Alcest - KodamaThe “issue” of incongruous genres poisoning the perceived pristine purity of metal has been written about and discussed to death. Especially when French “blackgaze” duo Alcest is concerned, it becomes irrelevant whether the odium is a case of snobbery, elitism or a sense of threat against internalized traditions and tropes. Because you see, their music possesses an undeniable artistic value regardless of context. So instead of insisting on the significance of trends that Alcest incited or citing their influences and legacy, I’m going to take a step back. Slip into a state of voluntary amnesia. For the next few paragraphs, there exists nothing but Kodama, the band’s fifth album, in a vacuum of preconceptions and expectations.

And it’s a strikingly pretty and graceful record, a sonified celluloid experience that reveals itself as a would-be companion piece to Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. While not entirely conceptual, Neige’s love of Japanese folklore is obvious and Kodama oozes with the same pop-sensibilities and poignancy that Boris often explored (Smile, New Album). His is a genuine infatuation, not born out of forced or derivative cultural appropriation, that results in a tasteful homage to the music and culture that inspired it. “It’s an album about [the] confrontation of the natural world and the human world,” Neige reveals in a recent interview for Noisey, describing a certain duality in his philosophy and creative process. That same dichotomy infiltrates the record’s core and structures that at times come through as ethereal pop music hidden in layers of shoegaze and metal riffs while, at others, projects a hardened metal soul. Stylistic traits become lost in each other while ecstatic rasps are burdened by overwhelmingly rich layers of tingly chords (“Je Suis D’Ailleurs”).

The title track “Kodama” is a bittersweet piece. It’s a disarming introduction, driven by a striking guitar melody whose short nine minutes showcase Neige’s compositional proficiency in full. The tune’s flow is natural, linear in its storytelling, and devoid of any loops or verse-chorus-verse shortcuts. “Eclosion” picks up where the album’s introductory manifesto ends and mixes the introverted sensuality of shoegaze riffs with bouts of excited, yet hushed aggressiveness. But there are no belligerent intentions in Neige’s roars and screams and Winterhalter’s speedy beats. They are melancholy and serene. As the track dies into an acoustic passage, it introduces a lighter, somewhat less memorable middle part of the record. With its tremolos and blast beats, it’s “Oiseaux de Proie” that strongly veers Kodama back towards black metal, restoring a sense of progression. Were it not for my amnesia, I would be inclined to call this tune a nostalgic gaze into the band’s past and early records.

Alcest 2016The closing “Onyx” is a short instrumental that acts as an apt coda as it slithers in a foreboding, resigned, and deconstructed march. While Neige will say that his music is always optimistic and positive, Kodama feels like a sorrowful defiance of this stance. Is that a consequence of the aforementioned duality, insatiable creative hunger, and lack of belonging that troubles Neige, the musician and artist? Or is there always dolor mixed in even the most positive of thoughts? It’s all here for us to try and understand as Neige doesn’t hide anything from the listener. His music, a conduit for his most intimate and meaningful thoughts, reminds us how often we fail to see that there are real people behind the curtain.

As my memory returns, I realize that Kodama is not a return to roots for Alcest, but a clear step forward for Neige and his vision, now free of any outside calculations. Metal, post-rock, shoegaze, pop—nothing is off-limits and Alcest is all of this at once and none of it at all. Kodama thus works best with our guards down, with our societal and peer pressure induced filters turned off. Like Neige, this is music caught between worlds, between the material and immaterial, but ultimately a part of its own universe. Coming back to the harsh reality of contexts and existing art, Kodama doesn’t feel as Alcest’s masterpiece nor an album that would redefine the band’s history, but it still offers an unabashedly pleasurable listen.


Rating: Very good!
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: alcest.bandcamp.com |alcest-music.com
Releases Worldwide: September 30th, 2016

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  • El_Cuervo

    Always intrigued to hear new Alcest – I’ve never found them able to write an entire album which engages me, but there are always exemplary moments. “Faiseurs du Monde” from “Le Voyage…” is among my favourite songs.

    I’ll have to check this out.

    • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

      Oh, how I agree. Beings of Light totally kills Les Voyages’ flow, Sur l’Ocean is waaay too long and what the fuck is Tir Nan Og? Still, when they nail the song you soar!

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Tir Nan Og is Tír na nÓg misspelled. ;)

        • [not a Dr]

          The elven nation from Shadowrun?

      • Roquentin

        You’ll be happy to hear that this record is probably their most streamlined. No weird detours or “fillers.”

        • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

          One can only hope… Or add the good ones to the playlist =)

  • AndySynn

    Bucking the usual AMG trend, I’d say my biggest complaint is tha that album actually feels ever so slightly too SHORT, Just in terms of feel and flow it seems to end just that little bit too soon.

    • Are you suggesting less is actually less??

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        Well, shit. Everything I believed in was wrong.

        • The Unicorn

          You sit on a throne of lies.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Yes. Yes, I do.

    • Grymm

      I agree fully.

      This album flows beautifully from start to finish.

    • Roquentin

      Hm. I actually think that the length of the record is just right, but that doesn’t change the fact that I would have appreciated more of it. :-)

    • Matthew

      The deluxe edition also has a bonus track, that might help round the album off for you.

  • Jack Rabbit

    This album is the first time I’m checking them out, but I loved the three tracks they released so far. Glad the whole thing didn’t disappoint.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Kodama is Kool, dammit!

  • AnnieK13

    I really liked Voyages and am looking forward to listening to this album as a whole. I have one question…how do you pronounce the name of the group? Is it like “Al say” or something else..

    • maartje

      Metal Archives says “Al-sest”, IPA: [al’sɛst]

      • [not a Dr]

        And they would be right, if French speakers were the ones trying to pronounce it. The sest part is correct. The Al part is close: the a sounds more like the a in pizza and the l is shorter than in English… more like the l in liquid (like you would pronounce at the beginning of a word). Else, you’ll sound like an “anglà”.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      maartje is correct. It’s “Al-sest.” It’s a made-up word that Neige felt fit the music.

  • Akira Watts

    Very much looking forward to hearing this, and this review only increases my interest. While I dug Shelter, it was a little non-metallic for my mood at the time. And I’ve also been finding a lot of the bands aping Alcest’s sound to be kind of underwhelming, so a taste of the real thing would be neat.

  • Excentric_13073

    Mononoke – Core!

    • Jeff Manteiga

      Mononokore =D

  • Wilhelm

    something always kept me from liking this band, but of the two tracks that were released I think I can only say that it hit me in the right spot, I can’t wait to check out the rest. Also the DR9 rules

    • The DR9 does indeed rule and is a highlight unto itself.

  • Pedro Morini Mietto

    “Slip into a state of voluntary amnesia. For the next few paragraphs, there exists nothing but Kodama, the band’s fifth album, in a vacuum of preconceptions and expectations.”

    What a beatiful way of starting a review! This level of quality and poetry is one of the things that makes this site the most important to me for metal stuff.

    • Roquentin

      Aw, man, thanks for the kind words!

      • GardensTale

        Honestly, it’s a very powerful way to frame the review, and I adore your poetic style. This is the level of writing for which I want to strive. It helps to have a thankful subject, of course, but that doesn’t diminish the strength of your review any, quite the opposite!

      • Jose Barajas

        Seriously. You and everyone else are such eloquent writers. I love reading this site because do you all write creatively, I learn a lot of new vocabulary and ways to use words. Keep up the great work guys!

  • I actually fucking love Écailles de lune and Les voyages de l’âme, and coincidentally I adore Miyazaki so I’ll probably cry listening to this. Scratch that, I’m listening now and I’m already emotional.
    Anyway, good review!

    • The Unicorn

      Ecailles de lune is great.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Haven’t heard an Alcest record I haven’t enjoyed and coincidentally I haven’t seen a Miyazaki movie I haven’t enjoyed. Though I tend to save my tears for when I chop onions or when I get maced by strangers.

      One of those is a frequent ocurrence.

      • Francesco Bordoni

        For how much I loved the first three albums, I couldn’t find any love for Shelter; downright boring and uninspired for my tastes.

