Alcest – Kodama – Album Review

alcest_kodama_cover

Artist: Alcest

Album Title: Kodama

Label: Prophecy Productions

Date Of Release: 30 September 2016

Allow me to begin this review in a forthright and clear manner by stating that ‘Kodama’, the fifth release from French duo Alcest, is utterly, jaw-droppingly beautiful. I am thoroughly addicted and transfixed by it, almost to the point of being obsessed.

Comprised of multi-instrumentalist Neige and drummer Winterhalter, Alcest deliver something quite remarkable with ‘Kodama’, something that’s worthy of everyone’s attention. Mind you, the same could be said of every release under the Alcest moniker to date, such is the skill and the level of artistic expression by these musicians.

Traditionally, albeit loosely, a black metal band with shoegaze elements, Alcest produced another curveball in a career of curveballs with 2014’s ‘Shelter’, as it almost entirely shied away from anything vaguely approaching metal. Instead, it focused heavily on the shoegaze aspect of their sound and, in so doing, raised a few eyebrows in the process. I loved that album and would, if my life depended on it, declare it my favourite to date, simply because it was just so damn gorgeous and full of subtle depth and sophistication.

With ‘Kodama’, like most of their output, Alcest challenge us again but in a positive way. This time, the metal elements make a return and it is most definitely a welcome return as far as I’m concerned. But that doesn’t mean that ‘Kodama’ is any less subtle, beautiful, cerebral, or deep than anything that has gone before. One pass through of ‘Kodama’ and I was very happy. Fast forward a few days and as I said at the beginning of the review, I am completely hooked.

‘Kodama’ has been heavily inspired by Japanese folklore, something that is obvious after a single glance at the striking cover artwork and the title of this record. More specifically, Neige, as the principle songwriter has chosen to take the story of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke as the basis, exploring this concept in his own inimitable fashion, to stunning effect.

The result is an album that is melancholy and positive, poignant and uplifting, bold and subtle. And what’s more, all of these elements are placed perfectly; creating a dramatic and scintillating journey through aural textures and tones with a thrilling ebb and flow that means the listener is fully absorbed and entirely invested in the music from the first moment to the very last.

‘Kodama’ opens up with the title track, a nine-minute composition that is a sprawling song of majestic proportions. The melodies which pay homage to the music of the Far East are immediately captivating, drawing the listener in immediately with their bittersweet beauty and then never letting go. The mixture of more extreme metal sounds and the subtlety of shoegaze elegance works brilliantly under the control of such consummate professionals as the song weaves its way through peaks of beauty and valleys of dark despair so effortlessly. And the breakdown and subsequent rebuilding towards an understated crescendo that takes place after the mid-point is thoroughly inspired.

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Speaking of effortless this brings me neatly onto ‘Eclosion’, another relatively lengthy composition that is every bit as wondrous as its predecessor, flitting from black metal screams, blastbeats and strong aggressive riffing to quieter, more introspective passages with ease and no lack of finesse. And to then top it all off, just when you think that the track is done, out comes a superb clean guitar melody that is so eloquent, it speaks volumes.

‘Je Suis D’ailleurs’ is yet more melodic manna from heaven and with it, features some of the most gorgeous vocals anywhere on the record. I’m a sucker for Neige’s clean delivery and here, he soars over the resonant guitars beautifully to create an epic sound that manages to convey sadness and fragility but also a sense of hope. At the midpoint, the screams make an appearance, increasing the underlying sense of anguish but it is short-lived as this song is dominated by the enormous shoegaze-inspired melodies and those angelic, layered vocals.

I risk sounding like a broken record when I say that ‘Untouched’ is another masterclass in depth and beauty as Neige and Winerhalter create another stunningly emotional song. Built around yet more disarmingly simple melodies introduced on the guitar, it comes across as the most ‘mainstream’ track on the album and it absolutely flies by. I love the drum and bass combination around the midway point but it’s the soaring, almost ethereal melody which duets with Neige’s brittle yet dynamic voice that sinks its teeth into my subconscious and genuinely moves me.

‘Oiseaux de Proie’ features Winterhalter at his best behind the drum kit. The beats and rhythms are equally bold and impressive whether at warp speed or at a slower, more measured tempo. This is perhaps the most extreme of all the songs on ‘Kodama’ with the most black metal influences on display, almost harking back most obviously to Alcest’s early days. And yet ‘Oiseaux…’ remains a composition of depth and elegance, not to mention great contrasts which expertly adds to the overall drama of the record.

‘Kodama’ all too swiftly closes with ‘Onyx’, an amazing piece of music that turns out to be my surprising favourite on the album. Given the effects, sounds and textures at play, this instrumental track is claustrophobic, dark and menacing, verging on noise at times. However, underneath the apparent tumult is a softer, more haunting and somber underbelly that sends shivers down my spine every time I listen. The melody conveys such loneliness, emptiness and melancholy that it strikes straight at my heart.

To echo my sentiments at the beginning of this review, I have once again well and truly fallen under the Alcest spell. ‘Kodama’ truly is one of the most bewitching and beautiful albums I have heard in quite a while, full of sublime melodies, juxtaposing musical ideas and rich textures, pulled together through powerful themes that touch on the conflicting emotions of sorrow and joy. ‘Kodama’ is stunning.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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