Alcest have come a long way since EP Le Secret and full-length Souvenirs d’un autre monde. Now, on their sixth full-length album, titled Spiritual Instinct, the France-based post-black metallers have found the sound they’ve been looking for. Or, rather the sound has found them. After the gothic beauty of Écailles de lune and the indie rock brilliance of Shelter, the main songwriter in Alcest, Neige (aka Stéphane Paut) has learned that instinct is the most powerful tool. To follow it, to lead it, to understand that instinct, musically, is sometimes wrong but always right. That being said, Spiritual Instinct flows directly from Neige’s time away from routine–as a touring musician, of course–where the things he cherishes in life are absent or unavailable due to changes in location and scene. In a way, Alcest in 2019 are angrier than they ever have been.
But there’s light in the darkness, too. Alcest, now in their 20th year, recognize balance. For as much as Neige uses the darker side of his personality to craft songs that feel and are genuinely as pissed off as the Bay of Biscay on a good day. There’s also the lighter side. The sunshine side of Neige often has a nostalgic bent, as in there’s no such thing as bad times, only the halcyon days of early spring and late summer. Throughout Spiritual Instinct both dark and light are represented. There’s breakout single, “Protection,” followed by its more bucolic cousin, “Sapphire.” Then, there’s “L’Île des Mort,” “Le Miroir,” and the title track, “Spiritual Instinct.” In all of them are slivers of Neige’s spiritual duality. Sometimes, they come and more frequent pulses, but there’s no escaping the waves of his night/day songwriting (lost) soul.
Enjoy… l’appel du vide.
What are Alcest up to now that Spiritual Instinct is coming into view?
Neige: We have this thing is being put on by Red Bull. It’s six bands collaborating two bands at a time. I’m doing a show with Perturbator, actually. It’ll be on TV in France. It’s this huge thing. The venue is at one of the most beautiful venues in Paris. So, that’s what we’re working on coming up. We’re quite busy.
Spiritual Instinct is a bit different from Kodama. There’s a bit of rage present. Why is that?
Neige: When you have a project and you want to make it really authentic there’s no real plan for it. It’s very natural and organic, but I will say we were touring a lot for Kodama, which really led to me feeling like I was overworked. I had lost touch with the things I liked doing. Also, spirituality has been very important for me. My whole life. When you’re on tour for many months or a couple of years, you lose touch with spirituality. I’ve been feeling really down about that. When I started to write, it just came out heavy and really angry, pissed off. There’s a tension in the songs. That’s what came out. I don’t decide on what comes out when I write songs.
And would you say Spiritual Instinct drives deeper into who you are as a person and songwriter?
Neige: Yes. Because there is duality in my life. This contrast between my anxious, down-to-earth side with my spiritual side, the side that wants something higher and uplifting, is natural. The new songs aren’t always angry and pissed off. There’s a beautiful side to the songs as well. The contrast between the harsh and clean vocals is a strong example of opposites. The album is about my inner fight. I can’t really harmonize them at the moment. I think it’s a part of my spiritual journey. If I want to be kind to myself and to those around me, then I need to face my demons first. I need to embrace them, to be completely honest. We all have a side like this that we have to accept.
Neige: As a spiritual person it’s hard to accept that we have a dark side to ourselves. All I want to feel is peace and serenity, but there’s something else inside me that’s a lot darker. When you’re sensitive you can also expect to face some darkness. The world isn’t always going to be sunny and bright. With Alcest, like on Shelter, I used to put the dark side away. This time, it was so strong. I couldn’t ignore it. I was forced to include in the Alcest process.
Define spirituality for me.
Neige: I think it’s a sensation, a feeling that there’s something greater out there. I’ve never been into standardized religion — like what we have in France, for example — but I do believe in God. I don’t believe in God in a traditional way, I will clarify. I don’t go to church. I don’t think like the usual Christian does about God. I think my relationship with God is about questioning where I fit. How do I fit into this spiritual world? I’ve been involved in yoga and meditation for the last two years, and both of those things have really opened my mind to the present. We always think about the past or the future, but not the present, the here and now. There’s something very spiritual about thinking about the here and now. That’s very hard to capture, I’ve learned.
I expected you to write something far dreamier, or more along the lines of Shelter, on this album. When I first heard Spiritual Instinct, I was surprised but then again it’s entirely Alcest.
Neige: I will say that songwriting is more instinctual. The brain really isn’t involved. I mean, I could spend one day or one year writing a song. It’s instinctual when I consider it finished. I really try not intellectualize the process. I’m thinking a lot when I build the songs but it’s instinct or intuition that tells me that the song is finished. That’s not a feeling we’re used to in our daily lives. Intuition can be wrong, so there’s a bit of danger there. But when doing music, intuition is very interesting.
And the first song you wrote was?
Neige: The very first song was “Protection,” the single. I came back from tour and I wrote this song. It was very instinctual. I think it was written in a few hours, actually. That’s very unusual for me. I usually spend a lot of time on details, but this song just came out—fast—and I immediately thought that was something I had to keep. It was very close to my feelings at the time. In that way, “Protection” is very true to who I was at that point in time. I think that’s special.
Neige: OK, I will start with “Le Miroir.” It’s very cinematic, and that was on purpose. I wanted all the tracks to have a different feel and style. I think there’s a bit of Dead Can Dance on this song. Almost ritualistic. The title track is very close to me. My friend took his own life not long after I finished this song. Somehow they’re connected. There’s a bit of old Alcest in this song, too, so that it ends the album is something I’ve thought about a lot. There’s freedom in the song. Something, like a life, is free to end. “Sapphire” is a more traditionally structured song. There’s a bit of The Cure in it, ’80s new wave, which I really like. It’s maybe similar to the song “Kodama,” but I will leave that up to the fans to decide that.
I know Alcest fans will worry about the band signing over to Nuclear Blast. Their understanding is you’re open to influence and that Nuclear Blast will change Alcest for commercial reasons.
Neige: I think this is a natural feeling, but, no, we aren’t open to influence. We’ve done what we’ve done as Alcest and will continue to do so. Nuclear Blast were very clear on signing us for who we are or what we will become. That was special for us, considering the deal. I will say, we were on Prophecy for 12 years. We released five albums on Prophecy, and on all of them they’ve done a great job promoting. After Kodama, we had the chance to see what the other offers were like. So, it was time to move on. I’m not 21 anymore. Bands have different needs as they change and grow. We’re no different, I think.
** Alcest’s Spiritual Instinct is out October 25th on Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-orders are available HERE on CD, LP, cassette, and bundles. Find your inner wings today!