Review Summary: a respectable shoegaze record that goes to every effort to hold itself back.Shelter
was destined to be polarizing from the moment it was conceived. You could argue that this is the album Neige has been working towards since the very beginning of his journey into much more positive postures, the pivotal debut Souvenirs d'un autre monde
arguably being one of the first albums to garner widespread acclaim that brought black metal in an entirely polar-opposite direction to a surprising and groundbreaking success. The mixture of elements of black metal, the occasionally feverish drums and huge amounts of distortion played with major-key wall-of-sound rhythm guitars and ethereal and soothing clean vocals was entirely new and as such an incredibly compelling experience for many.
With the two albums that came after it, the foray into the two opposites and bringing them together went through maturity and logical progression, and where the instrumentation got more adventurous and songwriting got more diverse, the lines between the melancholic and the positive, comforting tones were blurred and made something new entirely. The constant shifts in mood while still retaining a strange sense of unity made 2012's Les Voyages de L'Ame
Alcest's strongest work to date. The black metal extremes of tracks like "La ou naissent les couleurs nouvelles" all the more impressive due to just how many shades of mood they had in one song alone while still retaining such a strange and ethereal consistency.
This is where Shelter
falters almost to a point of failing entirely; aside from a few moments that fly by so quickly you can barely grasp them, Shelter
almost entirely abandons the idea of seemingly opposing moods to create an entirely new atmosphere. It feels so familiar and pedestrian, as well done as it is for the most part. Alcest used to be a sum greater than its parts but now it seems all too easy and one-dimensional. As a consequence many of these tracks, as well done as they are, have any of the staying power or timelessness. The thick and infectious tones of "Wings" and "Opale" have a bright, warm and instantly accessible atmosphere that is gentle, innocent and alluring. But like many of the tracks like this album it simply passes by like a breeze, with every breeze feeling like the last aside from the occasional invigorating gust of wind.
One of these gusts is "Voix Sereines", which is absolutely everything that Alcest has worked towards. The mixture of the gorgeous major tones with the massive and emotional climax to the track with the huge, crunchy distorted guitars and frankly gorgeous vocals taking the power of the track to new heights. But in the context of the album it feels as if it's over as soon as it starts before being interrupted by the instrumentally appealing but emotionally detached "L'eveil des muses", with a very memorable four-on-the-floor rock beat with some great layered guitarwork - but it's difficult to not feel that it progresses into nothing before it ends. "Shelter" and "La nuit marche avec moi" feel very similar in mood - positive, catchy and easy to get lost in but with the aforementioned lack of memorability, both tracks of which pale in comparison to even the most positive songs from the debut. "Away" seems like a complete and utter throwaway, Neil Halstead of Slowdive fame taking the helm with English lyrics that really don't help the song in the slightest.
Then the most surprising thing happens - Alcest suddenly remember how to be absolutely amazing again. "Délivrance", the album's closer, is one of Neige's most touching and powerful compositions to date with some of the most wonderful melodies he's done - the climax that mixes huge and impenetrable layers of guitar with vocals that so wonderfully compliment each other, the song going at such a pace that almost feels like waves crashing on a shore - as the song dissolves away, keeping the melody going that could never get tiring, the strings come in and close the album so well, almost forgiving what came before it. Truly one of Neige's most stunning tracks yet.
But it sadly isn't quite enough to make the rest of the album worth it. All of the greatest Alcest tracks to date were the tracks that seamlessly mixed the melancholic and the positive moods and energies and formed them into one integral sound; making something entirely new and compelling in the process. Les Voyages de L'Ame
balanced this so well, showing how well Neige was able to bring opposing influences into a new and unexpected whole. Shelter
abandons this almost outright, and as a consequence it sounds more one-dimensional than anything else he has put out under the Alcest moniker. Where there is very little explicitly wrong with Shelter
, being a mostly enjoyable shoegaze record, it simply doesn't have the versatility or staying power to hold up to the records that preceded it with the exception of a few fleeting moments. Shelter
, if taken for what it is, is a decent-at-best dreamy shoegaze album; but begins to crumble when compared to previous Alcest works.