French blackgaze pioneers Alcest (the project of Neige, aka Stéphane Paut) have broken from the old-fangled black metal of earlier releases like their Tristesse Hivernale demo and Le Secret EP. Gone is the push-pull between dreamy exploration and bayed anguish that enlivened 2010’s Écailles De Lune and 2012’s Les Voyages De l’Âme. Alcest is now a shoegaze band, straight up. They even enlist Slowdive’s Neil Halstead for a flat, anaesthetized vocal on Away. So there.
The move allows Neige to more fully survey the fairylands. On Shelter, the clouds of gloom have rolled back, revealing the landscapes of Neige’s imagined otherworld in all its sunny splendour.
After the energetic peaks of opener Wings crack open into lead single Opale (with its U2ish guitars), Shelter offers a leisurely comedown. But the fluffiness rarely feels formless or meandering – the songs are effortlessly pleasant even when they threaten to dissolve into the ether like the woolly memory of a sweet dream receding into your subconscious.
Top track: Opale