"We humans tend to allow the past to destroy our lives. I implore you not to let this happen. It is time to look forward, to rediscover love, and embrace the beauty of life."
This is a quote that comes to my mind when trying to describe the essence of Les Voyages de l'Âme (literal translation: "The Voyages of the Soul"). Alcest has released a brew of controversy by hypercritical metal elitists everywhere by releasing music like this. Black metal has always earned its controversial reception by being dark and sinister (as well as Satanic, but that's irrelevant). Alcest, however, roves about the black metal scene in controversy by doing the very opposite: evoking hope and tranquility, adjectives I'd never thought I'd hear fittingly for any band or project falling under the black metal genre.
So, if I haven't said it yet, I'll say it now: Alcest is an enchanting manifestation of hope and beauty. Every song on Les Voyages de l'Âme is laced with calming melodies, constructed by simple yet powerful riffing and Neige's ethereal voice. What sets this back from doom bands and the ilk is the uplifting atmosphere of the melodies. Other atmospheric bands search for a dark, somber, and haunting feel to impress upon its listeners, but Les Voyages de l'Âme does things far differently. While some songs have a touch of melancholy, they, more often than not, possess a hopeful aura about them. Uniquely to any metal band, I can listen to these songs and forget about the pains and sufferings of my past. I listen to this, and it touches my soul with a will to..."embrace the beauty of life."
What, then, holds this album back? Once the veil of beauty is pierced, the listener is left with little to enjoy. The entire music is constructed around the ethereal soundscapes of Alcest's music, harkening the listener to Neige's "Fairy Land." While this may be enough for some people, it ultimately feels unfinished... as if something is missing. I believe there are three key aspects to music: heart, soul, and thought. Les Voyages de l'Âme contains plenty "heart" and "soul," but something about it seems to neglect on "thought." It is for this reason I believe that Alcest is the perfect example of mood music. Those ethereal soundscapes are certain to whisk away any listener who lets it. And, in the right mood, you too may understand the Fairy Land...
Furthermore, while all the songs are indeed different, there's little deviation to the formula. The music is so beautiful it certainly leaves specific melodies stuck in my head. The problem is that, until I began to really memorize the songs, I was left wondering where those specific melodies came from - because, to be honest, they could've been inserted in any song and it would've worked. To put it simply, the entire album is doing the same thing. Sure, "Faiseurs de Mondes" is a little more abrasive, with the first half or so using black metal screams. Yes, "Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles" is more "riffy" - the guitar licks really stick, but don't detract from Alcest's beauty. Even so, it all still feels a little too "similar." It doesn't help that "Beings of Light" and "Havens" seem like filler; "Beings of Light" meanders for 6 minutes on same-ish songwriting, double bass, and constant unintelligible chanting, while "Havens" is a fairly generic interlude. They work for what they are, and aren't bad by any means, but they just can't hold up to the rest of the album.
Still, all of that said, I cannot deny one thing: the music Neige portrays here may be a complete coalescing of beauty and serenity in its absolute form. It will not sate a thirst for progressive riffing and complexity, and it will not satisfy a craving for brutality in a portrayal of death and destruction. No, this music is definitely not technical, and it's certainly not brutal... but damn, is it beautiful.