let go of his harsh vocals; I'm by no means prejudiced against a non-metal Alcest, but his shrieks were among the most impressive and atmospheric ingredients the band had to offer. His relatively mediocre clean vocals could have even worked here, but I'd have hoped to hear them play a more subdued role. It should also be noted that Neil Halstead (of Slowdive, Neige's favourite band if I'm not mistaken) offers his voice on the song "Away". Maybe you need to be an existing fan of Slowdive to appreciate the guest spot, but I think his performance sounds terrible. It's no doubt a great honour for Neige to have one of his musical icons contributing to his work, but Halstead's low-register croon doesn't translate well here.

To put it briefly, it generally feels like Alcest have stayed their natural course with this one. Even if the stylistic evolution is noticeable, the shift towards shoegaze isn't surprising. Shelter sounds remarkably pretty, and it's well-executed, but I'm not hearing a lot of inspiration amidst the reverberated guitars and lilting voices. Am I condemning Shelter for being 'too happy'? Not at all- Anathema's latest couple of albums are even cheerier than this, and they move me plenty. In most respects Alcest have crafted a solid album here, but it pales in comparison to what they've done in the past. In that sense, I cannot help but feel disappointed.

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#1160672)
Posted Saturday, April 12, 2014 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars I'd found the previous Alcest number, "Les voyages de l'âme", to be rather disappointing, but in retrospect it's clear that it was a transitional release which suffered from Alcest's increasing disinterest in the metal half of its black metal/shoegaze fusion. Here, the problem is solved by Alcest abandoning metal altogether, yielding a pure shoegaze release which manages to turn in a decent but not revolutionary performance in that genre. Metal fans will find little to love here, shoegaze fans will have heard this all before, and if you're one of those who feels really excited about the aesthetic possibilities of blackgaze, you'll probably find this a deeply unambitious release.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1164149)
Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars No Exit

It was always going to come to this.

When you are the forefront of a genre, you can imagine the difficulty when you inevitably get tired of what you've created. Historical examples come in plenty, either an artist keeps plugging away at the same thing, most of the time missing the point, although occasionally getting some good material in, or the artist will completely leave behind the style, maybe start a new band in a different genre, or just take a complete tangent to the it, alienating fans, but also creating new ones. I could take the example of a band like Marillion, who more or less invented Neo-Prog, leaving the style in the dust after just four records, because I think they felt it was getting dry already. And then their counterparts, IQ, who stuck with the style for their whole career, knocking away at getting it right, but never quite getting the same as the beginning (of course, for the sake of analogy, I'll ignore Frequency, which is obviously their best).

So Neige, frontrunner of this 'Blackgaze' genre that's been coming up for a while, has finally decided to leave it behind, with the fourth full-length album of Alcest, his main band, Shelter. It wasn't hard to see this coming, Les voyages de l'âme was more or less a dark Shoegaze album with a couple of blast beats and screaming parts, and mapping the natural progressions of musicians normally show them creating full albums based on small elements introduced in previous records. Hopefully this means the next Alcest album will be entirely in English sung by Neil Halstead?

Neige has little tricks that he uses, throughout all of the Alcest releases, an even over into his other bands, like Lantlôs and Amesoeurs. You'll know the delay-ridden acoustic guitar, the low rumble of what is often a loop of Neige singing a single note, the slightly jangly chord sound that often comes in after the aforementioned acoustic/delay part. Theory people will know the diminished chords and the resolutions on V and IV, just the little things that remind us of who's composing. But what Neige has done with Shelter, by cutting off any remnants of their metal past, black metal or not, he has essentially cut his list of tricks in two. Gone are the blast beats, the fantastic screams. Gone are the reverb-drenched overdrive riffs that pack such a punch to this dreamy music. And although I'm trying not to sound like a disgruntled metalhead who wants it to be br00tal, it means that this album is mostly one-sided.

And sure, you could argue that dropping the heaviness could open Neige up to new sounds, but honestly, this is just everything on the previous records, but without the metal. Sure, the addition of the string parts is new, but that just piles on the dreaminess even more until it becomes Valtari-levels of ambience. This album is more or less the same thing start to finish in terms of mood and atmosphere.

