It’s a new year and that means newer and bigger things here at Postrockstar. In an effort to bring our readers more dynamic and unique content, we are bringing back Roundtable Reviews, an open forum where our writers take turns speaking their mind about a highly anticipated or hyped album by some of the bigger bands that fall under our spectrum. This month we’re tackling French Black Metal turned shoegazegroup Alcest’s ‘Shelter’, their much anticipated follow up to 2012’s ‘Les Voyages De L’Âme’ , an album we gave an 89% rating to during the infancy of our earlier days. Now the band is back with ‘Shelter’ which offers a starkly different sound than their 2012 effort. What do our reviewers think?
** A big thank you to Prophecy Productions for providing our team with copies of ‘Shelter’ to facilitate this Roundtable Review! **
“I must say I’m a little conflicted by Alcest’s latest release. Shelter is a fairly compelling album when taken on its own. The songs are strong, for the most part, and it’s a very accessible listen. That being said, I’m still wondering what the hell happened to Alcest!
Bands grow and evolve, mostly for the better, out of artistic necessity. Usually it doesn’t feel contrived or forced, especially when the band is such a subgenre powerhouse like this one. Having been pioneers of the black metal/shoegaze/blackgaze/whatever stupid subgenre name that garnered them attention and admiration for years, I find it super quizzical that there is no cocoa in the puffs this time. Where’s the metal? Not here. At all. Don’t bother looking.
This is ponderous to me because I enjoyed Alcest’s past output a great deal, and I feel I’m one of the many who have benefitted because other bands used their influence and created some really great sinisterly shiny stuff. In a lot of fundamental ways, there wouldn’t have been such a critical darling like Deafheaven if not for Alcest infusing the chocolate and the peanut butter of blackened ambient and shoegaze/dreampop.
Unfortunately, Shelter just doesn’t live up to the hype and lineage. While I commend Neige for so completely switching up his sound, I also find the final output to be a little too idol worshipping of Slowdive, while not doing them justice as an influence. Neil Halstead of Slowdive guests on the track “Away,” and it just sounds odd and out of place.
I know it sounds like I’m just not letting this band unfurl its new wings and fly. I can assure you good people that I am not someone looking to relive the musical past glories of Alcest or Slowdive.
Whatever the case, if I had no expectations for this album, I would have been pleasantly surprised by what is essentially a very nicely put together cloud of dreampop. It lacks some warmth and feels alittle sterile, which is ponderous because Birgir Jón Birgisson, of Sigur Rós fame, produced it, but it’s certainly not by any stretch a bad album. To label this shoegaze is stretching things, but all genres become meaningless descriptors if there’s no universal agreement about them. My green and your green may be different. Results may vary.” – Erich
“When I heard the single, Opale, back in December I knew that I needed to hear Shelter as soon as I possibly could. I felt that Alcest dropping the black metal influences was a great move. I enjoy their back catalogue, but it was time for them to try something new.
It is a shame that I was disappointed on the first listen. Despite the wonderfully uplifting first two tracks (Wings is really an introduction into Opale) I found myself bored until the brilliant final track Délivrance.
However, with repeated listens, I have really grown to like this album. The lack of black metal and the understated shoegaze influences delivers what is essentially a dream pop album with some post-rock guitar. It is gently uplifting with some wonderfully subtle parts that shine through in all of the tracks. However many of the tracks almost blend into each other and the album does warrant closer listening, but the whole experience is often more like background music.
Shelter is not the triumph I expected it to be, but I am happy that I gave it some time to sink in rather than disregarding it after the first listen. I’ll be interested to see where they go from here.” – TenaciousListening
“Oh where oh where has thy Black Metal gone? The decline in the presence of their black metal roots has been noticeable on each sequential Alcest release, but with ‘Shelter’ even trace influences are no where to be found. I’m OK with that because the album is littered with powerful guitar offerings almost completely derived from the post-rock realm and those same brilliant vocal melodies and harmonies that very few bands can deliver, but I feel like longtime fans could feel abandoned here.
To be perfectly honest, during my very first listen my first thought was, “It’s crazy how much I am reminded of Anathema.” I’ve since stepped away a little from that train of though but I do think a fairly straightforward comparison isn’t too far-fetched.
When you look past the dramatic shift in sound, ‘Shelter’ offers a very uplifting, powerful and spacious performance comprised of some of Neige’s best work in terms of song structure. There really isn’t a single lost moment on this album. And although a part of me really misses the powerful flairful dramatic chuggy guitar work found on 2012’s ‘Les Voyages De L’Ame’ , I’m smart enough to realize that their 2012 effort was likely not going to be topped by a follow up of a similar offering.
I would have liked to see the album feature more than one epic build up (which comes in the album’s closing track ‘Delivrance’), but that’s just personal preference. ‘Shelter’ is an album that I would put in the upper echelon of “very good”, bordering the territory of “excellent” in terms of rating. Will this album receive any year end awards or be on any top albums lists at Postrockstar? I’m not sure. Will I still be listening to it by the end of the year? Without question.” – James
“I will admit I’ve never heard anything by Alcest until this. I still haven’t heard anything they released before Shelter. I have no idea what sort of journey they’ve been on, I can only see where they are now. And what I can see right now, they’re in a good spot. That being said, I can’t really just sit down and listen to this album, it’s not gripping enough for that, I need something to entertain me as I listen. I don’t know if this album is their best ever, or if they’re slowly declining. Either way, they’re sitting pretty with “Shelter”.
It’s a very relaxed album, I imagine them playing this while sitting down, with their eyes closed. The album as a whole is composed beautifully, and I find it very easy to enjoy as background music. I can’t find any other word for this album, other than Serene. Soothing vocals, strong usage of non-traditional instruments (I love the percussion instruments in Opale), and the overall sound is downright dreamy. I have no context for this album, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.” – Foofer
“Alcest’s latest album, ‘Shelter’, was touted as a new direction for the band, with all metal elements now supplanted by an encompassing shoegaze aesthetic. This is kind of true — there are now no unclean vocals to be found in it’s 46 minutes. However even those with only a passing interest in Alcest’s former works will have come to realize that they’ve always aspired for a smooth and dreamy sound anyway, where even the growls seemed to glide without friction atop ethereal waves of guitar. So ‘Shelter’ is no different in this regard. What is different is the somewhat brighter tone delivered through a greater utility of delicate post-rock-esque melodies, but that’s about it.
The long, climbing song structures are still there ( In “Voix Sereines” it even seems as though it might transition into Neige’s signature growls at any moment). And for a so-called “shoegaze” album, there isn’t a whole lot of fuzz or smattering of whirry effects beyond what you might find in your average post-rock record. So for all intents and purposes, I guess, this is a hopeful post-rock album with accessible vocals. Like “Takk…” but with fewer sonic boundaries encroached upon. There’s a token cameo by shoegaze legend Neil Halstead. Many of the songs sound similar; most are beautiful and a few are forgettable yet harmless. “Opale”, “Voix Sereines” and “Délivrance” are undeniable highlights. This is an incredibly easy album to enjoy time and time again, but a difficult one to love. – Shooter