Review: Alcest – Les Voyages De L’Âme

You would be hard-pressed to find an album which more reviews have simultaneously labeled generic and beautiful than Les Voyages De L’Âme. It’s an odd situation. Neige has definitely found his sound. I have to imagine that he personally is more satisfied with his work now than ever. The catch is that a lot of people appreciated his music best when he was still searching for something. Les Voyages De L’Âme is beautiful, no doubt about it. It’s a journey through a mysterious, fanciful world that I have taken for 50 minutes frequently this year; it was released in early January, so it’s technically a year old at this point.

Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles

But such descriptions cannot characterize all of his works. Neige’s music has a bit of a narrative in it, told not so much in a single album as in the scope of his career. His first release, Tristesse Hivernale (2001), was a poorly produced sinister ride not particularly unlike the debuts of the Norwegian legends. It also happened to feature an early appearance by Famine, whose Peste Noire took a drastically different and equally admirable path in the years to follow.

Neige didn’t release an Alcest follow-up until 2005, but “Le Secret” revolutionized metal. The two-track EP was an odd consequence of Neige continuing to play black metal while aspiring towards the atmospheric polar opposite. What you got was something beautiful but perpetually fragile; a glimpse at something angelic in music’s darkest corner, which threatened to fade away at any given moment. It’s the sense that what you’re hearing reveals itself in temporary, fleeting form that really places Le Secret above the rest of Neige’s work for me.

Neige was openly bothered by the reviews Le Secret received. A lot of people just didn’t get it, or more likely did get it but felt some bone-headed sense of masculinity in jeopardy should they admit to getting it. Neige regarded the album as a failure. I think the failure was on the part of the listeners who reviewed it, and I was borderline devastated when Neige re-recorded Le Secret last year. But in any case, the fleeting nature of Le Secret’s sound reflected a real fleeting feature of Neige’s style: It wasn’t what he was ultimately aiming for. It was, rather, the last step on the way to getting there. Souvenirs d’un autre monde was the full realization. We might for stylistic purposes label it shoegaze black metal, but it was really post-black metal in the most literal sense.

Souvenirs d’un autre monde was, to me, all about the triumph. It reached for that light buried within Le Secret and made it through to the other side. Neige’s music finally entered that fanciful world of light and beauty that he had envisioned all along. If Le Secret was all about getting there and Souvenirs d’un autre monde was the overwhelming awe he felt when he reached it, Écailles de Lune might be understood as a more orchestrated exploration of what waited on the other side.

Faiseurs De Mondes

This might seem a very peculiar and abstract way to go about describing a discography, but I think it reveals the reason why Les Voyages De L’Âme feels in some sense generic or repetitive. I don’t think Neige planned out any sort of progression from Tristesse Hivernale through to Écailles de Lune. Rather, he is one of those truly great musicians capable of effectively recreating his thoughts in music, and as Neige the man/musician developed his vision over time, his music progressed to reflect it. In the two years that separate Écailles de Lune from Les Voyages De L’Âme not much appears to have changed, and what Les Voyages De L’Âme lacks has absolutely nothing to do with quality. The music is superb. It’s just that we have come over the years to expect perpetual transition, and Les Voyages De L’Âme instead continues to explore the other-worldly landscape Neige first fully entered on Souvenirs d’un autre monde. Les Voyages De L’Âme is in every way Écailles de Lune Part 2.

Given Neige’s past responses to criticism, who knows how he might react to the labels of “generic” being pasted on Les Voyages De L’Âme in otherwise positive reviews. I think the aspect of his sound that is being criticized in this regard isn’t really something he can help, and anyway the context in which the album may be called “generic” is a major stretch from the normal sense of the word. Better to say that it is a continuation of Écailles de Lune, and outstanding as such.

If there are any further doubts, I should inform you that Sophie loved it. She has impeccable taste.