I’ve been listening to Alcest since 2014’s fantastic “Shelter”. There aren’t many bands that can offer the type of soul-piercing music that they can. They have recently signed with Nuclear Blast, and consequently have a new record releasing on October 25th. “Spiritual Instinct” has proven itself to be a very deep and addictive album for me.
Alcest hails from Paris, France. The band is so very expressive, but also somewhat secretive. The members on this album include: Stéphane “Neige” Paut on vocals, guitars, bass, and synth, and Jean “Winterhalter” Deflandre on drums.
Alcest are basically the pioneers of a new sound, so their music can be tricky to describe. Their music contains elements of metal, post metal, post rock, shoegaze, doom, and black metal. Some call them “blackgaze”. That means their music features towering heights, spacey atmospheres, and grand melodies while also offering darkened corridors, dim and somewhat faint harsh vox, distorted double bass canters, and profound textures. This time around, the band explores more of their metal side, offering heavier moments than I recall on their previous records. Yes, you will hear proper riffs and that sort of thing, but they are still woven into a fabric that is highly eclectic and purposeful.
I always find myself amazed at how the band can utilize darkness and shadows to create such uplifting, hopeful, and spiritual music. Perhaps this is possible because of the conflict and mixture of darkness and light within each of us, and so this music speaks to our reality. Yes, Alcest offers music that speaks to our reality, to our humanity. Alcest is music for the soul.
“Spiritual Instinct” is entirely sung in French, as usual for Alcest. Despite the fact that I don’t understand a word of what is being said, the album still conveys a personal inner battle that I completely recognize within myself. The desperation and longing in Neige’s voice sounds so very familiar, even if the words do not. That is what Alcest has always been for me, and I often wonder if the emotions feel so familiar because Neige chooses to sing in his native tongue. For many bands worldwide, they choose to perform in English, a secondary language for them. While they still convey emotion, somehow a performer’s native tongue feels private and far more genuine sometimes.
There are only six songs on the record, so I want to mention each one briefly. “Les Jardins De Minuit” (The Gardens of Midnight) begins the album with black metal elements. The quickened pace and the searing harsh vox play perfectly up against the lush vocal melodies. “Protection” is one of those songs that doesn’t start out all that impressively, or maybe it just takes a minute to jump on the musical train it offers. However, it emerges into a very emotional chorus that sounds anxious and calling out for help. I especially love the guitars on this one, and love the giant breakaway to some scorching harsh vox in the middle.
“L’Île des Morts” (Isle of the Dead) is somewhat different from the other songs. It has an electronic vibe at points, and the guitars are powerful and riffy. It feels foreboding and cautionary, even scary at times. You’ll hear that familiar black metal gallop quite a bit, too. The title track is a fantastic ending to the album. It is highly melodic, and the guitars whip and whirl in intense fashion. The song primarily focuses on highly melodic vocal theatrics, and so it will get stuck in your head, for sure. You can definitely visualize Neige kicking his head back with his eyes closed to unleash the melodic vocals on this one.
I skipped a couple songs because they are my favorites. “Sapphire” is one of my favorite songs of 2019, for sure. The slower pace, the hulking drums and perfect fills, the existential chorus, the haunting screams, and the melodic vocal breakdowns: there are so many things to love about this song. I can’t stop listening to it, blaring it in my car at night. “Le Miroir” (The Mirror) has this piercing keyboard vibe, and almost feels balladic, having so much soul. I know the battle with the person in the mirror very well, and so the lush, hanging ambiance, the delicate and reassuring vocal lines, and the burning slow build all connect with me here.
Alcest keep getting better and better. Their music feels fuller and more complete than ever, as they pay attention to all parts of the musical spectrum. They know how to bring together diverse yet compatible elements, fusing them with precision and beauty. “Spiritual Instinct” reaches my soul through its obvious display of feeling and inner conflict. For fans of Anathema and basically any fan of beautiful music, the new Alcest album is for you.