Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 21/4
Written by: AP on 28/11/2016 23:25:18
Stéphane Paut, whom most people know by his pseudonym Neige, is often credited as one of the earliest pioneers of post-black metal (or ‘blackgaze’, as it has been called ever since the emergence of Deafheaven onto the scene), principally on the basis of his critically acclaimed solo-project, Alcest. The reverence in which the band is held rests most of its weight on 2010’s “Écailles de lune” and 2012’s “Les voyages de l’âme”, on which Neige drew upon the talent of Jean Deflandre (alias Winterhalter) to realise his drumming vision, and whom he subsequently instated as a permanent member of what is presently a duo. The pair’s third album together, 2014’s “Shelter”, saw a dramatic shift toward a shoegazing style and elicited more mixed reactions, albeit ushering in a surge in Alcest’s popularity among the hipper, Pitchfork-reading segment in particular.
You could thus be forgiven for expecting Alcest to continue on that route on its fifth opus, “Kodama”. But in order to tackle the concept — a confrontation of the natural world and the human world inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s epic anime film, “Princess Mononoke”, from 1997 — Neige felt it necessary to adopt a darker and more personal tone resembling his pre-“Shelter” era produce. That is to say, the cherished eruptions of tremolo, blastbeats and shrill, anguished screaming play a decisive role once more, whilst the dreamy contemplation that was so divisive on “Shelter” is kept at bay. The album is also Alcest’s first to involve session bassist Indria Saray in the recording process, not just liberating Neige from the burden of an instrument he never cared too much for, but also facilitating its rise toward a more essential role in the songs. In “Je suis d’ailleurs” for instance, the deep pacifying licks rolling beneath the chime of Neige’s melodies seem to introduce an entire new dimension to Alcest’s music, which never was particularly ‘heavy’. The change is very subtle, but nonetheless sufficient to cajole the listener and inspire them to dig deeper into the wealth of nuances on offer.
It is not as though Neige has taken a step back from the spotlight, however. On the contrary — on “Kodama”, his sweeping melodies, both vocal and instrumental, are as otherworldly as ever, rivalling and often surpassing their counterparts on “Écailles de lune” and “Les voyages de l’âme”. The way Neige’s soothing singing and shamanic chants float in and out of the music, fusing with the notes cascading down the neck of his guitar, has long been a pivotal feature of Alcest’s signature sound — indeed, it is sometimes impossible to tell those two components of his melodies apart. This unique characteristic means that even for French-speakers, it is not the lyricism to which songs like “Kodama” and “Oiseaux de proie” owe their lasting value. Instead, you pay attention to the phonetics, modulations, pitch shifts and timbre, and rapidly develop an insatiable desire to chant and croon along to the melodies rather than the words. Incidentally, the aforementioned title track in fact has no lyrics — all of the ‘singing’ consists of improvised vocalisations allegedly inspired by the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance.
Few records are so cathartic as to exorcise all semblance of anger, pain or frustration that you might house, but “Kodama” certainly petitions for the honour. Words alone cannot quite measure how purifying it feels, humming along to and immersing yourself in the transcendental juxtapositions of uplift and sombreness that Alcest summons here. Like the Japanese post-hardcore outfit Envy, the band’s fondness of building their music upon a foundation of Romanticism, lends itself to painting truly cinematic soundscapes that straddle a tightrope between emotional grandeur and melodrama — thankfully without slipping. Indeed, with “Kodama”, Alcest has perfected their compositional skill to a nigh untouchable level, emerging now more than ever as the leaders of the ‘blackgaze’ movement, as as one of the absolute highest caste of contemporary post-rock and -metal bands.
Download: Kodama, Eclosion, Je suis d’ailleurs, Oiseaux de proie
For the fans of: Deafheaven, Envy, Lantlôs, Les Discrets
Release date 30.09.2016