Review Summary: Alcest are back for a fourth album change-up. Track displacement aside, Shelter might just be the creative rebirth that Alcest needs to attain longevity.
We live in a post-Deafhaven world. That meaning that since the release of 2013's influential LP Sunbather many bands formerly of the black metal ilk have taken a shine to Shoegaze. Alcest is one of the bands that have never truly leaned one way or the other in each respect. Often times flirting with both black metal and shoegaze. However, on the french shoegazing duo's fourth LP the tides have been shifted in favor of full-on post-rock and shoegaze.
We begin with "Wings", a wonderful minute long track that builds the listener's anticipation with the sounds of lead singer Niege's obscured vocals and drums slowly increasing in volume, like a monster reaching out of the cave to feel the sunshine for the first time in a millennium. From here we reach "Opale", a track that takes Niege's vocals from the reprise of "Wings" and layers it around shimmering guitars. The way the song glides in euphoric glee is evocative of Sigur Ros and Slowdive at their most breathtaking moments. "Opale" is empowering and stirring, and what it lacks in herculean riffage and lyrics speaking of doom and gloom it more than makes up for in spirit. In "Opale" Niege boldly proclaims to the world that he feels alive, and when you listen to it, you will too.
Some of the middle tracks, like "La Nuit Marche avec Moi" ("The Night Walks with Me") tend to meander a bit too much for their own good, but such tracks seem like the type that would grow with repeated listens. Even if they don't, Shelter manages to make up for it by bringing it all home with a great one-two-punch. The first of these concluding tracks is "Away" which features a stirring vocal from none other than shoegaze legend Neil Halstead of Slowdive fame. It wallows in the subdued, layering Halstead's vocals in a melody so tinged in beautiful melancholia that it is hard not to get submerged in the world it presents. The true gut punch is "Délivrance" which serves as the album's magnificent coda, as the guitars sway and never cease to build as they swirl around Niege's intense vocals. Making for a track that feels like the proper culmination of what listeners have traveled through for forty-five minutes.
On Shelter, Alcest have finally learned to match their brains with their musical brawn. In may not reach the highest highs of their 2012 blackgaze masterpiece Les Voyages de L'Âme but it makes up for it by being a more emotionally rewarding listen. It isn't perfect, since it seems like the addition of a few more tracks could've padded out the pacing of Shelter a lot more. Even so, when it works it works wonderfully. Because when albums like this arrive shortcomings can be ignored since there is a level of conviction that is admirable. Alcest have thrown away the riffage and instead placed heart, and this heart has a great rhythm.