Review: Alcest – Écailles de Lune

Location: Bagnols-sur-Cèze, France
Genre: Shoegaze/Black Metal
Released: March 29, 2010
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Library Randomizer

By: Kris Kotlarik

Back in 2012, a friend of mine (some of you may know him as That Drummer Guy) was raving about Alcest’s Les Voyages De L’ame. And rightfully so, as it is a fantastic album. My first real Alcest experience came on the first day of that year’s edition of Tuska; Alcest opened up the tent stage and was so well-received by the crowd that they would have played at least two more songs had the schedule not been so strictly enforced (a good thing, by the way; few things in life frustrate me more than tardiness).

So when Écailles de Lune (EDL) was drawn up on my randomizer to be reviewed, I could almost taste the anticipation. Les Voyages went into this review as my favorite Alcest album and I looked forward to revisiting Alcest’s second album. The results? Very favorable, with some minor exceptions.

EDL (which in English means “Moon Scales”) is an album of many contrasts, often rapidly shifting styles within songs, usually more than once, all to great effect. This is especially evident on the two title tracks and openers, each clocking in at nearly ten minutes long, that I will discuss later.

One word I can use to describe much of this album is “dreamy,” particularly the vocals provided by founding member Neige and some of the ambiance in the instrumentation. Note that by using the word “dreamy,” I am not comparing Neige to a teenager obsessing over, say, One Direction; this is the kind of music that complex, multi-faceted dreams are set to.

Album closer “Sur L’océan Couleur De Fer” (English: On The Iron-Coloured Ocean) could have easily been placed on Alcest’s most recent record, Shelter. Far and away the slowest song on EDL, this track teeters on the edge of ambient fluff. Very well-done ambient fluff, at that, with plenty of dreamy vocals to go around. “Solar Song” is similar, but builds up towards the end while maintaining a constant downtempo feel.

The most straightforward track would most likely be “Percées De Lumière,” but with black metal vocals (the harshest on EDL) leading the charge for much of the song. “Abysses” is a short, ambient interlude that sounds like it could have been recorded in a cave.

The two title tracks are a behemoth unto themselves that could have been separately released as an EP (e.g. Agalloch’s Faustian Echoes). Part 1 starts somewhat similarly to “Autre Temps” off of Les Voyages but becomes much heavier, much more quickly. This song has a little bit of everything one would expect from Alcest: more dreamy vocals; a nice guitar bridge; some complex drumming; and a black metal sequence to end the song.

Part 2 is the best track on this album; it starts with a 45-second ambient, oceanesque section before kicking into triplet blast beats, followed by some impressive harsh vocals. It eventually slows into ambiance with a brief buildup towards the end with tremolo picking guitars leading the way. Arguably the coolest section on EDL comes in at around 6:20 with Winterhalter playing some fantastic ghost snare rhythms on drums.

As for the lyrics on this album, they are entirely in French. I know about as much French as one would expect the average American to know (although I do know Spanish and some Finnish), so I won’t dive too much into lyrical content. But in an interview with Blistering.com, Neige said that much of Alcest’s lyrical content revolves around his childhood dreams and experiences:

“The music and everything is coming from this concept and dimension. Every single melody, every word is the only the thing I want to do with Alcest. If I want to do something else, I’ll make a side project. I only want to take the ideas from that dimension and put them into this world. That may sound strange, but it’s the only thing I want to do. It feels real for me. It’s not imagination or fantasy. It’s a real experience – I’ve read books and have talked to people that have had similar experiences. We know very few things about existence and the world.”

Introspective lyrics about real experiences and dreams are always going to be a winner in my book.

Any criticism I have about EDL can best be described as nitpicks. The harsh vocals on “Percées De Lumière” don’t match with the lush tranquility of the music at the beginning, although as the instrumentation gains intensity towards the end, the vocals are a perfect match. “Solar Song” is also not as good as the other tracks, but not enough to seriously downgrade the album. As for whether or not this is my favorite Alcest album after revisiting it, I can’t say for sure. But it makes a compelling case.

Overall: Highly dynamic, never boring. 

Rating: 4.0*

Alcest-Ecailles-de-Lune-2010

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