The majestic French duo Alcest has been mixing shoegaze textures with grinding black metal and hypnotic post-rock since 2005, essentially inventing the so-called "blackgaze" of bands like Deafheaven, Oathbreaker, and Bosse-de-Nage. They've kept things mostly uplifting over the course of five records, but their sixth, Spiritual Instinct, explores some darker emotions. "We'd been touring a lot for the previous record, and I think I started to have some kind of burnout," leader and songwriter Neige tells Apple Music. "I was feeling really, really down and I thought I was losing touch with myself and the things that I like. One of them being spirituality. And when it was time to write a new album, all these feelings went into the music. That's pretty much the idea about this album: trying to find the balance between my two sides." In turn "Sapphire" is a piece of gleaming alt-metal that ends in screams. The title track moves from churning to triumphant. Apple Music talked to Neige, who broke down the album's six tracks.
Les jardins de minuit “The midnight gardens. The Alcest realm—it's a very bright and green and springtime type of place. 'Les jardins de minuit' is like the same place but at night and when all the doubts are rising, and melancholy and the sadness. It's the other side of the coin. These are the midnight gardens; it's the place where you just wander at night to try to find peace and reflect upon yourself. Musically, it's quite fast. I think it's one of our fastest tracks. It has almost like a small Nordic black metal thing in the riffs. Some very, very dreamy vocals, and some much more pissed-off ones, too.”
Protection “It's the first song that I wrote for this album. When we were done touring for [2016's] Kodama, I came back home and wrote this song. It all came out at once. Almost like some kind of exorcism. It means that the emotion in the song is very, very genuine. It's basically a song about protecting yourself from your own demons. And a song about inner struggle.”
"Sapphire “It's more or less like a pop song—you know, intro, verse, bridge, chorus. I like to write these type of songs because our fans know me for writing very, very epic songs with different parts that don't repeat necessarily. It has almost this '80s post-punk vibe. I think I was a little bit inspired by The Cure for the riffs. It doesn't have any lyrics, just some kind of improvised language that I have. It allows me to not be limited by the sounds and the meaning of an actual language. It's a great way to have a very spontaneous way to sing. You don't have to follow any text. You just sing the way you feel like singing.”
L'île des morts “It's some kind of a tribute to this painting by the symbolist painter Böcklin ["Isle of the Dead"]. And for me, this painting is a great metaphor of the big mystery around spirituality and the question 'What is going to happen when we die?' In the painting, you see this island that looks a little bit like some kind of cemetery. Some kind of place lost in the middle of nowhere. And you are this tiny boat that is almost reaching the island but doesn't reach it. The painter, he has done five versions of this painting over the years. And the boat actually never reaches the island. And I think that's a great way to summarize what spirituality is: It's the risk maybe not to get any answers at the end of your quest. All the work, you have to do it by yourself."
Le miroir “This one is very, very different from the others. It's a bit more like a soundtrack. It also could sound like something from the band Dead Can Dance. Very ritualistic and ancient.”
Spiritual Instinct “Unfortunately, I've lost one of my friends. And I wrote this song right after. I think it was the last song I wrote for this album. I wasn't thinking about him necessarily when I wrote the song. But I can't help believing that there is a connection between his death and the fact that I wrote this song. As a paradox, the end is quite bright, you know? It's not as dark as the beginning of the album. Since the album was overall quite dark, I wanted to end on a more uplifting note.”