During the late 80s the groundwork laid by death/thrash metal bands such as Mercyful Fate and Venom inspired a movement within Norway’s metal scene that helped birth metal’s harshest, rawest and most sinister sub genre: black metal.
Forebearers of the genre took the marketability of metal and obliterated it, birthing a very lo-fi and more sinister take that’s associated with murder church burnings and troubling idealogies like satanism and neo-Nazi propoganda.
Stemming from the mind of Stephane Paut, better known as Neige, French black metal project Alcest, alongside Agalloch and Deafheaven, have been responsible for incorporating the lush and hypnotic soundscapes of shoegaze into the genre. Their contributions have resulted in melancholic atmospheres and a more euphoric feel as opposed to grinding.
After a grueling tour cycle in support of their 2016 masterpiece “Kodama,” Neige and company have regrouped to produce their most dark and brooding effort that reassures audiences they are not “blackgaze” but simply black metal.
“I was feeling really, really down and I thought I was losing touch with myself and the things that I like,” said Neige in an interview with Apple Music. “When it was time to write a new album, all these feelings went into the music.”
Their sixth studio album “Spiritual Instinct” continues in the style of its predecessor but incorporates numerous textures found on their polarizing 2014 shoegaze-only album “Shelter.” The new release relies a bit more on synths and sound pads to help build these tracks as opposed to their usual intimate set up.
The album also marks Alcest’s first release with German metal label Nuclear Blast and is separated into two parts. The first three tracks are dedicated to Neige’s struggle with spirituality and the last three represent his understanding of his newfound faith.
“Spiritual Instinct’s delicate features, loving attention to detail and distinct balance of moods are supported by black metal’s foundation in ways that couldn’t have been anticipated when the genre first emerged three decades ago,” stated Billboard.
“Les Jardins De Minuit,” which translates to “the midnight garden,” is a monstrous opener showcasing Neige’s angelic falsetto set to a tortured hymn intro that quickly picks up into a fury of cacophonous drumming and tremolo-picked riffage.
“Protection” and “Sapphire” are the next two tracks where Neige experiments with making traditionally structured songs. This approach takes the group into a more alt-metal sound and shortens their typical slow burners into an equally impressive bite size version.
“L’ile Des Morts” accounts for almost a fourth of the records runtime, clocking in at a monolithic 9 minutes. It proves to be the band’s highlight song with heavy use synths and even a drum machine.
The tone of the last half of the record is more hopeful, reflecting Neige’s journey through the acceptance of his friend’s death for whom the record was written in honor of.
“For all the acclaim the band has received over the years, to return once more and deliver a nearly flawless album is sensational,” stated Metal Injection.
Since 1999, Alcest has done their best to provide the black metal community with their own melancholic and atmospheric take on the genre. Their impact has invited more newcomers while retaining the elements that make such a niche taste.