ALCEST - LES VOYAGES DE LAME
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2012 release, the third album from the French Black Metal band. Les Voyages de L'me (The Journeys of the Soul) contains the quintessence of the group's creative work to date. While Le Secret, the debut EP from 2005, was the key to the world of Alcest, Les Voyages ... unites everything that characterizes Alcest in terms of concept and music. Something that is common to all of the songs is the predominant feeling of euphoria and bliss, always subtly overshadowed by melancholia and yearning. Les Voyages de L'me is a prime example of a wonderful piece of music, breaking all genre boundaries and enthusing fans of many different musical backgrounds.
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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.
"Neige" and company have put together the most incredible soundscape, and aural experience that could be truly best be experienced in a set of "fine" headphones.
This will absolutely transport you to another planet!
Production Values on this are superior; you can actually discern the tracking of acoustic guitars, multiple electric guitars,
and "ripping" lead breaks in every track. Incredible Drum Mix on whole album. Nothing meanders pointlessly, and every track has the proper length for flow and continuity. The Vocals by Neige border on the ethereal, even the multi-tracked harmony and backing vocals. Even though there were fewer Black Metal vocals than past LPs, I am sure that will be forgiven, given the overall experience of taking this all in at one time. Although each track is incredible by itself, the full measure of this masterpiece, begs you to take the full ride from start to finish.
Take the time; its worth the trip and you won't be disappointed you did.
This is Alcest at their best, and possibly their most accessible release. This is a great album to test out your new sound system with, and surely a disc that won't be leaving your rotation anytime soon.
Incredible Stuff, contender for Album of the Year in lots of Genres.
As much as I liked EDL, I thought it had a bit too many mood pieces, and wasn't particularlly long.
The new record combines the sound of the three previous Alcest albums, polishes it to a fine sheen and delivers many more 'songs' that EDL. This may become my favorite Alcest album, and there is no filler, no misses on it. The only thing I miss are a few more of the black metal vocals that appeared on EDL, but I can live with it.
I'll go further: the first two tracks on this album are the best guitar-driven music from this decade so far. Before, Neige's music had a tendency to blur into a formless, aimless wall of sound, but here, the first track "Autre Temps" masters the quiet-loud dynamic. It starts off with a relatively low-key, single-tracked guitar intro, which nonetheless is already enough to hold one's attention, adding more and more complexity to the main melody before bringing in the drums and distortion. Once the main body of the song starts, Neige still holds back and sings in a soft voice. However, his voice is now mixed higher, and doesn't get drowned out by the guitars, as on Souvenirs d'Un Autre Monde. The volume mounts, but he still keeps a gentle hold on the song, and leads it through two dreamy choruses to a strident conclusion.
That's good, but the next song "Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles" is a masterpiece, and an example of how to write music with complex composition (several very different sections) that requires a lot of skill to play, and yet sounds like a natural whole with a beginning, an ending, and forward movement from one to the other. The first part contrasts Neige's still-gentle singing with an amped-up metal riff, heavier than anything in any previous Alcest album. The vocals still maintain a light tone through the second refrain, but around 2:45 Neige switches to a harsh black metal rasp, and the song shifts into a dark crescendo. When the rage subsides, around 5:00, there is a quiet interlude with a lovely mid-tempo guitar melody, and then another build-up around 6:30 to a second distorted peak. In nine minutes, the song goes through a tempest of emotions and moods.
As an aside, Neige's use of harsh vocals here is the best I've heard since Agalloch. They're actually mixed lower than his "clean" vocals, with a lot of echo added. Their appearance in "Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles" initially sounds like part of the guitar distortion. When the voice becomes more distinct, it still sounds like a disembodied howl coming from somewhere deep inside the guitar storm. But it never quite comes to the forefront, and it remains aggressive without becoming unlistenable.
It's hard to top that opening combination, and the rest of the album, inevitably, is a bit more routine. "Faiseurs Du Monde" basically repeats the blueprint of the second track, with the same progression of black metal vocals, break, interlude, and reprise, but the riffs aren't quite as sharp. Still, the technique is effective -- when the distortion clears and the subdued guitar comes on, it feels like a moment of sobering, solitary meditation. Among the rest, "Havens" is notable as a short, stripped-down instrumental in the general style of the opening in "Autre Temps."
The remainder, like so much of Alcest's work, is a pretty-but-formless mass of sound. Aside from the generic blast-beats in "Beings Of Light," it all sounds good, but it is a little disappointing that the entirety of Les Voyages De l'Ame doesn't match the first two songs, so in the end, this album isn't quite the same modern black metal classic that The Mantle was. But it is a leap forward from Ecailles De Lune. These days, it seems like experimental black metal is becoming a refuge for musicians who know how to play instruments and think outside the box. "Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles" is a potent reminder of just how powerful those abilities can be.
"Les Voyages de L'ame" is a journey into deep inner space, with layers of guitars that caress, swoop, dive and sometimes sting, amid beautiful ambience that makes the music much more palatable to a broader range of listeners. By referring Alcest to black metal, we pigeonhole them and potential fans who don't like their metal or any rock music as extreme will not listen. And really, what does Alcest have sonically to do with Immortal or Mayhem, both flag bearers of black metal, but otherwise not related to Niege and his unique vision?
This third album is sung in French, and that by itself adds to the allure. Niege's soft tranquil voice is an instrument in itself, and he keeps busy playing everything but drums on this CD. For those looking for rock that transports them to a better place, at least while the CD is on, and appreciate real musical dynamics, which so many outfits plainly lack, "Les Voyages de L'ame" is that album, a great lead up to their newest release, "Shelter", which ditches distorted guitars altogether and is even more mesmerizing. This is beautiful music.