What we do with our past is a major part of who we are today. Reworking things that came before not only incorporates them into our story, our past, but also re-configures the ways in which we’ll handle our future. Thus, the cliche is all too real: facing our past is an important part of being prepared for the future. In music, this is no different; a band’s relationship to their previous releases is essential not only in forging their own sound but also in husbanding their audience. A band which fixates on past releases for example, or even one which opposes such releases too strongly, leads their audience to fervently defend and hang on those past releases within the discourse that makes up their community. Instead, more bands should aspire towards a more subtle integration: not worship nor revulsion are approaches agile enough to encompass such a complicated thing as past releases.
Alcest‘s Kodama is a perfect example of such a fluidity. Coming hot off the heels of Shelter, a divisive release which saw the band perform a sharp turn towards the more mellow side of their music, it displays an astonishing ability to borrow what it needs from the past while forging on towards the future. It is essentially a juxtaposition of Shelter unto their previous albums, borrowing what it needs from all eras of the band’s existence and creating something new from the sum of their parts. Thus, it is shoegaze, black metal, folk metal and much more, all blended with a surprising degree of poise into something that works.
Unlike the previous release, it doesn’t rely on a gimmick or a sharp contrast from the band’s earlier works. Instead, it feels more integrated, a part of an evolving whole. Consider the opening track, “Kodama”. It is perhaps the track most harmonious with Shelter‘s sound: the backing choir in particular, morose and bittersweet, feels like a sample taken from that album. However, these tones are assembled on top of heavier composition. Tremolo picked guitars, repeating riffs that build and build into a vast grandeur and much more call back to earlier albums, especially Les Voyages de l’Âme, where their post black metal journey came to solidification. This equivocal guitar approach, not as soft as Shelter but not as heavy as some other brethren in the genre, runs throughout Kodama and gives it its unique texture.
Until it doesn’t. On “Oiseaux de Proie” for example, the main tone shifts over to the vocals and the resplendent return of growls. These are better than other, whether due to some growth Neige’s technique or simply by virtue of association with the softer, Shelter inspired vocals. Here is where Kodama is encapsulated then: it is simply what Shelter should have been. Where that album was the opening of a hand, a release of tightly clenched beliefs and a freer and, at the same time, more insubstantial effort, Kodama is a lightly clenched fist. It does go farther than any of the other Alcest releases ever went into shoegaze but it also remembers and uses the black metal influences to an amazing degree.
“Oiseaux de Proie” is a wonderful showcase of that blend but the rest of the album enjoys it to an equal degree. When it explodes, it benefits from the times when it was calm. When it is quiescent, it benefits from the times when it was ferocious. Thus, a higher degree of harmony has been achieved by Alcest. They haven’t thrown their previous release away, a move that might have made a “martyr” of the release and impeded growth in favor of retrogression. However, they also haven’t returned to blindly worshiping the conflict it had stirred in their fans and “doubling down” on the sound of it. Instead, they have accomplished both retrospection and forward-thinking, using Shelter as a springboard from which to return to their celebrated sound anew, revisiting it from fresh, intriguing and highly accomplished angles.
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Alcest’s Kodama has been out for a few weeks now. This writer apologies for his tardiness. You can get it over at the band’s Bandcamp.