After Les Voyages De L’Âme I tuned out of Alcest a bit. While that album contained the gorgeous title track and the intense “Faiseurs de Mondes”, the rest felt a bit lackluster. Follow-up Shelter didn’t really register for me either in the long term, despite its bright and pleasant shoegaze emphasis. A hiatus like that makes you approach a band’s new album with apprehension, but in the case of Alcest’s latest, Kodama, I need not have worried.
The album has a crunch that had been missing from the Alcest sound for a few years, and many listeners have been rightly pointing out that this marks a partial return to the sound on Écailles de Lune. At the same time, the songs on the album — despite dealing in the familiar dreamy chord progressions — feel more direct and less floaty than I would have expected. The black metal vibe that reached its peak on Le Secret is back, giving tracks like the melancholic “Je Suis D’Ailleurs” the ability to punch.
In fact, all three of the first songs have that rougher edge; they’re tracks that aren’t afraid to meander a bit while touching upon all the things that made the band such a welcome addition to the musical landscape: melodies and riffs with a sense of longing, the confidence to wed aggression to tenderness. Almost more of a sketch than a complete song, “Untouched” nevertheless stands out as one of the most compelling tracks on the album. After the slightly more complex earlier tracks, this one’s simple structure contains precisely the right hooks.
I also feel that the PR cycle surrounding the album improved my listening experience the first few times. By the time you get to “Oiseaux de Proie” four tracks with a great flow have passed already. Then, when that song starts, you’re like “hey, I’ve heard this one before; was quite good, wasn’t it?”. The result is that — not counting the outro-ish “Onyx” — the album ends on a familiar note, and the general sensation you’re left with is that this is Alcest as we’ve always known them. There’s the tiny part of me that gets slightly annoyed at this, and wishes there was something more surprising in there. But I don’t want to end the review on a sour note. Kodama is satisfying from start to finish; not just a return to form, but a great album in its own right.