Alcest are back with one of the most interesting albums of the year. Two years later, after Shelter, the band is back on the scene with Kodama, released on September 30th. The project involves Neige (guitar, vocals and keyboards), Winterhalter (drums) and Indria Saray performing on bass.

Alcest were born in 2000 but after the release of their first demo in 2001, Neige remained the only member of the band for eight years until 2009, when drummer Winterhalter joined Alcest’s line-up. Kodama was a long process that led to a complex and emotional work. According to Winterhalter, “in the end it was a 3 years writing process, in addition to 3 months of recording and mixing“.

“The record is darker. It’s angry, but it’s not pessimistic – it’s full of life.”

The title of the album means “tree spirit” in Japanese. But Kodama also means “echo” generate by the spirits that live in trees and this work is an echo from the past starting from the album structure: the album is in fact, like Souvenirs d’un autre monde (2007 ) and Écailles de Lune (2010) with 6 tracks, just over 40 minutes composed by 5 long tracks and one “stand out track at the end, in a more experimental style compared to the rest of the music”. 

It is a concept album about “the confrontation of the natural world and the human world“, inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s film Princess Mononoke. The album is boost by the needs “to go for something more punchy, darker, and more personal too.”  Neige was inspired by San the film’s main character, seeing something of himself in her.

Duality is also crucial for the visual approach of the album, realized by French graphic designer duo Førtifem.

Do you ever feel like you belong to a race different from the one you were supposed to belong since you were born? Did you ever feel closer to nature than mankind? Kodama narrates a story of a conflict between humans and nature.  Humans and nature are so close, but while the nature’s elements are always cohesive, humans are at war each other. A contradiction which is clear in Japanese culture: “Japan has a hyper technologic society, but yet people there are very attached to tradition, nature, and spirituality.” 

This work sounds in a Blackgaze – Post Metal style of which Alcest are pioneers with a cultural, stylistic and compositional narrative. Kodama is a complex, dark and angry album with powerful tracks, full of rich details and heartrending appeals. Flourish melodies and sharp guitars: all elements from the past of the band. The strength of the works by the Alcest is the ability to immerge the listener as much to generate in him/her the same emotions felt by Neige in his travels, both physical and spiritual.

The album starts with the 9 mintues-track “Kodama” (Tree Spirit) that features vocals from Kathrine Shepard (member in Peste Noire, she accompanies Neige as a guest since 2007). Though not made explicit the background is rich in sounds that are reminiscent sounds of the Asian ones. Angry guitars ups and downs and clearly sound that drive the listener in the first leg of the trip. The second track “Eclosion” (Hatching) continues where the previous one stopped: here Asian sounds become more incisive, anger grows with a faster pace and screams in the background. 

The soul of the album rises with the third track “Je suis d’ailleurs” (I am from elsewhere) that expresses the frustration of being away from ones nature. Belonging to a place but not being able to go to that place. It is at the same time the saddest and the most full of hope track of the entire album. A  sophisticated sound, accurate to the smallest details that brings the listener to another dimension, almost heavenly.

The fifth track “Oiseaux de proie” (Birds of Prey) closes the concept circle bringing the beats to the limit before falling down to calm vibrations and exploding again as if chasing the contradiction. The last track “Onyx” deviates from previous tracks both for the structure: just over 3 minutes – and for the sound: an ambient music mark out by slight distorted guitar.

Winterhalter has said that, compared to previous albums, the band wanted to “do more with less. […] This time, we put a lot more focus on the percussion and the energy aspect of the Alcest music, with an earthy, tribal feel at times.” This work has the power to make you touch the sky with a finger making you feel at the same time dragged to the earthly world.

It is a very consistent work. The Alcest have accustomed us to this but with Kodama one more step was made. It is an album that can be appreciated both at first listen and after many plays. At first listen you have a crush on it but to fall in love with it, this album needs to be heard over and over again. It has to be internalized, embraced and understood in its roots.