French Blackgaze leaders Alcest have forged a career out of merely being artists following their will, rather than the passions of what fans want them to be. By setting the artistic ideal almost too high from the first ghost-notes of The Secret in 2005, to the twist and turns of Souvenirs d’un autre monde, through the evolution from Écailles de Lune, and more recently the brilliant Shelter in 2014, the band has charmed and confused equally.
In truth, Alcest and its leader Neige have been less of an enigma to ponder, and more of a real visionary to behold. In the wake of many tributes and imitators, the autuer is sometimes forgotten about, but not in this case. With the release of Kodama (Prophecy Productions), the group makes less of a return to its origins that fans want, but more like a rebirth again with hints of where they came from too.
Kodama draws heavily on Japanese culture, specifically inspired by the story Princess Mononake, by beloved anime and storytelling master Hayao Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli. Although based one the the darkest narrative in Miyazaki’s oveure, Kodama is downright hopeful, with an endearing sense of spirit, whimsy, and poetic passion bleeding past the typical sadness one sometimes finds from their music. From the incredible artwork by Førtifem, to the lyrical references and the exquisite packaging; this was a masterful idea from start to finish.
Kodama or “tree spirit” is in a way a sequel or coda to Princess Mononake with call-outs to characters, and even specific points in the story. Those familiar with the film will be delighted with this, and those not can enjoy the album for what it is, another emotion straining Alcest release. Making great use of all the dynamics, both soft and heavy, gazey and haunting, with flourishes of rage and hints of their blackened past slipping in at times. After over eleven minutes of contemplative instrumentals to start the album it was great to hear the fury boil over in Neige’s voice during ‘Éclosion’. Winterhalter has always provided what ever the music called for in the drums department, but he gets to let loose with powerful passages of storming beats that more than satisfy here. ‘Je suis d’ailleurs’ opens with a sweet salvo of drone-riffs and lovely expressive singing. The ebb and flow of this track from heavy, to soft to, heavy again is just phenomenal, making this one of the standout tracks on the album.
‘Untouched’ is a beautiful track which almost calls to mind some of the lighter moments of A Perfect Circle with its light and shade. Different hues of musical light and shadow. ‘Oiseaux de proie’ is super heavy in parts and most closely matches mid-era Alcest, free from the chains of pre-conception, but heart-melting all the same. The sense of fantasy and ennui will tickle your ear bone in a way that finds open love of their peers like Deftones, or Mono, or their own throwback inspirations such as The Cure.
The brief but tasty ‘Onyx’ is more like a Pink Floydian interlude, as a closing final track. I am interested in checking out the bonus track “Notre sang et nos pensées’, since it seems to follow the storyline as well. Kodama is Alcest feeling truly free, pulling from incredible source material, yet remaining decidedly themselves. This album will surely plant itself in my top ten releases for 2016.