Even with hindsight being 20/20, it was easy to predict that France's Alcest, would eventually cast off black metal's influence on its sound. While Burzum's Filosofem provided inspiration for 2007's full-length debut, Souvenirs d'un Autre, recordings by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, and Lush did too. Alcest may not have been the first "blackgaze" band, but until Deafheaven broke through with 2013's brilliant Sunbather, they were its most famous proponents. Shelter, Alcest's fourth album, finally transcends all of metal's musical, sonic, and aesthetic tropes. It is deeply indebted to its '90s British inspirational sources and wholly invested in the melodic sensibilities this group has displayed from the very beginning. Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Neige (Stéphane Paut) and drummer Jean “Winterhalter” Deflandre enlisted Sigur Rós' Sundlaugin Studio, and its producer, Birgir Jón Birgisson. His sonic imprint is readily apparent on the brief, gauzy intro "Wings," and remains constant. Other Icelandic participants include the string quartet from the group Amiina. Shelter is a straight, ecstatic homage to the shoegaze sound of the '90s -- Slowdive's Neil Halstead even provides lead vocals on "Away." Shelter is meant to be played loud, with layers of swooning guitars, buttery yet forceful drums, "pretty" feedback, dreamily sung lyrics, and other woozy textural effects that erect an aural, watery warmth that the listener can get lost in for a time. Examples are in the charging, wide-open embrace of "Opale," the harmonic layers of voices, guitars, keyboards, and ambient effects that are nearly erotic in their sensuality on "La Nuit Marche Avec Moi," and in the deliberate, almost processional reverence and rhapsodic emotion that meld flesh and spirit in the title track. The set's longest number, "Deliverance," is a nocturnal flood of acoustic and electric guitars washing together with dramatic drum flourishes, and Billie Lindahl's soaring backing vocals that very nearly close the album in a shattering union of beauty and intensity; that is, until Neige dials it all back and gently whispers it out on a single transcendent note. If there is criticism for Shelter, it's that it sounds as if Alcest are inching rather than stepping forward and stasis has a hold on them; but with the band's catalog as argument, that's deliberate. Musical movement aside, it's a lovely sounding record. Even in its self-conscious worship of shoegaze it could easily become a late addition to that genre's canon. Shelter is well-crafted, vulnerable, and honest.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek