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Album Reviews : Alcest – Spiritual Instinct

By on March 7, 2020

French blackgaze pioneers Alcest released their sixth full-length album Spiritual Instinct back in October last year their first with new label Nuclear Blast Records. Nuclear Blast have a reputation amongst many metal fans for producing many bands in a very particular way, often resulting in a more ‘mainstream’ and less nuanced production style in favour of consistent ‘cleaner’ productions style. Thus, some fans of Alcest were concerned that the new label would compromise the band’s signature take on atmospheric black metal that relies heavily on the sense of dreamlike trance evoked through the mix; happily, Alcest has delivered an excellent mix and an overall development of their personal style with Spiritual Instinct. This new album is a tale of two halves: the first three songs demonstrate a much riffier take on blackgaze verging into the territory of melodic black metal bands a la mgla, while the latter three sit comfortably in the range of their conventional, hypnotic style.

Opening track ‘Les Jardins De Minuit’ begins calmly with a gradual build from a pensive shoegaze style into full black metal that retains something distinctly ‘Alcest’ in the choice of chords and notes for the riffs. Contrast is a key element of this album, with the band illustrating from the first song that they can balance their trance-state blackgaze with heavier riffing elements that mesh quite nicely with Neige’s vocals over the top. Different timbres and rhythmic feels are also used well, with major key sections providing harmonic contrast as well. The main tremolo-picked riff of ‘Jardins’ is something of a theme for the album, recurring at various stages throughout. ‘Protection’ opens with another great melodic riff, leading into a strong verse that is again complemented well by the vocals.

Both ‘Protection’ and the following song ‘Sapphire’ show off the production style quite well. The rhythmic elements (drums, bass, rhythm guitar) are generally pushed further forward in the mix, while lead guitar and vocals sit toward the back, further accentuating the dreamlike state that Alcest evoke without compromising on their heavier black metal influences. Guitar solos are given an especially interesting character by this, as you almost don’t notice that they’re happening until they float out of the mix. ‘Sapphire’ is generally a more sedate song than the previous two that has an extremely catchy, almost poppy, main melody/riff. Again the production style manages to make the song feel reasonably heavy at points, while the simpler structure and melody provide a nice ‘singalong’ moment.

The second half of the album returns almost completely to the hypnotic blackgaze style, which, while very well executed and helped along by the production style, left me missing the riffier style of the rest of the album. ‘L’Ile Des Morts’ is generally quite stripped back with very prominent vocals, feeling like the ‘ballad’ of the album (insomuch as the genre has ballads). It builds quite nicely to a great final section and has some excellent melodic elements, but overall doesn’t really hook me. ‘Le Miroir’ begins with a grungy bass intro into a very peaceful main riff that builds quite nicely, using texture and timbre to build and provide contrast without losing cohesion. It almost feels like one very long build, feeling quite grandiose and ancient with the harmonic choices throughout, but I am left expecting the song to go somewhere a bit more, as it never reaches the full climactic heights that the long build insinuates. ‘Spiritual Instinct’ immediately stands out with a more present mix and nice opening groove, returning to some of the more atmospheric black metal elements of Alcest’s sound. The distorted chords provide a nice contrast with the languid vocals and the song generally balances the reflective elements with the heavier elements. About halfway through the song, the drums pick up a much more active role alongside the guitars which is a fantastically engaging section that provides a sense of finality to the track. A great sense of album cohesion is also present in the final moments of the song as a riff closely resembling the tremolo riff from ‘Jardins’ (perhaps an inversion?) recurs and is abruptly cut off halfway through a phrase.

Your personal enjoyment of this album is likely to depend on how much you enjoy the two styles here individually. Fans who enjoy Alcest’s typical fare will like love Spiritual Instinct, as both halves o the album present an excellent take on blackgaze. For me though, once I heard those riffs in the first half, I spent the entire second half of the album waiting for their return, which I think impacted how much I enjoyed the otherwise well-written songs. Nonetheless, Alcest has produced a strong album that demonstrates a willingness to continue experimenting with the different elements of their style.

Band: Alcest
Album: Spiritual Instinct
Year: 2019
Genre: Shoegaze
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Origin: France

About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.