Album #25: Alcest – Spiritual Instinct

  • Released: 2019
  • Origin: Bagnols-sur-Cèze, France
  • Label: Nuclear Blast
  • Best Track: Sapphire

I feel like I listened to more music in 2019 than I’ve ever done before in a year, but there’s still a hell of a lot I’m catching up on. Today may be the eve of Brexit Day, but bollocks to all that – I’m jumping over the Channel to explore French band Alcest’s sixth album.

Alcest are arguably the pioneers of the genre known as ‘blackgaze’, which is a combination of shoegaze and black metal. If that leaves you none the wiser, shoegaze is the name given to the ethereal, layered and high-volume distorted guitar music produced by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, and more recently Beach House and DIIV. Black metal, meanwhile, is dark, atmospheric and usually brutally fast. The effect of bringing the two together is music that sounds frenetic and often apocalyptic, but also somehow ambient enough to be used as background music. Above all though, it’s LOUD!

Like most of their work, Spiritual Instinct might initially be seen as an EP rather than an album, seeing as it only has six tracks. At over 40 minutes long though, it’s certainly album length. Tracks average at around seven minutes each and contain multiple sections and ideas, and as such, it’s hard to recommend a “best track”. You could pick any of the six, and you’d quickly get the gist of what Alcest are about and whether they’re your bag, but really it’s a work that’s intended to be listened to from start to finish.

It perhaps peaks on ‘Sapphire’ though, which was released a little before the album. It’s a song that, produced a little differently, could pass for standard metal, but if it was it would do nothing for me. What I like about Alcest is that they make the vocals part of the wash of guitars and drums rather than projected above it, even when the screaming kicks in around the four-minute mark.

If you’re looking for more noise and chaos than this, opener ‘Les Jardins De Minuit’ (The Midnight Gardens) has a welcome smattering of bellowing (though it remains low in the mix) and some seriously blitzing drumming.

Alcest don’t seem to change their sound too much from one album to the next, but they have certainly established it, and it’s highly original. I’m a bit too wussy for full-on black metal, but this is pretty agreeable stuff to me.

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