More or less a solo project of multi-instrumentalist Neige, Alcest is a grand, rather lovely mix of obliterating, shivering walls of guitar and delicate, incorporeal vocals. This first full-length album balances these two sounds in a series of five slow-moving, majestic compositions. The songs are shot through with field recordings, children playing, the ocean, on low volume as if heard half-asleep. The whole thing is meant to describe Neige’s fantasy world, a place he visits in dreams.
You can’t help but think of the shoegazers, My Bloody Valentine in particular, as you listen to the gradual climaxes in these songs, fuzzy, distorted hazes of guitar that swell into giant cumulus clouds and then subside. “Les Iris”, in particular, moves glacially, ponderously, to its volume peaks, guitar and frantic drums coalescing in a rising series of notes. Yet atop this dense and deafening mix of sounds, the vocals are unforced and dreamlike, wordless and almost new age. The track ought to be a battle between loud and soft, abrasive and soothing, delicacy and crushing weight…and yet it isn’t. The two parts exist in otherworldly harmony.
Alcest is, by all accounts, moving from black metal to something wholly different, a trajectory which started with the darker, rawer first EP, Tristesse Hivernale and continued in 2005’s Le Secret. His progress towards the airy, hallucinogenic sounds of Souvenirs D’Un Autre Monde, then, follows more or less the same path as Justin Broadrick’s Jesu; his album has the same wet, shimmering atmosphere, the same juxtaposition of beauty and volume. And yet, you’d never mistake Souvenirs D’Un Autre Monde for Conqueror. Alcest’s album is lacquered over, in places, with a disturbing too-prettiness. There are spots in closer “Tir Nan Og” when you might be listening to an Enya album.
Still when he gets the balance right, on, say, “Sur L’Autre River J’Attendrai”. The slow-waltz-time swagger of the guitars, the blinding fury of rapid-fire strumming, does something wonderful to the effortless singing that floats above them. And on opener “Printemps Emeraude” an obliterating barrage of guitars somehow creates a calm center. There’s quiet in the noise, ecstasy in the assault, and children heard playing far away, as if through a window…it’s another world indeed, and a beautiful one.