Music

Alcest Deliver Exceptional Blackgaze Catharsis on 'Spiritual Instinct'

Photo: Courtesy of Nuclear Blast via Bandcamp

Everything that fans could want—and everything that makes blackgaze stand out—is contained within Alcest's Spiritual Instinct.

Spiritual Instinct
Alcest

Nuclear Blast

25 October 2019

French duo Alcest—drummer Winterhalter and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Neige—are commonly cited as pioneers of blackgaze (a mixture of black metal and shoegaze), and for good reason. Aside from 2014's almost entirely gentle Shelter, each of their past efforts, going as far back as 2005's Le Secret, delivered a precise and irresistible balance of guttural chaos and transcendent atmospheres. It may take a few deep listens to fully appreciate all of their mesmerizing subtleties, but they're always there, and the same can be said about Spiritual Instinct. The follow-up to 2017's Kodama, this sixth studio LP is less overtly catchy and dynamic than its predecessor. Yet, it still packs quite an emotional and sonic punch from start to finish.

Spiritual Instinct is their first release on Nuclear Blast, and Neige sees it as "a very cathartic record", adding, "It's darker than usual, and heavier." As for its title, he says, "Life can be harsh, but it's important to stay connected with your essence. If answers exist, you might be more likely to find them within you." As always, the album is harsh and heavenly at once, often allowing seemingly impenetrable dissonance to give way to divine self-reflection amidst the sharp riffs, bleak growls, pummeling percussion, angelic harmonies, and blissful soundscapes. Few fans will deem it Alcest's magnum opus; however, there's enough here to satisfy expectations and further fortify the pair as masters of their craft.

"Les Jardins De Minuit" ("The Gardens of Midnight") kicks things off with the anticipated blend of tribal rhythms, piercing guitar notes, and falsetto chants. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Alcest special, as it simultaneously evokes feelings of despair and relief. Soon after, the track transforms into a flurry of captivating disarray as crunchy chords, frenzied drumming, hellish screams, and interlocking chants provide a mystical experience. Like much of their work, the magic doesn't come from especially complicated music; rather, it comes from how the bright and dark components complement each other to yield a greater whole. Luckily, this holds for the rest of Spiritual Instinct.

The next song, "Protection", conveys Neige's inner doubts and exhaustion with equal disarray, yet its central motif is even more gripping. In other words, it's less varied but more impactful than the opener. From there, "Sapphire" gives Winterhalter the spotlight via some inventive syncopation shifts, all the while channeling the melodic agency that makes Alcest's softer and more fragile moments so arresting. "L'Île Des Morts" ("Island of the Dead") is perhaps the most evenly poised of them all in terms of heavy and light elements, as clean singing cascades over the same discordant foundation for most of the runtime. That said, the latter half also incorporates a quieter and more cosmic reprieve before settling back into its fury.

Relatively fancy and dense guitar strums match with shimmering tones and elegant sentiments as "Le Miroir" ("The Mirror") begins. Fortunately, that sublime trajectory is mostly upheld until the end, conjuring the wonderful warmth of Shelter and ranking as one of Alcest's best compositions in years. As for the closing title track—which tackles Neige's "battle with existential anxiety"—it's the culmination of all that's come before it; as such, it's a celebration of everything that makes Alcest singular in one impeccably composed package, and it certainly leaves you wanting more.

Spiritual Instinct doesn't necessarily top Kodama or bring anything particularly new to the Alcest formula. Instead, it serves as a seamless reaffirmation of purpose and potential. Everything fans could want—and everything that makes blackgaze stand out—is here, and Alcest have undoubtedly crafted one of their most unified and significant sequences to date. Like its predecessors, it takes some time to peel back all of the layers; once you do, though, you'll find it to be superbly capricious, self-assured, and meaningful.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.