Les Chants de l'Aurore

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Komorebi
02. L'Envol
03. Améthyste
04. Flamme Jumelle
05. Reminscence
06. L'Enfant de la Lune
07. L'Adieu

It is easy to forget how revolutionary ALCEST were when they emerged from the mists of the French underground at the turn of the century. At this point, band mastermind Neige and his percussive foil Jean "Winterhalter" Deflandre are in the elevated position of being recognized as innovators of an entire subgenre, the somewhat feebly named 'blackgaze'.

There are certainly worse burdens to shoulder, but an association with all the bands that have followed in ALCEST's footsteps does them no favors. As they prove again on "Les Chants de l'Aurore", theirs is a malleable and instinctive formula that is largely beholden to the whims and emotions of the man who writes all the songs. Neige has regularly explained that ALCEST grew from a desire to make music inspired by a magical, inner world, originally experienced through visions as a young child. There have been times when that pursuit of blissful musical escape has been waylaid by dark shadows looming over the real world: 2019's "Spiritual Instinct" had serene moments, but the uncertainties of everyday life at that point in history were a constant presence, and Neige's discomfort was duly reflected in some gritty, tense material.

Five years later, "Les Chants de l'Aurore" is the calm after the storm, and an unapologetic return to the hazy, melodic gorgeousness, shoegaze indulgence and blearily uplifting spiritual vibes that made the seminal "Souvenirs d'un autre mode" explode like a glitter bomb over the black metal underground in 2007.

Recorded by the band themselves, "Les Chants de l'Aurore" takes a more organic approach to the maxed-out miasma of ALCEST's trademark sound. The opening "Komorebi" confirms the wisdom of their sonic maneuvers, with a grand, sweeping fog of guitars and ghost voices that only has the occasional blastbeat as a lingering link to black metal. As ever, Neige's melodies are fragile but heavenly, but the underlying rush of a real rock band is unmistakable and provides a sturdy core that runs through each of these seven trips to that other world. There is no shortage of billowing reverb clouding the sonic foreground during "L'Envol", but the duo's production sensibilities have rendered their performances in sharp shades of blue and green, and every last icy arpeggio and loping drum tattoo leaps from the speakers.

In contrast with its immediate predecessor, "Les Chants de l'Aurore" is unabashed in its desire to soothe souls and fill emotional voids with something beautiful. There may be undercurrents of melancholy and trepidation festering away at the heart of these songs, but the overall impact of Neige's revitalized philosophy is one of overwhelming tranquility and joy. Again, there is little connecting this album to black metal, beyond ALCEST's in-built affiliation. The unapologetic dedication to illuminating the darkness, rather than wallowing in it, is undeniable and genuinely noble. These are stunningly beautiful songs, performed with metal-friendly fire and intensity, but fully committed to the warmth of a new and positive dawn. The greatest of them is "Améthyste", which shimmers with psychedelic potential, before powering away on a skittering beat, happily lost in a world of shiny dream pop hooks and funereal post-metal riffs. Not for the first time on this near-magical return to form, ALCEST sound wholly detached from rigid notions of what blackgaze is all about. Instead, Neige has gone back to the original source and built a new monument to peace and harmony that, even at its prettiest, comes straight from the gut.

Author: Dom Lawson
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