Alcest’s “Komada” transcends in abysmal glory

The French pioneers expand blackgaze while perfecting their template.

Maxwell Heilman, Writer

While Deafheaven certainly brought post-black metal out of the underground, Alcest remains one of the earliest and best examples of black metal’s frigid hatred synthesizing with the luminous tranquility of post-rock and shoegazing.

A Return to Form

Formed in France during the turn of the millennium as the brainchild of Stéphane “Neige” Paut, Alcest existed as a raw black metal trio before becoming a one-man project for eight years. The addition of Jean “Winterhalt” Deflandre coincided with Alcest’s blossoming into their definitive style.

2014’s “Shelter” proved the duo can navigate pure post-rock, but many fans missed the filthy foundation of “Les Voyages de l’âme.” “Komada” provides a return to form while transcending the majesty of their previous work.

Exploring Japanese aesthetic, though nebulous within the music’s execution, “Komada” evokes gloomy meditation gardens rather than the frostbitten wilderness of their contemporaries.

Melancholic Modulations

While the stylistic angle of other practitioners becomes obvious, the musicians behind “Komada” never sound like an indie band trying to appear edgy or vice versa. Alcest implements elements of black metal, shoegaze and post-rock with surpassing tact. The ugliest and most beautiful sounds on this record manifest naturally, allowing songs to breathe to and from distinctive passages.

The title track’s melancholic modulations could certainly lead into black metal extremity, but not a single blast beat or screamed vocal makes an appearance. Winterhalter’s drumming has velocity, but he uses that energy to drive ethereal vocal lines. Similarly, Neige uses tremolo picking to create a rushing high-end complement for propulsive rhythm instead of buzzing dirges.

Even when the following “Eclosion” brings blast beats and harrowing walls of sound into play, Neige’s wraithlike shrieks do not enter until post-rock groove returns. Alcest knows when the spirit of a genre proves more effective than its style, leading to consistent emotional diversity instead of pandering homages.

Gorgeous Realms of Expression

As he plays every instrument on “Komada” except the drums, Neige takes credit for this album’s impeccable atmosphere. Whether he sits in harmonious musing or explores the stratosphere of intensity, he directs these songs into gorgeous realms of expression. Although incomprehensible for non-French speakers, his hysterical shrieks exude anguish and turmoil as much as his singing does peace and joy. As the universe often amounts to beauty found in decay, so does Neige find strength in his tumultuous delivery.

“Je Suis D’ailleurs” and “Oiseaux De Proie” sum up the band’s overwhelming sonic capacity. Soaring vocal lines and powerful drums become washed with tumbling guitar, creating an escalating sense of resolve found in heartache. Whether high-end floats over the rock-hard groove like mist or crashes against it like a wave, these songs drift through the entirety of “Komada’s”spectrum.

Despondent cries, destructive double-bass patterns and tasteful guitar licks cascade into melodies that resonate hours after the event. Alcest’s meditative aspects break down mental barriers before enveloping the listener in glacial nuance, truly bridging the gaps between every style in their arsenal.

No sooner does it sound like Alcest has returned to their blackgaze roots when the arpeggiated guitar lines and minimalistic arrangement of “Untouched” epitomize everything Hillsong try to accomplish. “Komada’s” accessibility appears on this track, but “Onyx” ends the album in wonderful insensibility.

Percussion and keyboards drop out as amoebic strains fill the gaps with primordial monolithicity. The staggering apex of the track proves just as powerful as a full band, leaving listeners in the depths of their own subconscious.

Alcest has more than solidified themselves as a driving force in several scenes, but with “Komada” they come to terms with their past and stride into the future with confidence.

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