For principal songwriter and frontman Neige, ALCEST has always been a gateway to the otherworldly, a means of exploring his spirituality. An elemental two-piece, completed by long-serving drummer and creative confidante Winterhalter, their forthcoming sixth album »Spiritual Instinct« finds Neige at his most personal. “This time I had something urgent to put on the table,” he explains. “It is a very cathartic record – something needed to get out of me. It’s darker than usual, and heavier.”
Written in bursts both during and after a prolonged period of touring in support of 2016’s hugely successful »Kodama«, the sense of urgency Neige speaks of manifests in a record full of spontaneity, of immediate impact – be that in the breath-taking pace of ‘Les Jardin De Minuit’’s tempo changes, or ‘Sapphire’’s sun-kissed harmonies over an impermeable back beat, one thing »Spiritual Instinct« has is riffs, an acknowledgement and celebration of the black metal foundations that anchor their uplifting post-metal.
“Some real metal riffs!” agrees Neige. “I come from the metal scene originally and it never really left me; I used black metal as a teen as a way to escape from reality and that’s what I love the most about it. It’s the best type of music to express overwhelmingly darker feelings. I usually don’t speak about my darkness in ALCEST’s music but this time it felt like something I had to do.”
The tension at the record’s vital core comes from Neige facing the darker aspects of his personality and fighting to reconnect with his spiritual essence, to conquer adversity and grow. These issues are key to understanding the record’s title. “I have lived a spiritual life for most of my existence,” Neige explains. “I say spirituality as opposed to religion- for me they’re two very different things. We don’t need churches, we don’t need bibles. Go to nature – that’s the most beautiful temple you can find. Life can be harsh, but it’s important to stay connected with your essence. If answers exists you might be more likely to find them within you. In »Spiritual Instinct« there are questions about the meaning of life and the possible existence of something else; something divine. The struggle to be the best person for yourself and the people around you, to evolve as a soul. You have to face your demons if you want to be a better person.”
It is a battle articulated in the record’s cover art – an image of the mythological Sphinx, with its human head and animalistic body representing man’s inner duality. “I recognise myself in this creature,” Neige explains. “It feels alien and strange; a mix of the primal and spiritual.”
This inner conflict and desire for self-betterment fuels the record’s penultimate track ‘Le Miroir’, by turns gnashing and baleful, but as ever with ALCEST, beautifully gilded and fueled by grace. »Spiritual Instinct« may well articulate Neige’s battle with existential anxiety, but he is keen to impress that at the core of his music is empowerment, of finding a path through darkness and towards the light. “I want the music to be beautiful; grand,” he agrees- “there is transformation in the process.”
»Spiritual Instinct« was recorded with producer Benoît Roux at France’s Drudenhaus studios, the same studio used for »Kodama«, between January and May of 2019. Ironically, the most immediate record in their catalogue born of the lengthiest, most arduous recording process. “We went crazy,” Neige laughs, “I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to create a worthy successor to »Kodama«. We also recorded on analogue tape, and it’s a much longer process, but there is something about the warmth of the sound when you record that way.”
Come January 2020 the band will embark on an extensive touring period in support of the record, the deluxe version of which features remixes of ‘Sapphire’ by celebrated synthwave producer PERTURBATOR and ‘Protection’ by long-time Chelsea Wolfe collaborator Ben Chisholm, in their own way articulating how ALCEST seem to dip their toes in a multitude of musical genres without ever quite fitting in. “In the metal scene ALCEST is a weird band, in the indie/post-rock scene ALCEST is a weird band- we never quite fit in,” Neige reflects. “This is how I feel in life, always an outsider; It’s not a problem, it’s just the way it is.” It is this duality that fuels »Spiritual Instinct«’s soul-searching urgency, triumph through adversity writ on transcendent scale. “I put so much pressure on myself for the record to be good that it was actually fueling my anxiety,” Neige closes. “Now with perspective I can feel the positive affect it has had to put these things on record, outside of me in a way – it was a cathartic process.”