Though French black metal has always been full of experimental weirdness that pushes at the genre's narrow boundaries, none has pushed the envelope as far as Alcest, a band that willfully combines black metal's buzz, gorgeous shoegaze melodies, ambient soundscapes, and post rock feedback. Les Voyages de l'Âme, Alcest's third full-length, arrives with great expectations based on the shock-of-the-new that greeted their debut, Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde, and its follow-up Ecailles de Lune. Alcest stands in its own "blackgaze" space at the crossroads of Burzum's Filosofem and My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. But one wonders how black that space can actually be with melodies that are so consciously attractive and lyrics that reject negativity. Founder, songwriter, and guitarist Neige was a one-man show until recently when Winterhalter was added on drums. Here Alcest's sound continues to evolve, stripping away more and more of metal's tropes; its production values have improved vasty as well. In its harmonic sophistication and layered sonic washes, its ability to create emotions that approach bliss in now part of its sonic architecture. Neige's vocals, decipherable at times, are all in French. They're meant to be another layer of that atmospheric palette; when they can be understood, they celebrate something spiritually positive though abstract. Multi-tracked electric and acoustic guitars and tension-tuned basses meet washes of synth and Winterhalter's tom-tom-heavy drum attack (no blastbeats) in songs that embrace the experience of an undefinable beauty in the shared terrain of spiritual, human, and natural worlds. The sense of "heaviness" in the mix is pronounced, but it employs aggression in a celebratory manner as evidenced by opener "Autre Temps" and closer "Summer Glory." Even at its harshest, when Neige is screaming, as on “Là où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles” and “Faiseurs de Mondes," the melodic beauty of the guitars seems to open up that expression, ensuring balance. This is music created to invite listeners to enter into the band's soundworld aesthetic, not be dictated to by it. Les Voyages de l'Âme is a conscious synthesis of the music from their two previous albums, rather than a move forward. And that's fine: assessment and integration and perfecting previous ideas are important aspects of any serious attempt at making art and creating a forward motion trajectory. Whether Les Voyages de l'Âmeis the band's finest album is a debate listeners will no doubt have, but is a great record;it simultaneously self-defining and alluring.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek