French composer Neige and his band Alcest revolutionized shoegaze metal in 2007 with the evocative Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde, which blended atmospheric acoustic arpeggios, wavering, distorted guitar passages and beats that ranged from delicate to thunderous. When asked at the time if he was influenced by English bands such as Slowdive, Ride and My Bloody Valentine, Neige claimed that the transcendent sound of his music came instead from an out-of-body experience he had when he was six years old. He strived to contrast imagery from that excursion with elements of the black metal he grew up with.
After 2012′s Les Voyages de l’Âme was released, he started listening to the bands he was being compared to — especially Slowdive — and liked them enough to refocus his musical approach for Alcest’s fourth full-length Shelter, which abandons heavy, distorted strumming almost completely to focus on more uplifting elements of his favorite shoegazer and post-rock bands. He even recruited Slowdive co-founder Neil Halstead (ex-Mojave 3) to guest on the record and hired Sigur Ros’s producer Birgir Jón Birgisson. The fey, otherworldly vocals of album opener “Wings” could easily be mistaken for the Icelandic post-rockers. Then the sun breaks through the clouds and Alcest begin the diaphanous ear-candy of “Opale,” a breathtaking number bathed in beauty and joy.
The rest of Shelter is equally gorgeous, a mix of pure elation and melancholy reflection. Every song is built around a strong melodic hook and the music drifts and bobs around it, as layers of effects build and recede like the best Slowdive, with hints of Tremolo-era My Bloody Valentine. All of the songs (with the exception of the Zeppelin-meets-Ride ballad “Away”) are in French, which adds to their enigmatic appeal.
Fans of post-rock and shoegaze music will likely swoon to Shelter… should they discover it. Up to now, Alcest have been perceived as metal (in the broadest sense of the word). They’ve toured with Enslaved, Anathema and Deafheaven. Yet there’s practically nothing metallic about Shelter. The guitars are rarely distorted, the band doesn’t riff and the songs are neither crucibles of strength nor anger. Instead, Alcest cast away their past and take a bold leap into a deep blue sea with the hope that their sonic baptism will reward them with a brand-new following.