Le Secret (EP)

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Band Name Alcest
Album Name Le Secret (EP)
Type EP
Released date April 2011
Music StyleAtmospheric Metal
Members owning this album53

Tracklist

1. Le Secret (Re-Recorded) 13:34
2. Élévation (Re-Recorded) 13:26
3. Le Secret 14:33
4. Élévation 12:46
Total playing time 54:19

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Alcest


Review @ InfinityZero

04 June 2011

...recommend this to atmosphere-addicted black metallers/those with an unquencheable taste for something different.

I have had no existing experience with the band Alcest before reviewing this new EP of theirs, so all of what I'm hearing is new to me.
From what I can gather, Alcest is a French black metal band with avantegarde tendencies to push the genre around and reform it in a way that's both intellectually gripping and atmospheric. Sounds like whatever I'll get from this will be something of particular interest.

The EP that I happen to be reviewing now (titled 'Le Secret'--I wonder what that means in English) consists of two tracks, but there're two different recordings for each one, giving the EP a total of four tracks. I figure since there isn't much here in terms of track listing, I'll do an in-depth track-by-track review.

The opening track is the title track, Le Secret, spanning thirteen and a half minutes, which is good since I like longer songs. It starts with a nice spacey intro played on clean guitars that floats around in your ears gently and melodically, shifting and changing gradually to let the intro breathe and expand. This sets the tone of the album that feels like floating underwater. The intro ends somewhat harshly as droning tremolo-picked guitars come in. I would say that this is the 'heavy part' to the song, but the drone is soft, like early Drudkh music. The only thing to add here is that the production is better than Drudkh, and the guitars avoid sounding like a swarm of angry bees. You can tell what's being played, although it doesn't seem totally important, as the song just melds into a swirling landscape of atmospheres and feelings like an ambient album played with metal instruments. The drums plod quietly beneath the sound of guitars, not coming to full light until about the ten minute mark. There are all sorts of nice fills and patterns here, but the drums never interrupt the flow or the atmosphere. They become another part of the mesh.
At this point, I'm still waiting for the vocals coming in, expecting an echoing scream that's a little behind the guitars. Because it's at this point that I think I have this album figured out, that I know what it's going to do before it happens. It turns out the vocalist for this entire song is female. While in most cases I would have cringed, knowing that usually female vocalists are shoved in randomly in metal songs without much respect for the artist or comprehensive thought for what the vocals should do for the song. This is not the case. The vocals echo as if in a chamber, that much I got right, but their sweet tone and muffled syllables add to the swirling drone of the album, adding to that feeling I mentioned before of swirling and floating underwater.
Riffs progress, the song takes several different directions here and there, and it's all very natural. It flows all very well, never feeling inconsistent or incoherent. Although it isn't unpredictable, it isn't uninteresting either. It's very soothing. The drums do get a little bit loud at around ten minutes, but that's the song's only flaw for me, and the loud drumming section is accompanied by another clean-played section featuring (slightly melodramatic) whispering by our male vocalist, so I guess it balances out.
The alternate recording of this song that comes in at track three has minute differences, but I'll try and pin them down and say what I think. The album's track title says that the second version you hear is the original while the first (the one I just talked about) is the rerecording. This original version starts with the tweeting of birds and other ambient foresty noises before going into the soft swirling intro, and I don't think I like that as much. It's almost like the song is telling the listener what to think right away, rather than letting them feel for themselves (the underwater idea I had obviously wasn't what the band had in mind). Other than that, the only differences lie in the production value. The intro guitar is much more subdued and whispery, and the distorted guitars, when they come in, sound sterile and uninteresting, like the swarm of bees I mentioned earlier. The drums aren't recorded that well either, sounding a little bit too solid and plastic compared to the lulling drone of the guitars, giving a little bit of an uncomfortable contrast. You can't hear the female vocalist nearly as well, but she sounds almost better in this version if you really listen. All in all, I much prefer the rerecording that I talked about earlier. The band made a good decision to rerecord the song.

Track two is Elevation, opening up with another watery intro (come on, listen to this and try to NOT think of floating underwater), this time played on choir-like keyboards to give the two songs more variety. I'm already anticipating another wave of soft atmospheres to wash over me like a warm blanket. I just begin to think that this song would be good if it just went on in this way for the full thirteen minutes, but then the louder stuff kicks in, and it's here I feel taken out of the moment, because this time around, the transition from intro to the meat of the song seems more blockier and less-rounded. The keyboard intro doesn't totally mesh with what's going on now--that is, loud drumming and louder riffs with a faster progression than the song before. And then the vocals come in. The female vocalist evidently got sick or something, because now we have a shrieky Varg Vikernes-esque howler to contend with, and he's quite out of place. I can defenitely appreciate this sort of vocalist for Burzum or Sterbend, but with the sonftly buzzing and droning guitars, what sense does it make to have this guy here? It doesn't fit, which really is a shame because there's a lot of interesting stuff going on to this song that I like--the faster progression, the higher variety of riffing (I like the new direction the song takes at about the 6-minute mark, for instance, or the highly solid riff that comes in at about 8:10), and the things that are tried throughout the song. The vocalist spoils it for me. I can see why this song wouldn't go well with Miss Angelic-Choir-Voice from the other song, but I think a more refined vocal approach would have worked here, like a subdued growl or the whisper/scream used in albums like Burzum's Filosofem. Other than that, and the blunt transition between intro and body here, this is another greatly solid song with a lot of nice moments. Too bad an instrumental version of this couldn't have been added to the album.
The female vocalist does return to the song for a brief litte stint, and when she does I feel all of the tension go out of what I'm hearing, and I feel greatly relieved. And then like a spectre she dissapeares into the swirl of guitars to let the howler take over again. Damn, if only he knew that he was damaging such a solid song.
The song finishes with another go at the choir keyboards, and then fades out.
Again, the other version of this song is virtually the same other than recording value. The transition of intro into body feels different, but it still doesn't mesh. Here, the guitars don't command nearly as much power, making the song feel a little bit too soft at the knees. One noteable improvement is that, while the vocalist is still howling his head off like a frostbitten angry Norwegian in the process of burning down churches, his vocals are more buried in production and echoey, which I think compliments the song... at least moreso than the other version. The only other difference to this version is that the keyboard outro is omitted. Instead, we have the guitars fade out ever so slowly, which in my mind works better than just regressing back to what's been done in the song already. Yes, this version of the song may be better than the one I reviewed above.

I heard somewhere that Alcest was formed by a guy who used to have dreams of fairies and ancient woods and magical creatures as a child, and his band Alcest was a away of expressing these dreams. I don't know about the rest of Alcest's discography, but this album is a prime example of that atmosphere. Whatever atmosphere he (they) wanted to portray came across very well here, more especially in the song Le Secret. Elevation is fantastic too, but the vocals bug me. And it does seem a bit unfortunate that the two versions are virtually the same, and I know that only some people will pick up the differences in production, but this is only a minor complaint. This EP has two very solid songs on it that have their minor flaws, but for the most part are transporters into different worlds. I highly recommend this to atmosphere-addicted black metallers, especially those with an unquencheable taste for something different. There're plenty of subtle changes everywhere in these two well-constructed songs, and for the most part everything flows like water. It's a way to lose yourself, to drift. I just hope the vocals of the second track don't get under your skin the same way they got under mine. A very good EP.

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InfinityZero - 07 June 2011: I've actually been hearing a lot of shit about those two albums (more specifically Souvenirs...) are overly pretentious and stupid and redundant and everything else, but I'll have to try them.
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