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ALCEST Les Chants De L'Aurore

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Sunday, July 7, 2024 @ 11:32 AM


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ALCEST
Les Chants De L'Aurore

Nuclear Blast Records




Photo Credit: William Lacalmontie

The French duo ALCEST has been described in any number of ways over the past nearly 25 years: black metal, atmospheric black metal, post-black metal, post-metal, shoegaze, the catch-all "blackgaze" or - per its latest promo materials - "metalgaze", among others. And, in truth, these have all been accurate to some degree - at least semantically -since the band's ever-evolving, yet influential sound has spilled into any and all of the above categories, and more, at one time or another.

Album number seven sees ALCEST - founding frontman/instrumentalist Stephane Paut, aka Neige, and longtime drummer Jean Deflandre, or Winterhalter - changing its spots once again as it returns from a five-year absence during which the world changed quite dramatically, and for most not for the better. Yet the band seems pretty chill about it all. At its core, Les Chants De L'Aurore (or The Songs of Dawn) is certainly both "black" and "gazey" - offering "the harsh, alien instrumentation of black metal with the mellower, dreamy soundscapes of shoegaze", per one common definition. Here, though, the blackened elements are rather understated and it's the "dreamy soundscapes" that get greater prominence, giving the album an alt-rock, almost pop-like feel at times - especially on the effervescent "Flamme Jumelle" - that brings to mind the under-appreciated ASTRONOID, especially in the wispy, warbling clean vocals Neige employs almost exclusively.

Indeed, there is something disarming, even delicate, about the music here and the tone is surprisingly uplifting, or at least comforting, in marked contrast to black metal's usual dour, nihilistic, well, "blackness". And when you consider the pandemic, the U.K. "Brexiting" on one side of the European Union and war breaking out at its Eastern flank and the political upheaval at home and throughout the EU that has percolated since 2019's Spiritual Instinct - to note just a few examples from the pair's own backyard, if you will - if there was ever time for ALCEST to take a darker turn, this would understandably be it.

Yet Les Chants De L'Aurore opens with the bright, buoyant "Komorebi" - which translates from Japanese as "sunlight filtering through the foliage" - and largely retains its sunny disposition throughout. It's probably no accident that the album was released on the first full day of summer.

Even the heaviest tracks, "Amethyste", "L'Envol" and the propulsive "L'Enfant de la Lune", have their keening trem guitars, crashing riffs or bracing tempos tempered by ethereal expanses, subtle orchestral/choral flourishes, synth sweeps and the warm, lush, yet restrained production that envelopes everything. At a time where in-your-face maximalism is the order of the day, ALCEST seems content to temper just about everything a wee bit, save for Winterhalter's crackling drums, and let melody and atmosphere carry much of the load- to the point where you can clock Neige's typically formidable banshee howl with a stopwatch, since it is fleeting to the point of almost being absent here. While "mellow" might be a stretch, Les Chants De L'Aurore is certainly the band's most subdued album since 2014's transformative Shelter, especially on the back end where things do lag a bit. The assertive and rather awesome "L'Enfant de la Lune" is sandwiched between "Reminiscence", a segue of sorts that sounds like a chamber music warm up piece with its piano plinking, faint cello and acoustic guitar and "la, la, la" vocalizing, and "L'Adieu", which eases the album to a close with its sparse guitars and hushed vocals.

But ALCEST has built its career on contradiction, and Les Chants De L'Aurore embodies the band's "au contraire" spirit in every sense. While some more "black" and a bit less "gaze" might have been appreciated, these "Songs Of Dawn" are captivating and, indeed, enchanting - a term not often, if ever, used to describe black metal. And they may just leave you feeling like it's worth getting up in the morning, instead of needlessly belaboring the point that the world is shit and we're all fucked. Et ca c'est bon.

4.0 Out Of 5.0


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