Alcest- Shelter (Prophecy Productions)

Gorgeous, inspiring, beautiful... but not metal.
Release Date: 
20 Jan 2014 - 11:30pm

And so French post-black metallers Alcest arrive, somewhat inevitably you feel, at that moment of maximum gumby fan distress – the album by a metal band that is not, in any way, shape or form, metal. Should we be reviewing an album that in places sounds like Britpop neverwheres Embrace in the hallowed pages of Metal as Fuck? Of course we should. Alcest, whatever they sound like now, have played a big part in the formation of the post/shoegaze metal phenomena, so their efforts here deserve some attention, no matter how damning our condemnation of their Judas-like betrayal of metal might be. So let’s get on with the assassination, right?

Except there’s absolutely no knife in the back coming from these quarters;  Because Shelter is – despite its non-metallic sound and feel – an absolutely absorbing and glorious piece of work. It’s dated as all hell – it could have been made by countless bands from the home counties of England at any time between 1985 and 1998, French lyrics notwithstanding – but every track here is a beautiful conflation of dreampop soundscapes, fragile, weeping willow guitar lines and wistful brass and string accompaniments, all pulled into shape by Sigur Ros alumnus Birgir Jón Birgisson who produces the album splendidly. 

Indeed a few overdriven peels of guitar aside, there is little or nothing to link this to Alcest’s first album, Souvenirs d'un autre monde, despite only seven years having elapsed between the two releases. That said, this is still demonstrably an Alcest recording, such is the strength of conviction and purpose in the songwriting of Neige and Winterhalter. It’s just that fans of Air and Phoenix (Christ, maybe even bequiffed Northern grimness exponent Richard Hawley) will be able to enjoy this album totally, should they be able to get past the stigma attached to the band’s metallic roots (and maybe it’s this area – too metal for the indie kids, not metal enough any more for the metal kids- that might well end up being the death of Alcest, which would, of course, be an appalling tragedy). Does that mean we shouldn’t, as metalheads, embrace this new mainstream allure? Probably. though absolutely not if you track the opprobrium being hurled on social media by the metal elite at those other black metal Judases, Deafheaven. But when the sumptuous strains of the album’s title track wash out of the speakers and over your pleasantly inundated ears there’s little you can do to resist – best just to wallow and luxuriate.

Even the most grim-faced of metal warriors is allowed one guilty pleasure a year, record-wise – and I strongly advise that you make this your one for 2014.