Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast, 2019)
Post-Metal / Blackgaze / Shoegaze | France
Some fifteen-odd years since the genre’s inception, blackgaze’s relevance in the larger landscape of metal can hardly be denied. Despite the tendency of most highly specific genres to grow more and more monotonous over time, pioneers Alcest have consistently retained an undeniably distinctive style throughout their output – and Spiritual Instinct sees that trend continuing.
The album opens with a heavier, more metal-tinged tone for Alcest. In Neige’s own words, the guitar riffing is of a “Norwegian black metal type”. The track seamlessly transitions back and forth between more distorted, riff-heavy sections and rich, uplifting harmonies, with Neige’s angelic coos layered over distant, characteristically black metal screamed vocals. The album’s lead single, ,,Protection“, initially sees the band again exploring their more aggressive side. The distant, screeching guitars build up to a cathartic crescendo with a screamed vocal section, which in turn provides a feeling of relief in the mellow outro.
Striking a balance
,,Sapphire“ sees the band incorporating a Post-Punk inspired twist to their sound, with clear, Cure-esque guitar and tones sprinkled throughout the blackgaze distortion. It would’ve been interesting to see the band venture a little more deeply into this particular influence, and the track could’ve benefited from a little more progression. However, the album’s best moments are right at its center – ,,L’île des morts‘ ‚’ complex, shifting composition keeps the listener on their toes through its entire nine minute runtime. Evenly balancing the darker and lighter elements of the band’s sound, the rich instrumental passages undoubtedly require an attentive listener to peel back all the layers. The latter half of the track provides a brief catch-breath from the dense instrumental onslaught, just to close out with its initial overwhelming fury.
The light prevails
From the very beginning, ,,Le Miroir“ elegantly demonstrates the band’s knack for fusing together sounds that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. The sludgy opening tones transition into a shimmering, synth-backed guitar arpeggio in an unexpectedly natural way. Tonally, the song sticks to its bright, open trajectory, seemingly ascending as it progresses and builds – only for the band to strip it of its dense, layered atmosphere in the final minute, closing out with a distant but warm guitar melody.
Building from the previous track, the album closes out on a decisively light, positive note. The ethereal vocal harmonies beautifully compliment the elated, almost celebratory concluding moments of the album’s gripping journey from darkness and chaos into the light.
Spiritual Instinct encapsulates what genre fans have come to love about Alcest.
For the most part it doesn’t stray too far from the sound the band have built their name on – rather, it’s a tight, well-executed affirmation of the band’s sonic identity.
Favourite tracks: “L’île des morts“; “Le Miroir“
Least favourite track: “Sapphire“