France’s Alcest have weaved a memorable album that manages to straddle the fence between black metal catharsis and ambient relaxation. Perhaps to be expected from a band who’s themes supposedly stem from vocalist/guitarist Neige’s youthful dreams of a “fairy world,” Écailles de lune’s surreal mix of soothing and seething sounds mark a position that is sure to please as many people as it alienates. Take, for example, the first part of the two-part title track. Beginning with lazy, echoing riffs amid quiet, clean vocals that seem to hang in the air, the song eventually shifts into jarring, crashing chords. Part deux starts off softly but quickly explodes into a wall of black metal sound, complete with throat-wrecking shrieks and thudding drums. Middle track “Abysses” is simply a short soundscape, one that brings to mind the rush of wind through the tunnel to an alternative world. By the time that the final track, “Sur L’Océan Couleur de Fer,” comes to a lingering close, the listener has been treated to a constant pendulum swing of sound.
Écailles de lune doesn’t privilege any one style, and it’s better for the diversity – assuming that one isn’t turned off by drastic shifts in sound. Neige’s recent and short-lived side project, Amesoeurs, featured an ambitious but often inconsistent mix-and-match of styles, with some songs aiming for harsh, fuzzy black metal and others sounding like indie pop rock. Those who felt that the Amesoeurs album needed a central identity will be pleased to hear that Écailles de lune has a soul to which it sticks. Its appeal is the varying intensity of that soul as the music frequently oscillates between ambient, atmospheric single notes and shoe-gaze black metal stylings. It’s hard to feel too misanthropic listening to an album like this one. Écailles de lune’s elegiac air may bring to mind other worlds, but it also serves as a small reminder that all is not lost in this one.