Last updated on 2 October 2020
Ah, damn. Let’s give in and do another one of them 2019 records. Maybe because there’s a sphinx on the cover, and it’s a scary beast. So, we better be nice, right?
Alcest‘s newest album Spiritual Instinct was one of those few albums that created a consistent background chatter late last year. With a lot of diehard protagonists swooning over the record as if the second coming just happened.
But we also caught the darker opinions. Those who state that Alcest‘s music is gay. No metal, and surely no good for anything. I am frankly not sure where that one came from. And – really – I have no idea what the term ‘gay music’ should mean exactly.
What this does showcase, however, is the fact that metalheads will often go overboard defending their genre. If you remember, Myrkur with her truly weird first full length got so much hate from the community, you could probably fill books. But hey, her success speaks by itself. And the same goes with the French band Alcest.
Instead, I found a conglomerate of metallic atmospherics of all kinds. Spiritual Instinct is somewhat of an ethereal piece. One that thrives off a truly multilayered and ever-present wall of sound, with a slightly industrial taste at times. All this complexity, against the backdrop of those blackened bricks, would generally qualify as Blackgaze. A genre that the band helped create, as the lore goes.
Spiritual Instinct strikes me as some weird mix of Ashburner, Sojourner and a softer version of Dimmu Borgir. All of them firmly ensconced in some sort of Black or – more – Post Black Metal style. Whereas Alcest claim that everything they hate IS Black Metal, they actually do deliver a pretty tasty version of it. Same as the aforementioned Myrkur did, despite the howling of the haters.
Now, if you’d like to find the essence of the record, move no further than Les Jardins de Minuit, the first track. It’s true that Alcest know how to arrange a song. With a pretty good flow that the somewhat anemic vocals lead perfectly into. Because the added crunch you’ll find on the 2nd track surely is not the norm.
Yet, excellent musicianship notwithstanding, I somehow cannot join in this abject fanboy-ism that is currently afloat in the community. Even the argument that the dark and morose lyrics will truly make a difference does not move this reviewer any which way. And true as this may be on Spiritual Instinct.
Because, if you want to define a record by its lyrics, something is seriously amiss with the music. There are exceptions to that, of course. Folk protest songs often do that, where the music provides the background and the text really speaks. Albeit that we had prog rock bands in the past where both – music and lyrics – mixed pretty well. But here in metal, the RMR deck crew will always look for the music first.
Spiritual Instinct truly gorges with lush soundscapes and atmospherically laden melodies. But after about midpoint, the repetition bug strikes big time. It’s the same or similar mush all over again. And that’s one of these annoying qualities many ethereal music styles suffer from.
True, one could argue that L’île des Morts cuts through all that damned cheese and delivers a sturdy version of Alcest‘s thought process. Which holds its water at the beginning with some truly blackened stew. But again, towards the last third, we are back on repetition train.
That Alcest inject ever more pop into this mix as the tracklist advances does certainly not really help matters neither. Yet, this pop thing is also what defines Spiritual Instinct in a way. Because it is pretty artfully woven into the overall fabric of the piece.
In the end, apart from the aforementioned L’île des Mort, none of the tracks really ripped us out of our comfy chairs. Alcest‘s latest is an album of good quality, and more so than others. But somehow this snappy energy, this underlying oomph did not filter through to this crew. The record also sometimes suffers from a somewhat stuffy tendency to prissily fill all holes there might be with tons of noise. Instead of carefully crafting a soundscape that really will pull you along.
Yet and strangely, Spiritual Instinct does exert some sort of an almost primeval allure. One that made us go to that particular well a few times too many. And I guess that this is a good thing.
Ed’s note: Well, if this offering feels like so much weak tea to you, then we could recommend Black Trillium. Also a duo, kinda similar approach to Alcest, but – boy – with a ton of added crunch. Try it!
Get dat tune: