How often have we all dreamt of just getting away, freeing ourselves from everything that’s bothering us in our everyday life and embracing what gives us peace and comfort? To take refuge in something outside ourselves that still feels very much like a part of our own existence? This wish to disconnect from the world and get lost in something you love even for a little while forms the concept behind the subject of today’s episode of A Scene In Retrospect: Shelter by French blackgaze pioneers Alcest. Stripping away the metal elements that weighed down their sound, they truly took flight on this album, reaching for the warmest sunlight.
To celebrate this magical album, EIN members Inter, Rodney, Ashley, and Scott came together to discuss what makes it so special within the Alcest canon, and why it’s such a milestone achievement for the band.
My opinion may not be the popular one nor the consensus, but Shelter is my favourite Alcest release so far. The angelic feel all throughout the record is glorious, all the while the band still feel like themselves.
Shelter may be a stark left turn for them, but it pays off. If my battered memory serves me right, then I recall that fan outcry was loud and not too friendly towards Shelter. Truthfully, I think these people need to give it another spin, because they might be surprised to hear how quality it really is.
“Delivérance” will continue to be in my top songs of all time. Some may call it repetitive, but I personally feel like it could go on even longer. The quiet introduction slowly builds until the final bit comes in and takes over for the next eight minutes. The way that the ending is slowly built up with layers, emotion, and intensity must feel like an architect seeing their work in person for Alcest. All of the effort to build the base and foundation plus the addition of all of the parts on top of that is awe inspiring.
The only real stumble, in my opinion, in Shelter is the inclusion of “Away”. The English vocals really take me away from the flow of the record. It’s like I’ve left Rivendell and am now back in the land of gross and disgusting humans. Luckily, the rest of Shelter really makes up for this hiccup.
Overall, the dream pop mixed with shoegaze suits Alcest quite well. The brighter and more upbeat (sort of) approach to an album makes Shelter really shine through within the Alcest discography.
To the untrained ear, all Alcest albums might sound the same. They’re not. All you true fans know what I’m talking about, and you can tell just by looking at the album cover that there is something a little different happening in Shelter. It’s somber, melodic, and downright lovely like the best of Alcest‘s back-catalog. This particular record, however, is one of the points in their timeline when they put the heavier aspects of their sound in a box to focus on something a little softer than the progressions of albums such as 2012’s Les Voyages de l’Âme.
So does this one pull Alcest out of the realms of blackgaze and into the characteristics of dream pop and soft rock? Who cares! Alcest do what Alcest do. The fact remains that this is about as in-depth a release from the French duo as one could hope for. Its overall cleanliness of sound really adds to the volume of its emotional content, and there is still some patented Alcest mystique to be found, particularly during the gorgeously mesmerizing halfway point, “L’Eveil des Muses”. After this, the record floats deeper still on the riverbed of reflective intensity, before climaxing in suitably epic fashion via the delightful sounds of “Into the Waves”.
The listener henceforth goes through a full-bodied journey, and the band clearly worked extremely diligently to make that happen. There is not a single stagnant point to be found within its 52-minute timeframe. Alcest never did a bad one, but Shelter is one of their nicest, and its with good reason that it’s a favoured choice among many ears. The record is a craft of beauty with such stunning resonance that ‘timeless’ is by no means an inappropriate word to describe it. Really, it’s not.
There is no other band that inhabits a sheer unique sound like Alcest do. With Shelter, the French music project around Neige created its very own aesthetic; a dreamy, cloudy sound that can do no harm reigns over the compositions of this record. It feels like a soft pillow on which you can rest your head. It gives you space to breathe, time to enjoy, and softens your pace. When you start listening to Alcest – and especially this record – it will take you away from reality for the duration of its runtime.
Let’s get into detail a little and highlight some songs. “Opale” still feels like a fresh breeze of wind on a cold but sunny morning in June. The guitar melodies seem so comfortable, while the vocalizes are the only layers needed in Alcest’s sound. Track like “Voix Sereines” are so beautiful, yet sad at the same time. Neige’s soft voice is incredibly emotionally touching, and leads the oneironautic experience induced by his music. The song comes to life through its post-rock dynamic and the great culmination at its end. “Délivrance” is nothing less than a ten-minute prog rock masterpiece of incredible ambiance and emotive atmosphere.
Even though Shelter might be the softest record of Alcest to date, it’s the most comfortable one in their whole discography, presenting a great and voluminous mixture of dream pop, post-rock, and shoegaze that doesn’t need any black metal screams at all. Also, Shelter was the foundation for the sound that Alcest created on Kodama and Spiritual Instinct. Their combination of the dreamy side that Shelter offered and Neige’s early black metal influences created a sound that is so unique while still remaining comfortable, which makes Alcest one of the best bands to come out of the whole post-black metal era since 2000.
Black metal is often dark and grim. To be fair, Alcest always managed to let a bit of warm light shine through the corpsepainted cracks; after all, they kinda started that whole blackgaze thing. After getting comfortable and owning that particular style through numerous releases, Neige and Winterhalter simply dropped all their black metal in a very ballsy move, and fully embraced the light, creating an album that is all about comfort, warmth, and beauty. Shelter quite literally gives you shelter, hugging you with shoegaze, post-rock, and dream pop, allowing Uncle Neige to spin his web made of sunlight around you. Those 45 minutes are infinte, and I’m very grateful for that.
Alcest are playing to the beat of their own drum, creating a whole new movement within black metal and beyond. While Shelter is probably considered the least ‘Alcest-ish’ album, this very fact made it the most Alcest album. The gaze is real. Take Sigur Rós‘ very own Jón Þór Birgisson and lock yourself up in an Icelandic studio near a waterfall, and the magic will flow automatically. If you skipped Alcest so far, change that. If you skipped Shelter, what are you doing with your life? Dance in some meadows and enjoy the light.
What are your thoughts on/experiences with Shelter? Are you a fan of Alcest, and if so, what’s your favorite album of theirs? Do you have any records you’d like to recommend for inclusion in A Scene In Retrospect? Leave it all in the comments if you feel like sharing!