Alcest – Écailles de Lune

Alcest serve as a less ubiquitous example of a modern obsession with the macabre. Melodrama, self-pity, the lingering fascination with death, distorted minor chords, these all seem to be the norm nowadays, even in pop circles. For every Beatles or U2 wannabe you find, there’s another handful of Breaking Benjamins and Evanescences (hopefully their name will prove prophetic someday) right around the corner, romanticizing spiteful break-ups and stocking the t-shirt shelves at your local Hot Topic. And each of these bands, Alcest among others excluded, sings as if they’re suffering at the hands of some Olympian torture, though I’m sure most of their real life woes amount to little more than a slight reprimand from dad for not taking the trash out on time.

In my honest opinion, the only thing more insufferable than listening to a bunch of kids prattle on about how miserable their average lives are (besides reading a Rolling Stones’ Albums of the Year list) is listening to an hour’s worth of prefabricated singles littered with such ranting, with lyrics specific enough to be understood as an exalted form of bitching and vague enough to ultimately mean absolutely nothing, or at least not to someone who has never subjected themselves to such mental self-depreciation. Their “pain” is equaled only by my own, gripped by the merciless hand of the uninspired monotony they plow out in every neat 4-minute song that just clambers for radio play. Fortunately, it is possible for a group of musicians to make music that’s both brutal and cathartic without sounding absolutely pitiful. Alcest is such a group.

We all know what nu-metal sounds like; most of us don’t care for it, feeling more content to BE content than to pretend like the world is collapsing around you after suffering your first high school rejection. At first listen, Alcest may sound like one of those bands, with gratuitous layers of distortion and unoptimistic melodies. However, Neige’s solo project shares more with contemporaries Agalloch and Les Discrets (another French band) than with Evanescence. The project’s roots lie deep within 90’s shoegaze and black metal, the latter never sounding too optimistic anyway (Hello Mayhem!), though Neige might cringe at the comparison. Black metal’s occupation was also in espousing misery, and for every Jesu-like song this record offers, its Burzum-like counterpart is hiding somewhere around the corner.  Nu-metal may have borrowed the mood from these guys, but Alcest borrowed the atmosphere and craftsmanship to pull it together, proving more able to sing the sorrow and immerse you in it than any thrift store hard-emo band, no matter how “disturbed” they think they may be.

Thankfully so, they’re also less willing to be confined to the classic track blueprint, playing with intelligent finesse from track-to-track that seems aware of its own presence in the grand context of the 40-minute album. The tracks may be long: the first two in particular are a two-part series from which the album derives the name Écailles de Lune, with each part spanning nearly ten minutes. However, there is no forced closure and each track optimizes the time allotted it, never demanding any closure until the end when it’s due. The final track “Sur l’Océan Couleur de Fer” may be the only exception, sauntering through roughly eight minutes of solemn musings via clean-strummed guitars, but never unfurling in any satisfying manner. This penchant for time consumption places them in a similar boat with Krallice or Agalloch, both long-winded black metal bands who have mastered the art of time management.

Whether indebted to or despite its length, the music’s strength certainly lies in its vastness, with veritable columns of noisy guitars rising upon a bleak white landscape of echoing voices. This My Bloody Valentine-esque juxtaposition of delicacy and intensity may be a bit time-spent, but Alcest and their Écailles de Lune feel more intimate than most contemporary competitors, smoking the mainstream competition and rivaling similar French band Les Discrets. And with tracks like “Solar Song” that sound like a lost child of Loveless, that crossover appeal might be Alcest’s key to success.

by Mason “No parlay-voo Frawn-say, por favor.” McGough

1 Comment

  1. New Review! Alcest – Écailles de Lune « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Alcest – Écailles de Lune, by Mason McGough […]

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