Album: Spiritual Instinct
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Release Date: October 25th, 2019
The masterminds behind Alcest have returned with their follow up to the highly acclaimed Kodama. Whenever it comes to Alcest, expectations are always high because this band never fails to put out stellar music. In addition, they are one of the main innovators and creators of the Post-Black/ Blackgaze genre alongside Deafheaven for example. The records Le secret and Écailles de lune were really some of the first records to experiment with that combination of shoegaze and black metal and to do it exceedingly well, ultimately inspiring a huge wave of bands to follow with this foundation that Alcest have set. This genre would not be where it is today without Niege’s contribution. Now that this band has been around for quite a while, they’re most definitely refining their craft and that much is obvious on Spiritual Instinct, Alcest’s latest offering.
Alcest are one of those bands where you cannot say that they objectively sound bad, even coming from outside of the world of metal. Their masterful blend of black metal and shoegaze makes those apprehensive to listen to metal in general much more receptive to the music given its very luscious and relaxing tone that it has. I personally don’t see at all how anyone can call this bad music when in fact, it is most definitely quite the opposite (as is a lot of metal but I digress). The soundscapes heard across their discography are so warm and inviting that it is nearly impossible to not become enveloped in the lush walls of sound that they create. Spiritual Instinct does embrace the dreamier and shoegaze-y sound throughout the record, but that is not to say that there isn’t any good ol’ metal at all. The top half of the record contains the strongest tracks overall with that perfect blend of the -gaze and metal while the bottom half is much more atmospheric and relaxed. It most certainly has a little bit of everything for everyone.
Opening track Les Jardins De Minuit has this heavy yet catchy riff that leads you throughout the song. This is one track in which you will find yourself humming that repeating riff for days. There are several brief pauses in that riff from time to time that momentarily leave you feeling confused, but then that riff kicks right back into gear and you’re experiencing nothing but pure musical bliss. The following track, Protection, is easily the highlight track of the whole record. The chord progression is so darn catchy, yet it isn’t even the catchiest part of the song. Once that undeniably intoxicating tremolo riff kicks in, it guides you through the controlled chaos until the background vocals come in to beautifully harmonize with that tremolo riff. This track also really shows how much the drumming stands out from the rest of the band, in a good way of course. The cymbal work is so creative and adds much more depth to the music. On my first playthrough, this was the track where I realized how much the percussion seemed to improve and that is really all I payed attention to for the rest of that first playthrough. It is a truly captivating performance behind the kit, one that kept me on the edge of my seat until the last note rung out.
Sapphire continues the epic and powerful momentum thatLes Jardins De Minuit and Protection started this record with. Again, beautiful textures, incredible instrumentation, and the soothing yet powerful vocal performance make Sapphire yet another stand out track. From here on, the record does seem to take a much more reserved and somber post-rock/shoegaze direction until its inevitable end. Le Miroir is the perfect track to peacefully listen to while you slowly drift down a river of emotion and soft arpeggios. There are even subtle electronic elements that add to these slower and melancholic walls of sound in the best of ways. The production is the best it has ever been and allows for every instrumental element to be heard with pristine clarity, thus providing an even more satisfying listen.
In relation to their other records, it is a continuation of the sound heard on Kodama. It may not necessarily do anything new, but it is Alcest doing what Alcest do best and that is making damn good music. They have already contributed so much to the world of music that no matter what they do, it will always be uniquely Alcest. One thing that I will say about this record is that it lacks some of the build and release as heard in some of the tracks found on previous records, like in both the title track and in Je suis d’ailleurs on Kodama. The tracks found here on Spiritual Instinct are much more linear and are still great songs but sadly don’t really build to a huge climax as in the aforementioned tracks. Don’t get me wrong, a song doesn’t need a buildup and letdown to be good, that much is obvious because even without that element on Spiritual Instinct, the songs are still stellar. That development and release of said musical tension really adds to the music and given Alcest have always excelled in doing so, those were always special moments in their music and never fail to leave me craving for more.
Overall, the soundscapes found on every track are so luscious and entrancing that you cannot help but fully immerse yourself in this beyond pleasant musical experience. It may not be the forest-y/nature blackgaze heard on Écailles de lune for example, but it is a very refreshing and welcomed continuation on the sound heard on Kodama. Alcest certainly know where they belong in the music hierarchy and they are continuing to release music that sounds like Alcest and Alcest alone. I will be honest and say that this record won’t crack my top records of the year and don’t get me wrong, this is not me saying that this record is not bad; that is very far from the truth. There are so many records that pushed the bar this year and Alcest proved to be reliable once again (not that that ever was a concern) with Spiritual Instinct. This record was exactly what I expected for them to release and there is nothing wrong with that. In a world that is always changing, many times for the worst, it always feels great to have something that is consistently reliable to fall back on, and that is where Alcest come into the picture.
- Les Jardins De Minuit
- L’lle Des Morts
- Le Miroir
- Spiritual Instinct
Total Playing Time: 41:03