Review Summary: Alcest's Neige hits a big roadblock by overlooking roadblocks altogether. Where's the passion? Where's the disparity? What is he fighting for?
The third full-length album released from solo musical project Alcest is possibly the most bland, unimaginative piece of work to come from someone who so endearingly melds the brilliance of post-rock with the raw power of metal. Les Voyages de l’Ame
(or The Journeys of the Soul
for those of us who didn’t take high school French) is brought to us by a man who goes by the name of Neige. In 2010, he gave us Ecailles de Lune
(Scales of the Moon
), which blended the ethereal quality of post-rock with the overpowering force of growls and distortion so well that each element seemed to naturally lead into the other. But Les Voyages
is long, exhausting post-rock/shoegaze haul, filled with recycled riffs and a mawkish vocal performance.
I’m not one to gripe over labels and whether or not an artist is “sticking” to their genre or not, but for a metal album, Les Voyages
feels oddly distant and campy. Layers of space-like, drone-y guitars flood these tracks. You can practically see Neige actually staring
at his shoes as he sits there, swaying back and forth playing the guitar. The opening single, “Autre Temps,” portrays this well. Ringing guitars a la Explosions in the Sky eventually give way to a bit more distortion and an incessantly static rhythm. And the “Oohhh’s” and “Aaahh’s” are just the icing on the cake.
The album tends to drag, as though Neige has completely run out of material and decided to play the one song he thought was good for eight tracks straight. But while the title track has much of the same uninventive mix, there is an interesting transition halfway through. The continually layering guitars suddenly pick up speed into bright tremolo picking, not nearly hard enough to be considered metal, but just different enough from post-rock to give you a taste of how well Neige can merge these opposing elements together. Then again, that all eventually falls through the cracks as the same plain rhythm rears its ugly head and Neige’s saccharine vocals ring out like a troubled, whining child gasping for attention.
Somewhere around the fifth and sixth track (“Beings of Light” and “Faisures de Mondes,” respectively) is where the black metal pacing and influences begin to play a slightly more prominent role. The tremolo picking on “Faisures de Mondes” leads into some beautiful melodies, which carry this expansion of sound that nearly suffocates the atmosphere while maintaining a decidedly upbeat and victorious attitude. And although that doesn’t necessarily make the bigger picture any better, it at least gives some variation.
Ultimately, Les Voyages de l’Ame
drones on and on in what feels like the soundtrack to an inspirational movie. The production value is certainly high on this album, and it sounds very nice. But that’s exactly the point; it sounds nice. It’s pleasant, it’s pretty, it makes you feel warm once in a while, but any run-of-the-mill post-rock album is going to do the same thing. It just feels as though it’s trying too hard for something that just isn’t paying off. Look at the titles of some of the tracks--“Beings of Light” and “Summer’s Glory”--or the cover of the album--a large peacock? It looks and sounds like its striving for some grand scale (think Anthony Gonzalez making the album he’d remember his whole life), but instead, Les Voyages
settles on repetitive riffs and an ambiance that has you wracking your head for an adjective better than “angelic” or “ethereal.” It’s time for Neige to roll up his sleeves and show us that there’s a difference between droning and sounding like a drone.