Alcest - Kodama

Alcest – Kodama cover art

It was exciting to see what Alcest’s next move after the divisive “Shelter” would be. Would they find a different take on the mellow shoegaze from that album, or would they somehow bring back the heavier parts and combine it into something new? The answer is that they didn’t really do either.

The “Kodama” concept

“Kodama” is presented as a Japanese concept, and the idea sounded exciting on paper. It’s not as prominent as the album cover hinted. There are some traces in the melodies, especially title track “Kodama”. I was expecting it to have a bigger impact on the sound considering how much it was discussed before the release. Overall, this album instead comes across as a lighter version of “Écailles de lune”. The arrangements on everything from vocals and guitars to songwriting and production rings eerily similar.

Alcest time machine

It’s confusing how they just switched back to the old style like “Shelter” (or even “Les voyages de l’âme”) never existed. Alcest doesn’t feel like the type of band to do a Paradise Lost and go back to an old style to please their crowd. The problem is that the material on here, while good, isn’t completely convincing. There are moments where this reaches the heights of its inspiration bank, especially in “Je suis d’ailleurs” and “Oiseaux de proie”, but they are too far apart to make this a great album.

It’s not the stylistic approach that differentiates the best songs. The melodies are simply more engaging. Some of the other songs feel long despite not reaching any staggering lengths by Alcest standards. I wouldn’t call it self-plagiarism though; “Kodama” just gets very airy, sometimes to the point where it doesn’t leave an impression at all. It’s not really about the music being heavy or mellow, it just fails to keep my attention compared to the last two albums. The way the more striking parts knock me off my chair is a hint that this goes into autopilot a bit too often.

Neige and the individual instruments

Neige’s clean vocals are good as usual, and I suppose many fans are glad the black metal screams are back. I didn’t really miss the screams on “Shelter”, but Neige is certainly a competent extreme metal vocalist. The way the screams enter the songs are pretty much complete “Écailles de lune” worship. A detail where this excels beyond other Alcest albums is the drumming. There is a lot going on this time, as Winterhalter rarely plays a straight 4/4 beat. It’s busy and calming at the same time, no matter if he’s doing tribal falls or blastbeats. Much like a certain album I’ve mentioned about 62 times in this review, the production on the drums is very light and gives them a nice atmospheric quality.

There is a lot of confusion and negativity in this review, but in the end I do like this record. It’s just with a bittersweet feeling since I had higher expectations. “Kodama” is a pretty good album, but it’s hard to view it as anything other than a mild disappointment.

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