Alcest - Écailles De Lune
Atmospheric Post-Black/Shoegaze
6 songs (41:47)
Release year: 2010
Alcest, Prophecy
Reviewed by Goat

Sheer beauty is rare in music as grumpy and menacing as ours, but the skills of Neige (Peste Noire, Amesoeurs, Lantlôs, etc) managed to make the first full-length from Alcest a thing of just that. All the usual controversy arose as a result, of course, chief amongst them the issue of whether Alcest's music was Black Metal at all? It may seem like a purely academic debate, but such is the importance placed upon such labels that it can make or break a band in the ravenous underground. Well, there's no doubting Écailles De Lune's Black Metalness in my mind - few will be able to deny the fierceness of some of the bursts into speed here, some of Neige's shrieks, yet by no means has Neige moved back underground with this project. Instead, he's followed Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde up wonderfully, shifting his gaze from memories of youthful innocence to, as the cover art suggests, something more mysterious. His plans with this project have always been to evoke the esoteric, a place of wonder and beauty where the soul can rest awhile between earthly sojourns, and it's with Écailles De Lune that this vision is becoming realised.

Everyone will see it differently, but in my mind where this album changes most from its predecessor is in the extra fantastical element. The cover art is perfect, a slumbering innocent being sheltered by a mermaid's hair, the night alive in a wonderful combination of sky and sea that makes it difficult to tell whether the scene is staged above or underwater. It reminds me of the illustrations in an old collection of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales that I loved as a child, having the same uneasy otherworldliness that made me unsure whether I wanted to travel there immediately or shut the book and never look at it again. Alcest's music is similar - it's lovely and fantastical on the surface, but there's a very dark undercurrent. Without a doubt, it's uplifting and pleased with the world it dwells in, having that typical Post-Rock joyful melancholy, that fervent desire to rise above the miseries of existence and be at peace for a while. Nowhere is this more evident than on the shimmering Solar Song, a mid-album five-minute piece that immediately and without mercy throws Sigur Rós from their perch and declares itself master of the style - beautiful, near-wordless vocals, restrained, almost Jesu-esque guitars and clashing drums, all coming together in perfection.

There's a great deal to get through before you come to that, however, not least the title track, split into two parts of just under ten minutes each. Expertly moving between atmospheric strums and blastbeats, wistful singing and throat-tearing screams, Neige creates a beautiful piece of music that really defies description, and opens the album well. It meanders wonderfully, wandering over dreamscapes pleasant and surreal, never jarring or introducing anything that you could headbang to, but vibrantly pulsing with the sheer joy of existence nonetheless. The second part may start more stridently and invoke thoughts Drudkhian, but it's very clearly a companion piece, just as varied with its lush melodies and touches of female vocals, and moves the album forwards towards the more upfront and engaging Percées De Lumière, which is how U2 would sound if they were as good as claimed. It's as uplifting and emotional as Bono and co, but with much more bite and verve.

I feel bad for criticising at all, but ambient interlude Abysses and closing track Sur L'Océan Couleur De Fer are less good, if only due to the comparison with the others. The former is as deep and eerie as its name suggests, whilst the latter is surprisingly light and almost ecclesiastical in style. Neige sounds more like a choirboy than anything, gentle and acoustic strums underpinning a stunning vocal performance which finishes the album off in near-cinematic glory. Yet both feel like a step down when compared to the other songs - a minor point, perhaps, but one worth stating, although it doesn't stop the album being a terrific one. Those who loved Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde are sure to love this as much if not more, although debate about which is better will probably rage on for years (Souvenirs just beats this in my books, but only just). I'm writing this a few weeks ahead of the album's official release date, and can say without hesitation that this is a release worth putting in your diary - Post-Black has never sounded so alive, so gorgeous and lush, and Alcest deserve all the praise that is doubtless coming Neige's way.

Killing Songs :
Both parts of Écailles De Lune, Percées De Lumière, Solar Song, Sur L'Océan Couleur De Fer
Goat quoted 88 / 100
Other albums by Alcest that we have reviewed:
Alcest - Kodama reviewed by Andy and quoted 86 / 100
Alcest - Shelter reviewed by Neill and quoted 95 / 100
Alcest - Les Voyages De LAme reviewed by Alex and quoted 80 / 100
Alcest - Souvenirs dun Autre Monde reviewed by Alex and quoted 85 / 100
Alcest - Le Secret reviewed by Alex and quoted 82 / 100
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