ALCEST: ECAILLES DE LUNE (2010)
1) Ecailles De Lune (Pt. 1); 2) Ecailles De Lune (pt. 2); 3) Percées De Lumière; 4) Abysses; 5) Solar Song; 6) Sur L'Océan Couleur De Fer.
On their second album, Alcest are almost a band: Neige is still credited for most of the work, but there is also a separate drummer (going under the name of «Winterhalter», which, I would say, is a rather gross intrusion of the Germanic element into Alcest's French conceptualism), and multi-instrumentalist Fursy Teyssier also contributes a brief atmospheric interlude (ʽAbyssesʼ) that mainly consists of the heaves and ho's of a huge electronic bellows, but still provides some merry company to Neige's soliloquy existence.
But none of this really matters if you are not into that whole trivia-seeking enterprise, because in general, Ecailles De Lune (Scales Of The Moon for those unfamiliar with Anglo-Norman) is not at all different from its predecessor. Actually, I would say that it is a little worse. Worried, perhaps, that his black metal roots were altogether neglected and eclipsed by the melancholia and sentimentalism of Souvenirs, Neige now takes steps to ensure that the sound be a tad heavier and gruffer, even going as far as to use growling vocals on a couple of the tracks — and in the process, something important is lost.
The two-part, 18-minute-long title suite that opens the album should suffice to illustrate that point. It works at the intersection of two guitar tones — a ringing, echoey, «lunar» tone for melancholia and psychedelia, and a noisy, distorted, «earthy» tone for martiality and aggression — and two vocal styles (clean / romantic in the first part, growling / apocalyptic in the second). By shifting around the dominance of one tone / style over the other, and by alternating loud and quiet parts, Neige gives the whole thing some dynamics and development. But the actual musical themes are not very interesting, and the vocal melodies are unmemorable — and overall, the impression of being transplanted into an «autre monde», this time around, is not nearly as strong as when you first put on ʽPrintemps Emeraudeʼ. And I blame the superfluous «metallization» for that: there is only so much distance you can cover, speeding along the black metal trail, before your imagery ceases to be evocative and becomes, at best, boring, and at worst, self-parodic.
It gets better as we move along, though: ʽSolar Songʼ tones down the metal aspects in order to make way for an inspired vocal part that sounds, indeed, like some sort of ritualistic invocation of the supernatural — with the vocals themselves «felt» from behind the thick curtains of droning guitar overdubs rather than properly heard, which is only natural, since the layman is not supposed to be let inside the Holy of Holies, right? But the best track is still the last one: ʽSur L'Océan Couleur De Ferʼ completely jettisons the metal element, being built almost entirely around one repetitive, plaintive guitar figure, to which Neige then adds layer after layer of extra acoustic rhythms, electric flourishes, synthesizers, faraway percussion bursts, and New Age vocalises. The lyrics, formally interpreted, speak of massive deaths in the ocean waves — Titanic? Lusitania? whatever — but the music is unnaturally calm and quiet for such a subject, more like a small-scale requiem mass rather than a direct depiction of some gruesome tragedy.
On the whole, this is not bad stuff, but it does seem as if Neige had mostly emptied his bag of subconscious reminiscences on the first Alcest album, and is now forcing himself to come up with new impressions on the spot — not exactly a «sophomore slump», because it is very hard to distinguish efficient from inefficient in the case of such static, atmospheric music; but still a relative disappointment. Perhaps it could have been better, if more of the tracks were similar in form and spirit to the album's subtle, lamentative coda — then again, this would have rendered it even more monotonous than it is, so let us refrain from guesswork. In any case, what with so many artists today giving their best shot on their first album and then fizzling and fading away over the course of ten more, it would probably require a miracle for Alcest to best his own Souvenirs, so just lower your expectations and be done with it.
Check "Ecailles De Lune" (MP3) on Amazon