The Rickety Old Shack

Alcest — Spiritual Instinct

album cover

Three years after Alcest delivered bit of a shock to their fanbase with the the intensely shoegazey Kodama, the band returns with another full-length studio album continuing this shift. Those those hoping for a return to the band's more caustic roots — like the material found on Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde — will find themselves left wanting with Spiritual Instinct. For everyone else, however, the record has a lot to offer an open-minded listener.

The changes in the Alcest sound look like they are permament, as the project issues another collection of sprawling, melodic material with only a passing resemblance to their earlier work. You still get the odd scream from Neige — and he sounds as powerful and emotive as ever — but it is fleeting and rare. Still, the riffs are up to the band's usual standard and feel even more focused and ear-catching than on Kodama, which I also enjoyed immensely.

The formula has been refined; the production is better and the songwriting more concise and tightened-up, but this is every bit a successor to Kodama. The opening track, "Les Jardins De Minuit" sets the tone for the rest of the record, doling out ephemeral riffs, haunting vocals and a nod to the band's black metal roots with some repurposed tremolo picking and one some of the few harsh vocals found on the record. The band draw from their past as they continue to move forward, incorporating more nuance into their atmospheric blend of melodic metal.

Tonally, there is not a huge difference between Kodama and Spiritual Instinct, although the latter sounds a little richer, a little sharper. It's a minor difference, though, as both records are expertly engineered and mixed, giving the instrumentation appropriate shine without anything dominating the sound. The drums are crisp and punctual; the bass is understated but fleshes out the material when needed; the guitars are often very clean and drenched in delay; the vocals are haunting and ethereal. Everything coalesces into these sprawling jams without an obvious verse of chorus, but which still manage to keep the listener focused and engaged. The track list is an even mix of length, 7+ minute cuts and 5-minute jams.

The album clocks in at just over 40 minutes, and almost feels like it's too short. This new batch of material is easily the group's best in this new niche they've carved out for themselves. Alcest blend the shoegaze hallmark of meandering riffs and unconventional song structures, and perfectly fused it with their atmospheric black metal past. Spiritual Instinct has so many memorable passages, like the epic build in the middle third of "Le Miroir," the bass-heavy groove anchoring "Sapphire," or the melodic, repurposed tremolo riffs on "Les Jardins De Minuit," to name but a few. The whole record is one beautiful passage after the next

The whole Alcest discography is very strong, with each album improving and expanding upon the last. This was most aparent on Kodama but continues apace on Spiritual Instinct. This new offering a much shorter leap than its predecessor, but is an even more polished and refined body of work. Spiritual Instinct bombards the listener with a powerful set of tracks, packed with raw emotion and beautiful melody. This is a must-listen for fans of atmospheric metal sub-genres and shoegaze enthusiasts; Alcest knocked it out of the park with this one.

Summary

French metal project Alcest drop their 7th full-length studio album and continue in the shoegaze direction of Kodama, its predecessor from 2016. Spiritual Instinct presents the strongest distillation of the project's current sound and motivation, in 6 tracks — and 40ish minutes — of potentially their best material to date. Beautiful melodies, cascading jams and just enough of a nod to the band's caustic, earlier work to remind listeners where the band came from — and that they have not forgotten. One of the year's best releases, and a potential Album Of The Year contender in my estimation.

Album Information

Release date: October 25th, 2019
Record label: Nuclear Blast Records

Neige — guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals
Winterhalter — drums

Track Listing

  1. Les Jardins De Minuit
  2. Protection
  3. Sapphire
  4. L'île Des Morts
  5. Le Miroir
  6. Spiritual Instinct

Link: alcest.bandcamp.com

—by Derek

Published: November 14th, 2019.