September 2021 Feature Release – The Infinite Edition
So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.
This month’s feature release for The Infinite has been nominated by Xephyr. It's the 2016 fifth album "Kodama" from French post-blackgaze outfit Alcest.
Thanks for nominating this one Xephyr. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are my thoughts:
I've had an up & down experience with French blackgaze outfit Alcest over the years. I've always liked the idea of what they respresent more than the actual result but have certainly given them more than their fair share of chances. I think the long & short of it is that I simply prefer a more dark & imposing sound so I often find myself feeling a touch outside of my element while their ethereal & uplifting brand of post-metal washes over me & that's still very much the case with 2016's fifth full-length "Kodama" although I've definitely seen myself feeling more comfortable & accepting on this occasion. Perhaps I'm simply softening up in my old age but I suspect otherwise.
I can see why Xephyr has selected "Kodama" for feature release status because I consistently found myself asking an obvious question during each listen. Is this a metal release? It certainly seems to be universally regarded as one on other metal-related internet resources & RYM has this album tagged as Blackgaze (152-9), Shoegaze (126-27) & Post-Metal (62-20) primaries with Post-Rock (127-10) & Dream Pop (101-23) secondaries. Now, that's all well & good but I'm gonna throw a cat amongst the pigeons here by claiming that there's not more than a couple of minutes of actual metal on the whole album & even then it's borderline. The inclusion of the occasional black metal scream does not tie a record to metal in my opinion & that's about the extent of it here. The instrumentation is absolutely in line with the modern Post-Rock model with several of the tracks drawing on Shoegaze for inspiration too. I'd be happy with Post-Rock as the sole primary but can see the logic in a dual arrangement as well. I'm just not hearing where all of these people are picking up the metal thing from as there's not a sign of it here. In all honesty, "Kodama" sounds much closer to Coldplay than it does to Deafheaven & that's not meant as a criticism. If it was played straight after a Sigur Ros record you certainly wouldn't feel startled & likely wouldn't miss a beat.
Musically, this is very every bit an Alcest release. It's dreamy & melodic with the primary focal point being the layers of jangly guitars & the soft & unintimidating male vocals which see the listener being transported to a warm & positive world that's very much in opposition to the one we generally associate with a clan like The North. The consistency of the tracklisting is excellent with no weak tracks included & I find the whole experience to be very rewarding even if I do inevitably feel the craving for something more savage afterwards. It's often nice to be taken outside of your musical comfort zone by a quality artist that knows their craft very well & executes their plans with precision & that's exactly what we have here. "Eclosion" sees me drawing comparisons with latter period Anathema while the final track "Onyx" sees Alcest continuing their trend of finishing their albums with something a little different from the rest of the tracklisting, this time a darker & beautifully textured instrumental piece that I find to be the highlight of the album.
"Kodama" is not the sort of thing that'll I'll find myself reaching for all that often however it'll no doubt provide me with ongoing rewards whenever I do stumble on it while looking for something more specific. In fact, it's left me wondering as to whether I may have been too harsh on Alcest over the years. Perhaps a revisit of some of their earlier releases is required as God knows my taste profile has never been wider & more diverse than it is now.
For fans of Old Silver Key, "Melting Sun"-period Lantlôs & the self-titled Amesoeurs album.
Good choice of album this month Xephyr. It was really cool to listen to an album that I had once previously reviewed, but has been since lost to time. If I can recall, I remember liking Kodama, but not loving it. Going back on it, I do think that of the true blackgaze album's in Alcest discography, this is the one that I return to the least.
Here's a little snippet of what I recall from listening to this album five years ago:
The difficult challenge that many metal fans face is finding a respectable bridge to help cross the chasm into darker subgenres, and in this case, black metal. Alcest are the forefathers of the blackgaze subgenre that has become quite popular through the 2010s. Their first two albums: Souvenirs d'un autre monde and Écailles de lune are considered classics in this subgenre, and after a brief hiatus with Shelter which incorporated more post-rock than black metal, Alcest return with Kodama, a pleasant album for sure, but lacking in the many of the categories that most extreme metal fans would most likely scour at.
The guitars are produced beautifully; the balancing act of the rhythm guitar and the tremolo picking leads are superb and the fundamental bass and percussion are wonderfully balanced. Many of the main melodies however in the vocals and lead guitar feel lackluster in their performance as they feel left behind the heavy handed rhythm section.
I will say that one of Kodama's biggest faults is how slow it is. Given the fact that this is blackgaze, I cannot say that I find this surprising at all, but the overall simplicity of the tempo charting throughout this album does make it challenging to make any distinguished notes about the tracks on this album. It does have key variations so it is not as monotonous as you might think. "Eclosion" has a pretty melodic leads during the post-rock bridges, and "Oiseaux de proie" delivers an excellent display of pacing as Neige begins with melodic vocals, then opting for harsh screams, then ending with a atmo-black infused outro that serves as the best song on the album. And while "Untouched" attempts to copy this formula, it feels incredibly neutered by the lack of a release point.
If I can give Alcest anything, it that this is some of the prettiest sounding black metal you may ever hear. The wall of sound is not overbearing, and the songwriting leaves a lot of space making for some very comfortable soundscapes. This is the kind of black metal I would listen to on a beach, not locked up in my apartment surrounded by 10+ centimeters of snow. And for that, I give Alcest credit for standing out. While Deafheaven have proven that blackgaze can be just as much intense as the black metal tag would suggest. I do like this record, but would argue that it is one of the bands lesser works. Kodama should be seen as complimentary material to the first two albums.
Considering Alcest's discography, this pick was to force me to revisit my once hot opinion that Kodama is my favorite album of theirs. Plus after the fact I realized that, like Daniel said, it's pretty interesting to see how little metal is actually in this thing. I was planning to write a review this month but it wasn't in the cards, although I can give a very quick breakdown now.
Long story short I still think that this album is absolutely gorgeous and I still prefer songs like "Kodama" and "Je suis d'ailleurs" over pretty much anything else Alcest have ever done, but revisiting it made me realize how weak the back half of Kodama really is. Like Saxy said this is a slow album, but I completely forgot how much "Onyx" and "Notre sang et nos pensees" drag after "Oiseaux de proie" retreads a bit too much of the same ground already established by stronger songs in the first half. I still think very highly of this album because the overall sound is perfect for what I look for out of Alcest and any other bands like them, but it's not as much of a personal classic as I led myself to believe. I'll have to go back and revisit some of their earlier albums to see if Kodama is still my favorite, but its pedestal has been lowered a few feet for sure.