Every Alcest album (and one EP) ranked from worst to best

Alcest in 2024
(Image credit: Andy Julia)

Stéphane “Neige” Paut remembers what it was like before he was born. For his entire life, the French multi-instrumentalist has carried a memory with him, depicting an other world so blissful that it can never be properly described. Was it Heaven? A dream? Someplace between life and death? The musician doesn’t know – but, in Alcest, he tries to condense the loveliness of this vision into musical form.

Since 2001, Alcest’s divine drive has inspired seven studio albums and one EP. All of them mine the emotional depths of shoegaze, and many contrast that sweetness with the urgency of black metal. Here’s every preternatural offering by Neige and his disciple, drummer Jean “Winterhalter” Deflandre, ranked in reverse-order of magnificence.

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8. Shelter (2014)

Following the blackgaze of Écailles De Lune and its refinement with Les Voyages De L’Âme, Neige sought something new. He drew inspiration from more earthly delights, like his favourite pastime of going to the beach, and recorded in Sigur Rós’ studio. Alcest even got the Icelandic idols’ engineer, Birgir Jón Birgisson, to produce. As a result, Shelter’s post-rocking shoegaze feels like the one time this band bent their original vision for outside influences and bowed to genre convention.

Alcest - Opale [official music video] - YouTube Alcest - Opale [official music video] - YouTube
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7. Le Secret (2005)

Le Secret was the first seminal text in blackgaze, its layering of Neige’s delicate singing atop a bedrock of flurrying metal unprecedented. However, there’s no ignoring this two-song EP’s naivety. The shoegaze and extreme metal sections are forced apart rather than intertwined, while the production is undeniably raw. The title track and Élevation both feel overstretched as well, reaching 14 and 12 minutes respectively. No one would question Le Secret’s impact, but this is more a historical artefact than a timeless classic.

6. Souvenirs D’Un Autre Monde (2007)

If anyone else made Souvenirs D’Un Autre Monde, it would be their career highlight. Alcest’s debut presents a hallucinatory vision of dreamscapes, its gentle guitars and Neige’s soaring vocals enveloping you in something truly gorgeous. However – while there are intense flourishes, like the cascading drums of Printemps ÉmeraudeSouvenirs… lacks the urgency of later albums. At their finest, Alcest contrast sonic distillations of another place against desperate screams begging to go there, and these songs don’t quite attain that evocative excellence.

5. Les Chants De L’Aurore (2024)

Les Chants De L’Aurore marked the third time Alcest re-embraced their signature sound, this time following the more consistently aggressive Spiritual Instinct. Because of this, the project’s seventh album didn’t feel quite as special as previous blackgaze comebacks Écailles De Lune and Kodama, though it was still threaded with gorgeous moments. Flamme Jumelle was a bouncy but personal shoegaze piece and Améthyste offset jagged guitars with majestic vocals, before L’Adieu proved every bit the bittersweet finale that its title implied.

ALCEST - Flamme Jumelle (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO) - YouTube ALCEST - Flamme Jumelle (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO) - YouTube
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4. Kodama (2016)

After the post-rock tranquillity of Shelter, Neige quickly wanted Alcest’s metallic shade back. He turned to classic anime Princess Mononoke for inspiration, and the film’s depiction of the clash between humanity and nature shaped Kodama’s emphasis on reuniting the smooth with the heavy. The music didn’t add much to Alcest’s blackgaze vocabulary, but still marked a return to form: the title track’s hummable hook, plus Oiseaux De Proie’s collision of shimmering and buzzing guitar tones, enchanted listeners all over again.

3. Les Voyages De L’Âme (2012)

2010 album Écailles De Lune was truly special, and Alcest wisely stuck the course for its followup. Although Les Voyages De L’Âme was far from the bold leap that its predecessor represented, its beauty cannot be disputed. Autre Temps and Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles gradually induced returning fans back into Neige’s fantasyland, offering five minutes of shoegazing serenity before rebuilding the band’s black metal angst. From there, the title track and a luminescent Summer’s Glory refined the Alcest soundscape.

Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Âme [official music video] - YouTube Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Âme [official music video] - YouTube
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2. Spiritual Instinct (2019)

By 2019, Neige was impatient. Alcest had been trying to recapture the essence of his sublime vision for almost 15 years and, in his mind, they hadn’t perfected it yet. This frustration manifested on Spiritual Instinct: the heaviest album to bear the band’s name. Protection and L’Île Des Morts especially charged forward with hammerhead riffs, while Sapphire and the title track tempered that aggression with ethereal melodies. Thanks to such balance, this was Alcest’s most essential release in nearly a decade.

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1. Écailles De Lune (2010)

Although it was Les Voyages De L’Âme that perfected the Alcest atmosphere, Écailles De Lune was when their blackgaze hymns felt most potent. Neige and Winterhalter were still half-footed in the rawness of traditional black metal, and they wielded that to their advantage: few moments in heavy music touch the brilliance of when Percées De Lumière plays the lushest melody with a crunching guitar tone. The first minute of Écailles De Lune, Part 1 alone – a journey from shoegaze strumming to sad but distorted riffing and, then, Neige’s solemn singing – is an odyssey unto itself. When it comes to the elusive art of bittersweetness in metal, Alcest’s second album is untouchable: rightfully revered by future up-and-comers from Deafheaven to Møl yet, simultaneously, never, ever rivalled.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.