Album Review: Alcest - Spiritual Instinct
Reviewed by Robbie Maguire
There are a handful of bands around at the moment that upon the release of a new album, you are genuinely unsure of what that album will sound like. Unsure if they have followed previous works or thrown a complete curveball in. Excitement and anticipation is intensified due to this unpredictable nature of the band. Alcest are one of these bands. Despite releasing two singles off 'Spiritual Instinct', you still do not quite know what they've produced until you've heard the whole album properly. In this bands case as well, until you have had time to digest and fully appreciate the complexities of the work.
'Les Jardins de Minuit' starts proceedings with a slow and atmospheric intro, teetering on the edge of beauty and the expectation of something about to come and come it does. If any fears were had that this album might have wondered too far away from the Black metal underpinning them, they are put right here. A devilishly blackened riff is delivered accompanied by blast beats that make may for some simply majestic guitar work. There is a warmth to this introduction as well as a sense of melancholy.
Clean vocals work in tandem with the stunning screams creating a multi-layered effect where the voice in essence becomes an instrument. Something that throughout the six songs is a major factor is the way the vocals sit within the mix. It appears, to these ears anyway, they are not too prominent but also not lost behind a wall of sound. Be it the clean singing, the icy shrills or the dreamy chanting the power, fragility and alluring nature of the voice is captured superbly on 'Spirtual Instinct'.
Lead Single 'Protection' follows with its colossal guitars and furious drums thundering with echo in the background. A black metal song with an individual modern take. The seismic riffs cut through and leave an immediate imprint on you. Clearly evident as well as subtle tempo changes all occur to help make this seriously heavy yet very accessible song.
The dirty bass driven rhythm of 'Sapphire' is as infectious as it is hypnotic. As with all the songs there is a natural pace and flow. Nothing appears misplaced or forced. A sense of space is present that allows the music the freedom to be as uplifting in minimal moments and dynamic in the faster more aggressive parts.
Its hard to pick a highlight on such a diverse and strong album. 'Lile des Morts' gently pulls you into its dark moody grandness. Neige displaying his astounding vocal prowess and the range he shows begs the question is there a better black metal vocalist? Indeed you could go as far ask if there was a better vocalist in extreme metal. Many of the revered black metal vocalist trade on reputation alone, Neiges voice however genuinely captivating and addictively soothing. In an age where it seems most albums need a few listens to bed in or to 'get' something from, it is refreshing and not a surprise that this album reveals its gifts and joyous moments from the first listen. As cohesive an album its is, all the tracks on 'Spiritual Instinct' stand out strong enough on their own as they do as a collection.
Spirituality is a realm that is an important factor for principal songwriter and frontman Neige. His art is a way for him to explore his spirituality and the journey that he has been on appears to have been dark and very much a struggle. A battle between the gloomier aspects of his personality and the need to reconnect with his spiritual essence and to be the best person that he can be. Neige described the process of writing this record as 'cathartic', a word often associated with music. Having heard 'Spiritual Instinct' many times now, I certainly do not understand the overbearing thoughts, feelings and anxieties that Neige experiences but I do hear those anxieties, those fears, those hopes through the music.
The Epic 'Le Miroir' in all its film score repetitive ethereal quality, build and builds and almost becomes overwhelming. The clear production certainly enhances the gentler more emotive moments. Where the blackened barrage of riffing appears on other tracks the clearness allows them to cut through crisply and concisely when needed.
Shoegaze, blackgaze, atmospheric black metal however you choose to label this album, 'Spiritual Instinct' is a phenomenal piece of work by a band truly pushing the boundaries within extreme music. Their ability to put their unique spin and take on black metal puts Alcest at the very top of the current crop of exciting relevant bands. They are in effect developing the genre like very few others are attempting to whilst respectfully recognising the importance and relevance of the core black metal sound. The comfort and ease with which Alcest deftly shift between the menacing, the heart-wrenching and the uplifting is to be enjoyed and admired.
Black metal is not something that generally you dip in and out of. In most cases you either get it or you don't. With Alcest, however once you have tentatively dipped your toes in and tested the waters, you will wholeheartedly throw yourself in, feeling immersed in the uplifting blackened beauty of 'Spiritual Instinct'.
Alcest releases 'Spiritual Instinct' via Nuclear Blast on October 25th