Retrospective: Alcest’s “Écailles de Lune”

As we continue our progression into the darker, colder months of the year, certain albums and bands just tend to rise from the depths of a musical library. You know exactly what I’m talking about: certain music truly is seasonal. For example, as the days grow shorter, the percentage of my playlist occupied by various black metal artists increases. With this occurrence, you really start to realize how far-reaching this sub-genre can be.

We all know the bands out of Scandinavia that, dare I say, take themselves maybe a bit too seriously–bands where it feels like the more weapons you hold and the more spikes on your leather, the better. We’re all familiar enough with that side of things. But I’d like to visit the other side of the spectrum, and consider a band and album that aren’t afraid to push the envelope toward a more shoegaze or post-metal-like atmosphere. The album that I’m talking about is Alcest’s Écailles de Lune. 

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This album is a masterpiece. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the highlight of the French black metallers discography to date. I know the most recent release, Shelter, has received high praise (and rightfully so). But for me, no other album has produced the emotional and environmental appeal that 2010’s Écailles de Lune has. Allow me to discuss…

This album barely cracks 41 minutes. This thing is in no hurry and does an absolutely phenomenal job of easing a listener into the melodies of the two-part opening title track (which, combined, total over 18 minutes–almost half the duration of the album). For the first seven or so minutes, frontman Neige lifts your spirits with his ambient, drawn out vocal style. And did I mention the entire album is in French? It is, quite simply, beautiful. But then out of absolutely nowhere, things pick up. But this isn’t the aggressive, harsh listening black metal we all know and love. This is haunting. This is high tempo, yet somber. Like I said, it comes out of nowhere, yet absolutely belongs in that time and place. Rarely can a change so drastic seem so effortless.

As we move into the first few minutes of the second part of the title track, we get Neige’s echoing, ambient cries that just absolutely surround you in the way, say, clouds might surround a standalone mountain. All this element does is add to the haunting atmosphere the album has taken on. After a few minutes, the album lets you off the hook and returns you to its frequently visited post-metal feel.

Wasting no time with “Percées de Lumière” (“Openings of Light”), Neige introduces you to an absurdly catchy, almost poppy, main riff–and with it, the incredible screams he’s become so well known for, layered perfectly over-top. The track is split in half brilliantly, retreating back to the album’s roots before picking up again. At just over six and a half minutes, no song on the album moves more effectively and seamlessly than this. Easily the apex of the album.

We exit over the last three tracks with an incredibly epic, drawn out conclusion. But it works. For all of the dark, mysterious places this album takes the listener within the first three tracks, “Solar Song” effectively brings you back to life and back to light. Its placement couldn’t be better. Departing with “Sur l’océan couleur de fer” (“On The Iron-Colored Ocean”), you almost feel as if you’re drifting away from the darkness and ending in the peace and serenity Neige first presents you with at the beginning. You realize exactly how far this album has taken you, only to come fill circle.

“Écailles de Lune” translates to “Moon Scales”, and I’ve gotta say, that is extremely appropriate. We all know how my take on an album can be related to how well the album accentuates my life. This is no different. This album is one you can listen to while simply gazing skyward at night. It’s one you can listen to in complete solitude, where you can (and are willing to allow yourself to) explore the depths of your thoughts and emotions. It does so much and holds so much purpose. A timeless listen.

Take a listen here:

Enjoy, everyone.

“Ein Bier… bitte.”

– Corey

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up. 

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