It is in the very soul of the nature of all things that evolution is the key to progression and music is no different. Some bands’ evolution is gentle, one record moving seamlessly but inexorably into another; whereas others’ evolution is harsh and visceral, the styling of their previous incarnations severed, allowing new roots to grow in their place. Viewing Alcest’s deeper history it is the latter scenario which is more apt to them. Originally a raw black metal solo project back at the turn of the millennium Alcest was, and still is, the property of multi-instrumentalist Stephane ’Neige’ Paut and was a step away from his then-other band Amesoeurs.
After a hiatus Alcest returned in 2005 a very different animal than the one that had gone in hibernation. Now Alcest were haunting, their lengthy musical passages and combinations of styles earning them the label of Blackgaze.
It’s a label that has been shown as being warranted over the intervening years and Spiritual Instinct continues in a similar vein as its predecessors. Across the albums six tracks are combinations of intense riffing, juxtaposed with gentle layered guitar lines, interweaving themselves through the music, sometimes at the forefront of the song, sometime hiding deep in the instrumental. Similarly with the vocals, shifting between ferociously spitting lines above massive guitar and melancholic, even haunted, heartbroken sorrow.
Each of the half-dozen songs on offer on Spiritual Instinct is a self-contained picture and for each Alcest have selected a slightly different colour palette. Sapphire’s post-metal opening and insistent bass reveals itself to be hiding the gothic trappings of The Cure or Joy Division, the huge riffs never able to erase the hypnotic nature of the track. L'le Des Morts starts and ends with an almost electronic beat, the use of arrhythmic drumming here, and on the title, track, serves create a sense of unease.
In the use oppositional ideas, Alcest are able to create a perpetually interesting piece of work, one which is continually challenging the listener to guess where they are about to take the song next. There are moments on Spiritual Instinct, as on Protection, when you feel as though you are standing in the eye of the hurricane; the calm after the tempest but with the knowledge that the tumult is far from over. But then, just to unsettle the listener ever more, the title track at the close of the record simply stops. No fade out, no sign-posted outro, just silence after the storm.
Spiritual Instinct is a very fine album indeed and Alcest have created a muscial landscape which is at times both ferocious and haunting, both angry and heartfelt, both immediate and hypnotic. Amesoeurs was a band ahead of its time but the spirit of that forward looking creative force still burns in Neige and Alcest.