It's strange to think that Alcest began life as a true, raw, winter-ravaged black metal band, and the progression from those initial forays on Tristesse Hivernale are another world away from the gorgeous, euphoric tones of Shelter. Alcest have continually evolved and through Le Secret in 2005 to 2012’s Les Voyages De L’âme the French duo have slowly but surely moved away from the black metal soundscapes that coloured their earlier work and they now tread far dreamier territory.
Black metal dreamer leaves his past behind
Shelter is not a metal record at all – instead it flows with the graceful post-rock and shoegaze shimmers that can be found in previous releases, but now the Alcest palette incorporates even more beautiful images of escape, of wonder, completely clean vocals and a strong sense of the titular theme.
Frontman Neige often speaks of his childhood experiences and their influence on his musical output and Alcest has always been an outlet for trying to give tangibility to those events. Shelter certainly aims to do the same. Opale tugs on the heart and gives the album a sweet sense of hope that La Nuit Marche Avec Moi continues, before the tranquil waves of Voix Sereines cascade into view. The title track is a gentle and serene work that lifts and induces moments of happiness in its peaceful progression but, unfortunately, Shelter stumbles a little in the closing stages.
While it’s clear and understandable that having Neil Halstead of shoegaze pioneers (and a huge influence) Slowdive feature on the penultimate Away is extremely important and very personal, the song never quite hits the heights that it should and its presence feels a tad clichéd. It should be a wonderful meeting of minds but it feels so obvious in its execution that it’s almost enough to throw the entire work out of step. Thankfully, Alcest have Délivrance and its superb string section sends the final track soaring on peaceful, romantic moments that allow Neige’s wistful vocal approach to wrap the song in warmth that can only come from feeling safe.
In Shelter, Alcest evoke a sense of true belonging and of finding peace with the self and in the knowledge that there is more to be found. Bliss.