The French band Alcest have effectively been around for about a decade now — their first EP, Le Secret, was released in 2005, and that was followed by the debut full-length, Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde, in 2007. Both those releases are must-own essentials. They served as core inspirations for a bunch of contemporary black metal’s best bands (Deafheaven, Woods Of Desolation, A Pregnant Light, etc.), and more importantly, they are fucking great. They combine black metal with less-nihilistic (though no less atmospheric) forms of music — shoegaze, post-rock, ambient — to arrive at something truly unique and absolutely beautiful.
In 2007, at the time of Souvenirs’ release, Alcest mastermind, Stéphane Paut — who goes by the code name Neige — did an interview with Brandon Stosuy, revealing the origins of Alcest’s sound. Here’s an excerpt:
In my childhood I had some “visions” of an unknown place, of another dimension, [and] Alcest is the musical testimony of these experiences … Maybe I kept some memories of this state of consciousness. I couldn’t tell precisely if these experiences were sorts of memories from this “other world” or if they were an ability, which I had as a child, to catch sight of the doors of a parallel dimension, of a hidden reality. I hope these questions will be answered one day.
What I’m certain of is that things I perceive in these visions don’t look like anything I have seen in my current life or even in my dreams. It’s an indescribably beautiful place where everything– trees, glades, and brooks– produces a pearly light and where a faraway and celestial music floats in the air like a perfume. In such a place the spirit wanders without its mortal coil and deprived of the five senses pertaining to the body. It perceives what surrounds it in a completely different way such as I couldn’t describe with words. There, one no longer feels moral and physical suffering, diseases, anguish of death but only a feeling of peace and indescribable ecstasy. The place is inhabited by beings of light who are infinitely benevolent, protective and who communicate by talking directly to the soul, in a “language” beyond words. Of course, that was just a clumsy and incomplete description. To understand me fully, it’s better to listen to my music.
I typically find those sorts of explanations-of-the-art-from-the-artist to be nauseatingly precious, but in Neige’s case, I find it deeply illuminating. There are two reasons for this:
1. Even if you don’t believe a word of what he’s saying, the scene he’s painted for you in those words perfectly captures the way his music sounds.
2. I kinda believe him?
Since Souvenirs, Alcest have released three more LPs: 2010’s Écailles De Lune, 2012’s Les Voyages De L’Âme, and 2014’s Shelter. Those are all very good albums, but none are as good as Le Secret or Souvenirs. Écailles and Voyages offer marginally diminished-returns versions of the Souvenirs formula, and Shelter is pure dream-pop, sans black metal, produced by Birgir Jón Birgisson (Sigur Rós) and featuring guest vocals from Neil Halstead (Slowdive). Not surprisingly, Shelter sounds a lot like Sigur Rós and Slowdive, and at the time, Neige freely admitted that he wasn’t even trying to make metal anymore.
This year, Alcest return with the follow-up to Shelter — it’s called Kodama, and it’s out next month — and as he was in the studio making final tweaks, Neige offered another statement, suggesting he’d allowed some metal elements back into the mix:
For each album we try to challenge ourselves, developing the songs in new directions. This time will be just as special, but also a return to the approach we had in our earlier albums; with intense songs full of contrasts and dynamics. Even if this album is quite “alien” in character, we felt the need to come back to the origins of the project.
You can make of that what you will, but all I’ll say is this: I’ve had an advance of Kodama for maybe a month now, and I’ve listened to it just about every day since then. I’m in love with the thing. It’s pretty close to flawless, and it may even be something of a platonic ideal. I mean for me, anyway. And for Alcest. It has the lush, climactic qualities of Shelter, but the room-rattling urgency and unsettling shadows of Souvenirs and Le Secret. It’s a journey of an album, but at no point does the trek feel tiresome: The scenery is ever-changing, utterly engaging, and endlessly wondrous. It has the “contrasts and dynamics” promised by Neige, and it is also genuinely “alien.” It’s easily one of my favorite albums of 2016, and it could be my favorite, full stop.
We heard first single “Oiseaux De Proie” earlier this month, and if you haven’t spun that one yet, do the fuck so right away. But before you do that, check out the song we’re premiering today, “Je Suis D’Ailleurs.” It’s magnificent, and it will do a far better job of making my argument than my words possibly could. Listen.
Kodama is out 9/30 via Prophecy. Pre-order it here.