REVIEW: Alcest – “Kodama”

It comes as no surprise that the debut single from Kodama was greeted with a fair amount of enthusiasm from longtime Alcest fans; after all, Shelter was a rather jarring departure from their previously metal-rooted sound, though it was still a high-quality release. Kodama, like the singles implied, sees Alcest shedding that sunny, 90s alt-influenced vibe altogether in favor of a true-blue return to form. The black metal segments that Shelter shirked entirely are back, and even the softer, more atmospheric parts are considerably more metallic in nature than those that made up the majority of the previous record.

And with this in mind, die-hard fans should prepare themselves for a true treat, because Kodama is Alcest doing Alcest like only Alcest themselves can do. The atmospheres are luscious, and while the slightly muddy production seems  like a strange move, it sort of accentuates the metal edge that the album generally leans toward.

The album begins well, to say the least. Title track “Kodama” is an exceptionally pleasing opener with both a pretty introduction and an appropriately epic instrumental section that brings it to a close. There are none of the aforementioned glimpses of black metal in this song, however – they enter the fray within “Eclosion”, the album’s second track.

Unfortunately, “Eclosion” is also the record’s first weak point, a 9-minute ordeal that seems to just drag on and on without any true hooks to keep the listener attentive, bar the genuinely enjoyable post-rock break toward the middle of the song. Neige’s first harsh vocals on the record pop up, but their use occasionally seems forced and unnecessary, as they are introduced over softer music that honestly doesn’t benefit from the unclean vocals. Later in the song, however, the momentum picks up and the track does a good job of righting its wrongs, despite some awkward transitions.

Luckily, “Eclosion” is followed by the debut single from Kodama, “Je Suis D’ailleurs,” which continues to be a shining example of everything that Alcest has to offer, featuring perhaps the most deftly executed metal moment on the entire record – one that avid fans are likely more than familiar with by this time. Following this track’s dreamy ending, “Untouched” comes into the picture as another potentially bland offering that is saved once again by Alcest‘s toying with a more subdued post-rock sound.

Album climax “Oiseaux de Proie” brings listeners to the end of the band’s latest sonic journey on the best note possible. The track is filled to the brim with energy, certainly more immediately engaging than its immediate predecessor – and it flaunts some of the most impressive heavy elements of the record, which all come together to end everything off with an explosion of densely layered sound that is more than welcome after the dark, yet enjoyable trip through the rest of the record. Bringing Kodama to its true conclusion is “Onyx,” a rather uneventful instrumental based strictly on atmosphere that, nonetheless, seems to be a suitable comedown from all the preceding action.

While Kodama is certain to please those who were unable to find any kind of enjoyment within Shelter, one can’t help but wonder if Alcest really gave this record all they could have possibly given. Even with its fair share of highlights, the record simply doesn’t reach anywhere near the heights of the act’s older work, and oftentimes there simply seems to be something missing in terms of energy and possible points of interest.

But all in all, Kodama is still a worthwhile listen for die-hard fans, and the inoffensive nature of the record will likely serve as an excellent entry point for new fans as well. Alcest‘s latest offering may not quite be the masterpiece that many had hoped it would be, but it’s a step in a direction that, for many, bodes very, very well for the future.

Score: 7.5/10

Notable Tracks: “Je Suis D’ailleurs”; “Oiseaux de Proie”

FFO: An Autumn For Crippled Children, Lantlôs, Explosions in the Sky

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