France’s Alcest were essentially the forefathers of the “blackgaze” movement, providing a serene and refreshing alternative to the hellish chaos of black metal whilst still retaining the core elements. Founding member and head honcho Neige (with whom we recently spoke—read our interview here) has had his hand in many other, similar pies (Amesoeurs, Peste Noire, Lantlôs, and numerous others), but Alcest remains his primary project and his legacy. His dulcet vocal tones intermingle with his dark growls as if the audio version of a good Poe story, the good-versus-evil/light-and-dark battle that supports the very human ideology of black metal as a genre. His partner in crime is drummer/percussionist Winterhalter, a man that controls the fragile art of dynamics like a sonic samurai. This duo have spent the past twenty years creating beautiful, mournful, jubilant music that defies description but hits you right in the feels, and they are the masters of this sound.
Around the release of their 2014 Shelter album, they dropped the majority of the metal from their sound, focusing more in a post-rock/shoegaze direction. Whilst this was a natural progression for them, it did irk some long-time fans that saw more worth in the dichotomy of their earlier work, but Alcest have never pandered to public opinion, rather allowing the sound to evolve naturally with input from the players (much the same battle that Opeth have been fighting over the past few years). Thus it is a bit of a surprise that Spiritual Instinct (order via Nuclear Blast Records or download/stream here) is a basic return to their original sound with 2019 sheen.
Allow your senses to ingest the video for “Protection” here:
As with classic Alcest albums like Écailles De Lune and Les Voyages De L’âme, Spiritual Instinct is an emotional voyage jam-packed with peaks and valleys of atmosphere, tears, and melancholy, whilst still uplifting. The black metal elements (blastbeats, rasps and snarls, tremolo picking) are mixed in to the meal to provide colour but not overwhelm the final flavour – more prominently, the post-rock swells and choruses are where the true heart of the record lie, kick-ass ebbs of blue-green waves that pick the listener up and transport them to another place altogether. This is where Neige is at his most powerful, both as a songwriter and a singer, but also as the main lightning rod for inspiration. It’s rare to find music that mixes in influences from all sides and can still remain unique and show direction; Alcest have done this so many times before, but this new salad bowl of sound has everything in perfect proportion and volume.
The playing and production are both of the highest order of quality, and I get the feeling that the band will find a burst of renewed inspiration from their own work on Spiritual Instinct. Many times throughout, it feels like an instrumental ambient album that can make you cry one minute and burst out of your seat in joyful exuberance the next, the product of a skilled artist that knows how to manipulate sound to extract emotion from the listener. I rarely hear modern music that can push my buttons like what I’ve heard here, especially on monster tracks like “Protection” and “Le Miroir,” but the whole record is a giant bout of internal, one-on-one psychotherapy that affects you in ways that most musicians can only dream of.
“Sapphire” is the latest music video to come from Alcest’s new album, Spiritual Instinct:
I’m not going to pull any punches here – Spiritual Instinct is an emotional caravan through the individual psyche that will leave you spent and wanting more, all the while wiping the tears from your eyes. It is ridiculously good on so many levels, and Neige and Winterhalter deserve a personal hug and a high-five from every person that takes the journey. Beautiful music like this is a reminder of what humanity can accomplish when talent and emotion embrace. Take the journey. Seriously.
Spiritual Instinct Track Listing:
01. Les Jardins De Minuit
04. L’île Des Morts
05. Le Miroir
06. Spiritual Instinct
Run Time: 41:02
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records