Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Alcest - Le Secret (2005) 90/100.

When I first heard Alcest’s ‘Le Secret’ EP, it was ground breaking. Since then, many bands, metal or otherwise, have attempted to either imitate or add to the legacy of shoegazing black metal, or whatever you wish to call it. As I listen to this EP several years on from when I first wrote my review for it, I still find myself drawn to its overwhelming beauty and innovative techniques, which includes taking genres like post-rock and shoegaze and intertwining them with black metal. Upon first hearing this charismatic EP, I never really understood what shoegaze was but, since then, I have had ample opportunities and tonnes of time to devote myself to exploring the genre, beginning with bands like Slowdive, whom many consider the epitome of shoegaze. There is definitely some shoegazing going on here with the use of heavy distortion and calm, clean vocals. In hindsight, there are problems with this EP. A few years ago I would have sworn down that it is flawless, but it most certainly isn’t. However, despite a few niggles, Neige (alongside acts like Caïna) have revolutionised the way we think about the future of black metal.

First, Le Secret. This song opens with beautiful melody and gradually builds up into something quite astonishing. The use of samples is something I often overlook but, here, they seem so fitting. A quietly flowing stream in the middle of a beautiful and natural landscape. Birds singing, the sun shining and life seemingly so sweet. The song, as stated, gradually builds with a sweet sounding melody through the use of clean guitars. To my surprise, there is a lot of cleaner instrumentation, as well as the use of clean vocals, somewhat akin to how they’re used in the shoegaze genre as they’re filtered through the distortion which soon follows. The clean vocals were never Neige’s strong point. In a live setting he appears a little overwhelmed by everything, though he still manages to give a fine performance. On record, he sounds very timid, which I suppose suit’s the cleaner side of ‘Le Secret’, but when those astonishing melodies come through the distortion of the guitars, his vocals feel as if they need to stand tall with them, as opposed to cowering behind them, which is how it feels on occasions.

As soon as I heard the opening to this song I could instantly tell I’d come to adore it. There is a slightly romantic feel to the music and the vocals, which I find to be very French. It definitely has a cool, suave and sophisticated feel to it, despite the fact that the production is a little thin. The production is probably the main hindrance behind the entire EP, despite the fact that it has significantly improved since the first demo, which was as lo-fi as they come and very, very primitive. There is still a primitive edge to this EP, with the repetitive drums and buzzing distortion providing that feeling, but much of the material is tailored towards what would become of Alcest, as opposed to what they previously were, which was a rather raw black metal band. The bass can be drowned out as a result of the production and the double bass blasts aren’t always that clear but, the main highlights of each song, which includes the tremendous melodies and vocal stylings, are able to withstand the production drawbacks.

Second comes ‘Elévation’. Again, this opens with more use of samples and a tranquil setting. Both songs tend to make me feel conflicting emotions. The opening samples inspire a feeling of relaxation through the mood setting. Then comes the melancholy of the riffs, whilst the overall atmospheric tendencies are quite uplifting, in my eyes. The idea of uplifting black metal is still a relatively new idea. Thinking back over the course of black metals lifespan, I cannot recall too many uplifting pieces of work. The vocals tend to focus more on rasps and harsher techniques than on the song previous to it but, again, they fit the track accordingly. The vocals aren't overbearing on this release. I find that vocals can usually be a huge let down and dominate the music, but not in this case. The most important aspect of ‘Le Secret’ has always been the melodies and always will be. The main riff and solo towards the middle and end of ‘Elévation’ is a perfect representation of this EP. Sweet sounding, inspiring and uplifting. The song writing is key to Alcest’s success down the years. This EP makes me feel very nostalgic and is still fine representation of the so-called “metalgaze” genre.

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