One of the more controversial acts in the Metal underground, ALCEST, has spun its fine thread of atmospheric wonder to an astounding degree of success and quality already in the band's short existence--paving the way for dozens of other 'Blackgaze' projects in the process. Neige produced three bright-eyed, heterogeneous elixirs of Black Metal, Shoegaze, and Post-Rock from 2005 to 2010, even the least successful of which (probably “Le Secret“) I would consider no less than great. And the most successful? A beautiful masterpiece from start to finish (or, namely, “Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde“). For a while I could have sworn I'd never grow tired of the sound created in these works. However, “Les Voyages de l'âme“ has sadly proven that a sound, no matter how great, can only take you so far. Yes, I'd say Neige finally dropped the ball.
Okay, so ALCEST's latest isn't a total failure, or even 'bad' for that matter, but for an album titled something as introspective as “The Voyage of the Soul“, the music beneath its slick cover is surprisingly devoid of spirit or personality. Keeping with the tradition of utilizing fewer Metallic elements with each subsequent release, “Voyages“ is the cleanest, most streamlined ALCEST album yet, with a production cleaner than a brand new whistle...Too clean, in fact, destroying the natural vibe of the personal dreamland Neige undoubtedly tried to evoke. There's just this overall sense of artifice that fails to hide itself in the midst of its surroundings; imagine catching someone who is attempting to pickpocket you while he or she is in the middle of the act and confronting the awkwardness to follow. That's the feeling I had listening to this. It's as if the emotions were openly robbed and halfheartedly replaced with a tedious stream lacking the harrowing lows or the optimistic highs I've come to expect from ALCEST.
Even though it stands as the longest release to date from this project at 50 minutes, “Les Voyages de L'âme“ feels the least thought out and the most rushed of them all. Songs are either too structured (like the transparent "Nous Sommes l'Emeraude") or appear to have no point at all, voyaging everywhere while truly going nowhere. Just see the interminable "Là où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles," a song that feels as long as its title; throughout its nine minute journey it fails to achieve any sense of euphoric melody or plant itself in the memory for more than the time it takes to listen to it. "Summer's Glory" is a little more successful, but it still hangs too much on its 90s Alternative Rock influences, coming off as a SMASHING PUMPKINS track with ALCEST-ian elements rather than the other way around. To my ears, only the title track even gets close to the same league as something off “Souvenirs“ or its follow-up, briefly creating the essence of beauty I expected upon entry. The rest are comprised of a half-baked mess of ideas.
One might see my relatively fair score and wonder why I've lingered so much on the negative here, and I must admit that I might have been a tad harsh in this review. After all, this is a serviceable slab of Post-Metal that can entertain every once in a while if used under the right circumstances. However, based purely off my high expectations and the evidence that Neige can do much better readily available to us, “Les Voyages de l'âme“ simply isn't the caliber of release I was hoping for. I hate to be that guy, but a band's music should progress. I know, I know, change is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" action, but even a vial of nectar can go flat if opened and poured out time and time again. In the end, “Voyages“ isn't the most crushing musical disappointment I've ever experienced, and I do hope that it was just a simple misstep, but it does provide an inauspicious start to a year that promises the apocalypse at its end. Perhaps this is only the beginning.
(Online July 22, 2012)