First and foremost, let’s dispel the rumor that Alcest is a black metal band. Everything from their press clippings to even the very promo copy used for this review refers to them as such. Those familiar with the career arc of Alcest (or those who are at least acquainted with their early Tristesse Hivernale demo) understand how little the current incarnation of the band has in common with its metal roots. On Les Voyages De L’Âme, fewer vestiges than ever remain of Alcest’s black metal past, replaced by a sweeping sound that has far more in common with Sigur Rόs and Ride than it does Liturgy.
Alcest is now primarily the work of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Neige, with percussion coming from relatively new sign-on, Winterhalter. This is the same pairing that produced 2010’s critically acclaimed Écailles De Lune. Like that album, Les Voyages De L’Âme is a highly textural, whimsical experience. Many of Voyages‘ songs travel through various moods and passages, each taking detours that keep the album fresh several spins after the first listen. While some will take issue with the language barrier (the lyrics are all in French), one needs only remember that shoegaze legends My Bloody Valentine were nearly as indecipherable in English.
And such a barrier is irrelevant anyway on songs like lead single “Autre Temps.” Neige’s delicately plucked guitar slowly builds up against his own sweet tenor, igniting at the 2:18 mark for one of the album’s best moments. Despite being one of the shorter and most straightforward tracks on Voyages, it’s possibly its most rewarding. “Nous Sommes L’Emeraude” is a little harder driving, the song’s fast strummed bridge and chorus giving way to soft verses. “Beings Of Light” is effectively its counterpoint as it opens with airy vocals before a wall of guitars rudely crashes in. It’s these swift musical changes that define Voyages.
Unfortunately, Voyages loses its way on some of the longer songs. Alcest’s music is generally of great scope, but the eight minute “Faiseurs De Mondes” drags after the first half, and such is the same for half-baked album closer “Summer’s Glory.” This may seem like a short list of complaints, but they combine for almost a third of the record. The production on the album also feels like a mismatch for the band. While not glossy by any means, the production is a bit too clean which takes away from the bite the band would otherwise have on faster tracks like “Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles.” Accordingly, it’s hard to listen to Lune and Voyages and not feel as though Alcest has made a wrong turn. There’s much to cherish here, but this isn’t a complete effort.