Alcest

Écailles de Lune

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If any proof were needed that anticipation was at a fever pitch for Alcest's second full-length album, it could be found in the fact that a clever leak of Écailles de Lune that made the rounds before its release was rabidly snapped up worldwide even though most of the tracks came from a compilation of Chinese black metal acts. But the fact that it was treated as the real thing shows how strong Alcest's own aesthetic mark has been made already, and Écailles de Lune makes the most of its compelling fusion of black metal's theatricality and the after-echoes of shoegaze's propensity for utterly enveloping a listener, even if bandleader Neige approached that sound unconsciously at first. The first half of the two-part title track that begins the album starts with a gentle guitar chime before the full skyscraping riff kicks in, but -- instead of getting even more intense as it goes -- it's happy to turn even more elegantly beautiful, letting moments of strutting rock brawl feel more like exaltation than destruction. Neige's singing is some of his loveliest at many points throughout the album, a soft keen toward the middle of the second half of the title track, a low and contemplative rumination elsewhere -- if not notably different from his earlier work in approach, it's at its most enjoyable here, and perhaps at its most beautifully serene on "Solar Song," vocals overlaid to lovely effect. In contrast to how Justin Broadrick's work in Jesu feels like brutal songs gone blissed-out, here it feels like calmly performed songs given sometimes full-speed accelerants that never lose a central grace, even when Neige's vocals turn into a familiar hollow rasp and wail.

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