I honestly don’t hear many bands from Portugal, though a few come to mind. I was excited, then, to see a new release from veterans Moonspell, and was even more excited when it turned out to be a fantastic record. The album is called “Hermitage” and it released on February 26th through Napalm Records.
Moonspell are celebrating 30 years in 2022, so they’ve been around a good, long while. Their band has seen changes throughout the years, but the current lineup includes Fernando Ribeiro on vocals, Ricardo Amorim on guitar and backing vocals, Pedro Paixão on keys and guitars, Aires Pereira on bass, and Hugo Ribeiro on drums. One strength of this album, I have to say right off, is that these performers hit hard and sound absolutely amazing: from a strong rhythm section to filtering, delicate keys to an in-your-face vocal performance.
Gothic metal has become an affection of mine, and Moonspell are one of the groups who helped develop it. Their music is heavy and dark, though probably less melancholic and Romantic than other bands in the genre. Instead, their sound is one of desperate emotion, of urgent social commentary and ferocious moods. You’ll hear lots of chugging riffs, an equal balance of clean and harsh vox, and cinematic melodies that really light up the entire record.
One of the unsung heroes here is Pedro’s keyboard performance. His and Ricardo’s guitars are certainly fantastic, with a meaty drive that I love, but the keys hover and haunt with delightful effect. At times, Pedro’s keys lead the charge with riveting compositions that bestow individuality on each track. This is definitely one of those albums that I “forget” how good it really is, but then I’m floored when I listen again. The keys are a big part of that.
I have to mention the lyrics, too, which I find to be interesting. The album title evokes a sense of leaving civilization, or turning away from modernity. The tracks themselves feel like “reasons” why the band would love to do this, and you will notice some rather dark, morbid, and gut-wrenching imagery in the music videos that launched with this album. One of them, I believe, is actually a restricted video. All of this is simply because the band is tired of humanity: of our perpetual violence, hate, and bigotry. This comes across in the “desperate” sound I mentioned earlier, and it can get rather emotional.
The album has ten tracks, and all of them are great. I love the opener “The Greater Good”, which really excels in the realms of drums and bass, and the guitars are addictive. “Common Prayers” is another good, succinct track that plays like the perfect Gothic composition, not to mention how catchy it is. Some songs have more drive to them, such as the two I just mentioned, while others are moodier and more ethereal, such as “All or Nothing” or the brooding “Entitlement”. In fact, “Solitarian” is an instrumental track, and it really rocks, yet has a subtle central melody that you can feel deeply.
I think my favorite songs are the last three. “Apophthegmata” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers) is my favorite overall for the way its moodiness hangs and hovers between incredibly catchy riffs. It lights my blood on fire every time. Yet, “Without Rule” is a synth universe of temperament itself, too, not to mention its thunderous ending. I’m also surprised at how beautiful and serene the final track, an outro called “City Quitter”, really is. It comes across as a dark ambient song led by piano and mysterious movement. It is a perfect ending.
Moonspell are focusing on their music more than anything else, and you can tell this by the sheer quality of this release. “Hermitage” is as shadowy and Gothic as I’d hoped, but it is also cinematic and technically impressive. This a balanced album, one that I feel I will return to often as time moves progresses.
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