        This new stuff sounds and feels great, I’m not exactly fond of the cover art or the japanese concept in general, but fuck me – the music clicks!

        • Francesco Bordoni

          Also, please don’t “but fuck me”

        • André Snyde Lopes

          I felt the same when I heard it first. A step down, a dilution of Alcest’s original sound. I gave it some time and it’s a really relaxing album for me. I have to be in a really chill mood, of course, otherwise I will be left wanting more, but as an album you can just press play and think about something else, I think it’s really good.

  • GardensTale

    A gorgeous review! I quite enjoyed Voyages and Ecailles but it was often a few songs rather than a full album and I kinda lost track after that. As a major Miyazaki fan I will have to clear out some listening time without distractions for this one. Very exciting!

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    My mate calls ’em Incest. Just thought I’d let you all know.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I’m glad to know that

    • SegaGenitals

      The game the whole family can play

      • Someone just had to point it out. Someone with their Genitals showing ;)

    • André Snyde Lopes

      More like Wincest.

  • Bart the Repairman

    I always thought they are boring… now something clicked and I really like the embedded track. Maybe my taste evolves, or maybe I’m just drunk enough. We’ll see tomorrow.

    • Oscar Albretsen

      I wanna check out their last one “Shelter,” but I’ve heard really mixed reviews. Fans of metal couldn’t stand it, but fans of more progressive music mostly seemed to enjoy it. I’m more in that latter category so I’m thinking it might be something I really like.

      • Hyperphilion

        “Shelter” is a good record, but it’s really not a good place to start for someone new to Alcest (especially not if you’re interest in listening to the new album). “Shelter” is even divisive among Alcest fans. I’d recommend “Souvenirs d’un autre monde” or “Écailles de lune”.

        • Oscar Albretsen

          Thanks! Yeah, I’m curious because I’ve been really digging on the new one, but I’ve got a feeling I’d like them just as much if they were toned down abit. But I’ve heard lots of people say that “Shelter” is just boring. So for now, I’ve got “Les Voyages de L’ame” on the way, but I really want to get “Ecailles de Lune.” That seems to be most people’s favorite of their releases.

  • I… didn’t realize you could write a metal lullaby. Well, guess we know what the 2 year old is going to be falling asleep to from now on.

    • [not a Dr]

      King Diamond does so frequently: The Spider’s Lullabye, the Deadly Lullabyes compilation… He even states, at the end of Black Horsemen, that the whole Abigail album was actually a lullabye.

      • Stefunal

        Dude, King Diamond would give the toddler nightmares.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    This review would also read beautifully if every reference to “Alcest” and “Neige” was replaced with “Autopsy” and “Chris Reifert”. Or “Exhumed” and “Matt Harvey”.

  • jetblindracos

    My ears are very sensitive to airy vocal harmonies in the background of songs of late,so I appreciate this a lot.The Ghosts of Home is another example and John Zorn’s latest is all vocal harmonies,very beautiful.

  • contagioned

    good thing i’m a fag who loves anything that fits into postblackgaze crap and also a weeb

  • dedseed1

    Never listened to them before, but digging the embedded song.

  • Sophocles

    It feels like a great EP. And I really admire the marketing of prophecy, double CD of 42 and 6 minutes…. damn, something went really wrong there!

  • This is one of the best things I’ve heard all year, plus a whole back catalogue to go through. I’ve never listened to Alcest before mainly because, as someone else stated, the bands that get compared to them don’t do much for me. This has a fantastic atmosphere and is certainly in my top 5 of 2016 so far.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    First I’d ever heard of them. Loved the sample track. Got the album in the mail today. Yep, another band I’m loving. Also ordered another of their recent CDs – “Les Voyages de L’ame.” Hasn’t come yet, but if it’s as good as this, I’ll be the proud owner of their entire back catalog soon.

  • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

    Love these guys! Preordered it without listening to a single track. Yeah, maybe taking a chance, but what the heck… AMG has been featuring so many new albums that I’ve been steadily depleting my dwindling monetary resources… thanks AMG; my wife is loving you for it!

  • David Prawira

    Love Black gaze