Published Sep 28, 2016The central theme of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece Princess Mononoke, cited as one of the major influences behind the creation of French blackgaze pioneers Alcest's newest album, centres on the balance between nature and industrialization. Few films would be more fitting as the inspirational base for an Alcest album; ever since the band debuted with Souvenirs d'un autre monde in 2007 to widespread acclaim, they've been balancing the black metal, post-rock and shoegaze genres that they belong to on nearly every record. Their last outing, 2014's Shelter, created a tilt towards shoegaze that received a muted reception by many fans. With Kodama, they're back on the musical tightrope, and better for it.
The album is at its best when fusing the cold guitar tones of black metal with the dreamy melodies of shoegaze, creating beautiful tracks that the listener can get easily get lost in. "Je Suis D'Ailleurs" and "Oiseaux de Proie" are the best examples of this, switching between rapid drum beats to slower, more technical passages with ease. It occasionally slows down for a post-rock-inspired segment, including the trademark forlorn and wistful guitar chords that the genre is known for, before building into a rapturous climax. These parts never feel meandering or disappointing, doing in a few minutes what it takes lesser bands entire tracks to do.
Yet, despite clocking in at a relatively short 42 minutes, the album is not without its flaws. The track "Untouched," despite having a gorgeous chorus, feels like it's missing a verse to fully connect the dots, while the last track, "Onyx," is an entirely unnecessary interlude. The album as a whole could benefit from more of frontman Neige's chilling screams, too, which only appear on a select few moments.
When taken into the wider context of Alcest's discography, though, Kodama is a definite step in the right direction. The use of Japanese culture as an influence allows for a more unique musical journey, however short. Alcest strive for balance once more here, and for the most part, they achieve it. (Prophecy)