Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. For this, the 58th edition of this series, we're paying homage to a gorgeous album by Alcest. In honor of Winter being officially half-over, it's a perfect time to visit music that makes us feel alive and emergent, and powerful.
Écailles de Lune drips in beauty from the art-nouveau inspired cover artwork to the metal-kissed, gracious, gripping melancholy that spans over a mere 41 minutes of a brilliant album.
ALCEST'S ÉCAILLES DE LUNE
If you haven't listened to Alcest, you really, really should. A shining, glinting goblet in a doomy sea full of menacing and formidable counterparts, Alcest breathes a gentle, expressive life into the gorgeous side of metal. Listening to Écailles de Lune, Alcest's second studio album, evokes a mindfulness that settles the listener into an escapist, private dreamland. The album is special in the evolution of Alcest. It resonates with a noble self-awareness that can be found in the build and release of tracks such as "Sur L'Océan Couleur De Fer":
Écailles de Lune is an immensely satisfying listen. The album is blatantly beautiful and moving; and yet I don't find myself distracted by attempts to enhance the 'gorgeousness' of the arching, lustful energy. Tracks like "Écailles De Lune Pt. 1" are effortless expressions that avoid cloying hooks and contrived nuances:
Écailles de Lune is a rooted, expressive vision that marks an important maturity for Alcest. Building upon black metal-style riffs with chorus and reverb to create a fullness rather than a hollowness, Écailles de Lune develops an unlikely alliance between several genres that results in an absolute spring for the spiritual expression of Alcest mastermind Neige. In a 2018 interview with the YouTube channel TheBigScope, Neige reflects a bit on the way Alcest started, "The band was created because I had a spiritual experience when he was a child. It really changed my life. I couldn't really understand what it was. I still now don't understand what it is. Alcest is really kind of a spiritual quest for me."
What I found a lot of during my research for Alcest and Écailles de Lune were attempts to explain the album, and the band, with a variety metal-specific genre labeling. Alcest is often referred to as 'French post-metal blackgaze'. In fact, Alcest's own Facebook makes the claim, "[we're] labeled as post metal/shoegaze or “blackgaze”. Yet, in the same aforementioned interview, when asked about the kind of music Alcest plays, Neige's response went a little something like this, "usually, you know, an artist doesn't like to put a name on it on their music. It is the same for me. Because, we've got so many different influences in our songs. So people can call us what they want, but to us it's just Alcest." In several other interviews, Neige holds strong on the point that his music is his music – however you categorize it.
I hold strong on that point, too. The atmosphere that Alcest creates with Écailles de Lune is so well-done, the music should simply be enjoyed and experienced instead of pragmatically dissected. I find the idea of boxing Écailles de Lune into categories counter-intuitive to the purpose of the music itself; the purpose being finding other worlds in which to play, explore, live, and flourish.
Building upon that point, Neige says this of the meaning of the band's name, "Alcest doesn't mean anything . It's a name from a book that I read when I was in school. I didn't care about the book, or anything, I just like the way the name looked."
At first, I was disappointed that there wasn't a rabbit-hole of intention behind every piece of the band. However, actually listening to Écailles de Lune dissolves the mystery of intent. The music speaks for itself. Braiding together complimentary musical elements in a seamless and boundary-smashing fashion, Alcest created a deeply personal, transcendent album. It speaks to me; and if you need a sprig of brilliant beauty to freshen up the escapism in your life, Écailles de Lune is the ethereal key to your dreamscape.