Review Summary: Neige displays a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him succeed where others fail
If Écailles de Lune
was anything to go by, Neige and his band Alcest were ready to hit the ground running when it came time to record the follow up to what was easily the most appealing combination of black metal and shoegaze to grace the ears of listeners in what seemed like ages. It’s not like Alcest to release the same album twice, though, so it comes as no surprise that Les Voyages De L'Âme
differs as much from Écailles de Lune
as that album had from Neige’s debut Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde
. If anything, Neige has become bolder in his style, not so much concerned with pleasing fans and swaying naysayers as he is writing what he feels – an attitude that has a direct impact on how different Les Voyages De L'Âme
turned out to be. If Écailles de Lune
showed the harsher side of Alcest and Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde
was more whimsical, Les Voyages De L'Âme
ends up leaning toward the latter, but unlike the 2007 debut the album does not remain so one-sided.
If black metal and shoegaze weren’t a volatile enough combination, Alcest incorporate a healthy helping of the “post” realm into Les Voyages De L'Âme
to have its effects heard. The compositions are winding, dissonant affairs that aren’t as intent on structure as they are on atmosphere. Whereas the more orthodox opener “Autre Temps” provides us with a layout that is easy to swallow, tracks like “Summer’s Glory” are open-ended and go wherever they please. This isn’t necessarily something to complain about, especially when it is clear that Neige knows what he wants to do, but unfortunately for him that isn’t always the case. Things sometimes drag mercilessly, especially in the latter half of the record, and the stylistic changes are so minute that things become as dull as a multitude of bright paints smeared into a gray paste on the same swath of canvas – there simply isn’t any vibrancy to it. It is relieving, then, to note that the entire album doesn’t suffer this same fate. “La Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles”, while being the longest song on the album also displays in full force what Neige is out to do: craft music that incorporates the best of several worlds as it straddles the boundaries of multiple genres. High-pitched shrieks and airy, flowing French singing clash over clean and distortion guitar in a way that invokes a kind of beauty of opposites as each shade collides with another.
The clean guitar that opens the album in “Autre Temps” sets the stage for perhaps the best song Alcest has ever made, despite its distinct lack of any mood approaching intense. It is one-dimensional, yes, but doesn’t fall into the trap of monotony that its contemporaries later in the record become ensnared in because of the fact that the songwriting has focus. It becomes apparent that Neige is at his best when he has his target lined up and isn’t being quite as ambitious. There are crosscurrents of brilliance sapped by banality, but what is worth staying for is enough to bring you back time and again. The atmosphere is so palpable and real that it makes you wonder why other bands who play this style fail so miserably. Les Voyages De L'Âme
is worth listening to for its soothing quality alone; a deep and easy listen that reeks pretense but simply couldn’t function without it. Instrumentation is not technical in the least bit because doing so would be so out of place that it would break the spell the album places you under.
Les Voyages De L'Âme
is simple instrumentally, layered atmospherically, and radiant aesthetically. Neige does what he wants to do with this record, and as such it turned out to be something that didn’t aim to please any specific crowd. It is more diverse than Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde
yet not as contrasting as Écailles de Lune
. It is shoegaze, post-rock, and black metal only in name – in substance it is something that cannot be called any of the above. It is far from perfect yet could never possibly get there. Les Voyages De L'Âme
is Alcest through and through, and from here Neige could logically go in many directions, and it is likely that he will pursue other sounds. No two Alcest records are exactly the same, and because of this it is easy to gauge whether or not Neige still has a penchant for songwriting. As the sound becomes repetitive, it is a clue that maybe it’s time to move on to bigger and better things, but for now Alcest can keep going right along.