But as much as this is a change from the Alcest I love, this is still a great record. It's slow, I'll admit, but once you give it a few listens, even the tiny little melodies that each track develops become glorious. Alcest have always been about emotion, in all of their albums, and Shelter is no different. Except, unlike Écailles de lune, this isn't a depressing album that you want to listen to alone in a darkened room and cry about. This is an uplifting record, euphoric even. The same level of emotional saturation that Alcest have had is still there, but it's focused on happy emotions. Glory, peace, dreams, aspirations, the haze isn't a cover over darkened emotions anymore, it's a positive haze, like staring at the sun?

Oh yeah, I'm trying hard not to mention a certain big deal with a pink cover that people are inevitably going to compare this to, but it's just too obvious. Alcest have gone happy, the cover is a blurry picture of the sun with people covering it. It'll be hard to avoid mentioning the words sun, bat, and her. But in my honest opinion, Sunbather wasn't a happy record, at least not like Shelter is. People are inevitably going to say that Alcest are copying, or bandwagoning with, Deafheaven, with the concept and idea behind this album, so I feel we need to mention the fact that Deafheaven wouldn't exist without Alcest. Moving on?

I've a had a huge case of the lead single effect with "Opale", a track that I didn't think much of when its video was released, but now can't get enough of. The lead hook, the atmospheric aaahs and oohs that the album opens with in "Wings" may be insanely simple, but somehow Neige creates a beautifully uplifting atmosphere with such a simple motif, which is more or less the essence of Alcest's music. The same thing happens in "Voix Sereines", another of my favourite tracks, with that simple little motif that even a child could think of, but Neige uses his voice and his pedalboard to bring it to utter glory. But I have to comment on the lead riff of "Opale", which I'm still not convinced on. It just feels slightly off. I really like the notes and the progression, but the rhythm is weird and off-putting, somehow sounding like it's in an odd signature when it's really in straight 4/4. I thought that it would grow on me and I would get used to it, but it still bugs me 10 listens later.

The other highlight track here is obviously going to be "Away", Alcest's first English song, featuring Slowdive singer Neil Halstead. On my first listen to Shelter, I have to admit that it got a bit boring, as pleasant and pretty as it was. The songs just mix into a haze of ambient vocals and delay and reverb and (new on this record) strings. But then Away comes, with Neil's rather regular vocal delivery, speaking in English. Now, I have to admit my lack of education that, despite knowing about them for years, I have never actually listened to Slowdive (although I know exactly what I'm doing when this review is done), but the match of this simple voice with Alcest's dreamy instrumentation is nearly perfect. Neige's distant background vocals lift up the chorus to great heights, and with this song situated right around the point when you start to get bored of the same sound, it's nearly perfect in reminding you that Alcest are still moving forward.

Although I enjoy this record, I feel in terms of the sheer number of great riffs and motifs throughout Écailles De Lune and Les Voyages, this is always going to pale in comparison. The mood of the music is new and fresh and wonderful for Alcest, but I think in terms of the quantity of riffs that I say are amazing, this isn't their best. And I think, honestly, that's the only reason that I believe this is the weakest Alcest album yet, simply because of the quantity of great ideas. I love it, but taking the perspective of others, I can see how many who are not Alcest fanboys may find this 'boring'. I really hope Neige continues the happier mood onto further albums, but he really should develop some more great melodies to base the atmosphere on. Like the final track, 10-minute "Délivrance". Ever since "Eccailes De Lune", the idea of a 10-minute Alcest track has been in the minds of everyone, wanting another thundering epic. But Délivrance just sort of meanders, holding together its main theme in waves of ambience. It's pleasant music, but the fact that the 9 minutes of "Eccailes De Lune Part I" had more riffs than half of this album really shows how drawn out these pieces are becoming.

Shelter may not be a perfect record. It lacks the sheer quantity of great riffs and melodies that the past Alcest albums had, but I'm definitely loving the happier side. Allegedly this is the first Alcest record where Neige has stopped writing about his 'experience' (what it exactly is is still unclear), when he was a child, representing a moving forward of Alcest's music into something new. Even though I think that Les Voyages is their best record, I could definitely see where people were coming from when they said it was trying to recreate past glory, and Shelter is most certainly a big step forward. It does get a bit empty sometimes, and a few of the songs, for a significant amount of time, are just pleasant ambience, but Opale and Away are definitely amongst Alcest's best tracks.

7.7

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

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Send comments to Gallifrey (BETA) | Report this review (#1165526)
Posted Friday, April 25, 2014 | Review Permalink

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