Alcest - Ecailles De Lune
It would therefore be easy to write the second album off as an inferior work. Yet such a glib statement belies the inevitability without conveying anything positive with it. Kiri Te Kanawa may be an inferior singer compared with Maria Callas, but would you write off Kiri Te Kanawa on that account? Of course not. So it is with Ecailles de Lune. Yes, it is inferior, but that does not make it by any means a poor album.
So what is it that is different? Well, for a start, after the shoegaze texture of the debut album, Alcest has returned to a more traditional black metal musical form. I have seen this described as post-punk, which is even less of an accurate term for this than shoegaze was for its predecessor. But the layers of distorted guitars have largely disappeared as the dominant technique underpinning the album's music. Although distortion inevitably puts in an appearance, it is to create an atmospheric effect and is just one of several guitar and recording techniques used for this purpose. This is coupled with a production which seeks to emphasise the differences between the musical components rather than blur them. That makes for some interesting music, and the music is indeed the highlight of this album. Take for instance that wonderful four-note guitar sound on "Solar Song", a more atmospheric use of the guitar you could not possibly imagine.
The biggest difference, and the one which in my view brings the album down, are the vocals. On three of the tracks, Alcest uses the same dreamy vocal technique used on the first album, turning the voice almost into an instrument itself and rendering the lyrics as all but irrelevant except as sounds. Yet on two of the tracks, although doing the same thing in terms of voice-as-instrument, Alcest resorts to black metal growling, at least for part of the track. Now I hate growling. Growling kept me away from metal for over a decade and even now, the metal albums I have are ones where the growling is either absent or minimal. Yet as on the earlier EP's, Alcest growls. This is even more sad when you consider that often, the music behind the voice is quite superb, something which is highlighted when the vocals revert to normal .
As a consequence, the best tracks are the ones where the voice is clean. The aforementioned "Solar Song" is probably the best, but the opening track "Ecailles de Lune (Part I)" is also up there as a highlight. But the album has no "WOW!" moment, like the first time I heard "Tir Nan Og". It takes time and several listens, sometimes several quite close listens, before you can begin to appreciate it. And that is probably the album's biggest problem. Like Neige's side project, Amesoeurs and their self-titled debut album released last year, which Ecailles de Lune resembles in many respects, female vocals apart, this lacks the immediacy and the stunning effect listening to its predecessor had.
This is in no way a bad album. It is not as good as Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde but then I would have been absolutely staggered if it had been for I doubt anyone has the capacity to make two such outstanding albums in one career. But to anyone who has written it off, or feels that a first listen has disappointed, I would urge that person to try (again). While not a masterpiece, it is still one of the best albums of its year, and is going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the year. And with some of Neige's collaborators on Amesoeurs coming out with an album under the name of Les Discrets, the year promised to be a good one for the unique style that I have come to see as French Black Metal.
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on 2011-02-20 CharlesMartel Said:
Not as good as its predecessor but still a very fine album