Alcest_Shelter Alcest’s trek to Shelter has been a long and gorgeous journey. Over the years, Neige has taken his most-loved project from black metal soil and sprouted upward, spinning his branches and leaves into beautiful, soothing soundscapes. His ambitions have long been combated by black metallers that thrive on ugliness and rebellion; Alcest’s inherent prettiness seemed at odds with the genre’s core ethos. Yet it was hard to argue with the results. The band’s blackened washes, blended with the bootgazed sprawls found on 2007’s Souvenirs d’un autre Monde and 2010’s Écailles de Lune, were wholly unique, a soothing pairing for anyone that had worn thin their copy of The Mantle. Neige had succeeded in creating a world of his own, a land where lilting, delicate dashes of fairy dust could mesh comfortably with tar-charred reflection.

But as Alcest’s branches cry ever skyward, those black-soiled roots grow farther and farther away. Shelter strips away the last vestiges of metalness from the Alcest sound, bringing in Sigur Rós producer Birgir Jón Birgisson and Slowdive vocalist Neil Halstead (for lead vocals on album semi-highlight “Away”) to provide maximum fluff. Alcest—both boldly and predictably—has officially left their metallic shackles behind. The result? Well, it’s pretty fucking boring.

The problem with Alcest ditching their final flakes of metal isn’t a matter of principle. If Neige and Winterhalter want to completely divorce themselves from the black metal they were touching upon six or seven years ago, more power to ‘em.  Let the men be happy. But as Shelter laboriously unfolds itself, it becomes apparent that the metal moments were crucial to Alcest’s storytelling ability. They were signposts. Even as recently as “Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles,” from 2012’s Les Voyages de L’Âme, they employed heavier moments to propel glistening dreampop passages to their final destinations. The songs on Shelter just flitter into nothingness, untethered by tension and free of any real consequence. The result is an aggressively unaggressive work, an album that—despite weighing an attogram less than the pang of guilt you feel after stealing the last mini-carrot from the fridge—is an absolute chore to navigate.

Alcest_2013The only real bloodrush comes courtesy of album linchpin “Voix Sereines,” where Neige throws some fat fuzz behind a cloudpushing, wholly profound chorus of “aaaaaahh….aaahh-aahh aaaaaaaah…” to remind you that yes, you are still listening to an album. But the other reminders border on the shrill:  The repetitive jangling of lead single “Opale”; Halstead’s garish and out-of-place spot on “Away”; the preening, too-pretty conclusion of “Deliverance.”

There are some great things buried in here that lead you to believe that this is an ambitious work, such as the layers of piano plinking beneath the title track and the string sections that grace the final two songs. But like Baroness before them, Alcest’s foray into metal-free territory is more attractive in theory than in practice. Without the juxtaposition of dark and light, Alcest is laid bare and left to make a statement without the help of their trademark approach to genre-straddling. They’ve stumbled into the (spot)light, naked, ready to speak to a brand new audience. Trouble is, as they drift further from their native tongue, they don’t really have much to say.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: alcest-music.com  |  facebook.com/alcest.official
Release Dates: EU: 2014.17.01  |  NA: 01.21.2014

Share →
  • Dean Hili

    Ouch. Have been looking forward to this!

  • Luís Pedro Coutinho

    I really missed this one. Thanks.

  • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

    The other guy’s name is “Winterhalter”?!?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Seriously, though: dead-on review, man.

    • Amelia

      They clearly decided that in order to join the band, people must have snow themed names

  • The Metal Pigeon

    Interesting review, really can’t wait to hear this one. I rather enjoyed Les Voyages de Lame, and it was pretty metal free for the most part…

  • Tanuki

    Damn, I’d been looking forward to this one. Shame to hear they’ve dropped the ball. Never got the whole Sigur Ros thing. Always thought it was bland and boring. Alcest have been moving in that direction though so I shouldn’t be surprised to hear they got the producer on board. I suppose a disappointing release is fitting to end 2013

    • forfrosne

      I’d give Sigur Ros’ latest album a listen. It’s actually pretty dark for a post-rock album.

      • Tanuki

        I don’t mind dark soft stuff. (bohren & der club of gore comes to mind) but sigur ros never seems to do it well. will check out their latest though. last one i heard was Takk…

  • Charles Henderson

    This review pretty much sums up how I feel about Alcest nowadays. I still have to listen to the whole album, but when I listened to Opale it pretty much confirmed my fears: they’ve completely lost it. The thing that made Alcest so great, the whole ambience they created, the contrast… what made them stand out, isn’t there anymore. They’ve turned from being a unique band into just another run-of-the-mill shoegaze band. And the thing is, they don’t even do it as well as most bands in the genre, so the rating is spot on, 2/5 and that’s it. It’s sad to see such a promising band turning out to be so bland…

    • funeraldoombuggy

      This was exactly my reaction as well when I watched the Opale video. I’ll still by this record as soon as it comes out but my hope of loving it completely like I have their bast albums is gone.

    • Jose Barajas

      I definitely agree. While I do like the cd, I don’t think I’ll spin it too often. I have it played on repeat for now but usually when I listen to a cd, especially when I really want to like it, I’ll spin it until I need something else and then make a judgment but overall I was disappointed. Not to the point of having your feelings of mediocrity toward them, but just like the reviewer said the “aaaaaah aaaaahh” chorus got so repetitive and just… filler.

      That being said, have you listened to Todtgelichter? They’re kind of in the same boat as Alcest. I really like them but they started out as pure black metal and now with their latest cd Apnoe they mix more clean singing and postrock and a bit of a softer sound, but like Alcest’s last cd, they still do have some black metal growls throughout. Throughout their cds, they’ve been slowly going away from black metal. I think their first two/three cds were typical fast black metal, their 4th cd marked a musical change towards postrock but still incorporated bm. Their last cd more postrock, less metal. And judging from recent interviews, their next cd might get away from the growling altogether. But unlike Alcest and their dreamy sound, Todtgelichter’s post-rock nongrowling sound is actually decent and a bit more rock driven than just “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” all the time. I would recommend them if you haven’t heard them already

  • forfrosne

    As disappointed as I am that Shelter might not be everything I hoped for, this was a fantastic review. You perfectly articulated what I was so worried about. I’m fairly unusual I suppose in that I felt that Les Voyages De L’Âme was actually Alcest’s best work. The metal influence was still there and there were even black metal vocals and blastbeats (Faiseurs de Mondes is Alcest’s best song) but, even though I was willing to give them a chance without any metal influences, you’ve confirmed my fears. I’ll listen to Shelter anyway, I owe Neige that much. I don’t even mind if Alcest continues as a non-black metal band. I just hope that A) They make great non-metal music in the future and that B) Neige continues to make black metal influenced music in some other side projects. His vocals are utterly unique IMO.

  • Chris McKeever

    Voix Sereines is gorgeous, this album will be incredible

  • Jamie

    Metal heads tend to listen primarily to.. well, metal.

    Because of this, I always find it interesting when a band ditches metal – because it is a rare opportunity to see a metal publication tackle a non-metal album.

    While the album has not met universal appeal, even among post-rock/shoegaze fans who knew little to nothing of Alcest before this album, it has been well received by most, myself included. You can look around if you want to.

    Many of your gripes simply boil down to ‘This just ain’t metal anymore’. It’s true, it’s not. That punch that you are used to is gone. Some of the songs are happy and in a major key. I remember when Ulver first jumped ship, you saw the wildest, silliest reviews ever from metal sites. ‘This is like disco or something’ – ‘Sounds like robots in a futuristic city’ – ‘This is gay haha’ etc. Thankfully, this is why I read AMG, you won’t hear such things. But still…

    I was hoping for at least a 3/5 from this site (the album probably doesn’t deserve a 5). Haha oh well, to each their own – just thought I’d provide a counterpoint – back to reading reviews silently for another year :)

    • Obviously I can not speak for Jordan, but from what I’ve read from him in many other sites, I can say his taste is quite broad and diverse. And my take of this review is that the problem is not that they decided to go totally non-metallic, but they did it without bringing something else that was as interesting as those contrasts they used to maneuver so well.

      I’m just listening to this for the first time and I must say that I agree with him. I actually listen to a lot of post-rock, with and without metal in them, and I feel totally unimpressed by this, there are very few passages which are not totally forgettable.

  • Zack Brown

    i’m a fan of black metal, post-rock/metal, and shoegaze…i even love the grateful dead- and i found shelter to be a god[speedyoublackemperor!]send. it has flaws but the last 3 songs on the album are just so beautiful. and neil halstead on “away” is just straight dope.