Alcest - Shelter | Review

Time for a confession: I don’t listen to metal lyrics. Hell, about 90 percent of the time I can’t understand a single word on most of the albums I listen to. This makes the barrier between foreign languages essentially nonexistent in a way that couldn’t work for, say, a pop-punk band. It’s a leveler, making the only learning curve one’s ear for outside sounds. This is not to say that all lyrics are junk, simply that I don’t have a clue and don’t particularly need one to enjoy.

Alcest always had an overarching theme behind vocalist Neige’s words, related to dreams he had as a child of a fantastical, impossible place. Previous albums, particularly Écailles de Lune, contained vocal allusions, sure, but more than anything the band provided a sonic means of interpreting those themes, which allowed my incomprehension of the French language (I was always more of a Deutsch guy) to fade away. On Shelter, the band’s latest, those dreamy tendencies predominate, ejecting all remnants of metal besides a residual coldness. In its place is pure stadium shoegaze, mixing Slowdive and U2 in equal measure.

This proves freeing and limiting. Gone are the blastbeats, screeches, and epic runtimes, each song running slightly-overlong for a pop song at five to six minutes. “Opale” and “Shelter” are 120 Minutes-worthy rock, Neige’s voice double- and triple-tracked and free-flowing. It’s beautiful, undoubtedly, and perfectly achieves the shoegaze sound too many bands have reached for in the last half-decade. There is still a bit of a chill left over, particularly on album stand-out “Voix Sereines,” which builds to a fantastically distorted conclusion, guitars creamy and frozen when necessary. That track in particular feels like the culmination of Alcest’s trajectory over the 8 years since Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde, and it works beautifully.

But at the end, we’re left with another question: now that Alcest is no longer a metal band, what is it? What makes it any different from countless My Blood Valentine pretenders? Shelter offers no particular answers. It hits all the right targets but often fails to puncture through them. Therefore, it seems more a step than an endpoint to me, a first project with no metal elements before the band can get on to something new. All of the ingredients are in place, and Neige’s vocal melodies are so smooth they translate even when his language does not. He clearly has ambitions beyond the metal community, and some of the guitar melodies are big enough to fill the stadiums his idols deserved. Perhaps, with something more, he can get there soon.

Rob Rubsam

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Rob Rubsam is a freelance writer and itinerant resident of Upstate New York. His writing about music has been published at CVLT Nation, Tom Tom Magazine, The Rumpus, Burning Ambulance, and others. When not contemplating giant squids or erecting a standing stone in his backyard, he tweets at @millenialistfun. Do not contact him with your black mass-related inquiries, please.