Album Review: MOONSPELL Extinct
Emerging in the mid '90s from one of the most obscure corners of continental Europe, Moonspell essentially put Portugal on the heavy metal map. After a brief ode to the fury of Bathory, they arguably spearheaded the entire movement of 'goth-metal' which stormed over the world during the decade of their inception. Moonspell gave us the sinister romance of Wolfheart (1994), the more focused darkness of Irreligious (1996), and then of course Sin/Pecado (1998), whose commercial success opened the doors to an international popularity which the band still enjoy. Did they ply the same waters after this? Hardly.
Confounding their critics, Moonspell's albums since Sin/Pecado give the impression that after each album cycle they form their own chrysalis, reemerging when the time is right with whatever it is that inspires them to continue. As they have propitiously explored elements of black metal, goth rock, dark metal, and electronica, it is not surprising that their releases tend to bounce between this vibrant host of musical angles. Moonspell has endured the rising and falling of many trends, including the very one that buoyed them in the first place. They've marched through the 00's and now the 10's watching waves of thrash, black metal, and doom come and go. Even now, amid the rise of the hipster set (at least in the states) who in their eagerness to be cool and ironic, probably won't accept Moonspell's passionate brand of lycanthropic mysticism, even now the band soldiers on to their own calling. Unafraid and unapologetic, Fernando 'Langsuyar' Ribeiro and company have now given birth to Extinct, their eleventh studio album and second for the esteemed Napalm Records.
Extinct follows on the heels of 2012's Alpha Noir double-album, which is a critical juncture for Moonspell for one very important reason. Whether you're talking about their strangest moments, such as those on The Butterfly Effect (1999), their blackest moments like on Memorial (2006), or their lightest moments such as the wistful 'Scorpion Flower' off of 2008's magisterial Night Eternal album, Moonspell has always been highly convincing in their delivery. Alpha Noir was the first time where (for this scribe anyway) it felt like the spell of the moon had at long last been broken. The songs were uninspiring, for the most part, almost trite and ordinary in their delivery. It ticked a lot of boxes, was highly competent and very well produced, but there was a certain magic lacking. What made this even more jarring was the fact it followed Night Eternal, arguably their best album since Sin/Pecado (1998).
Now that Extinct has had time to settle beneath my skin, this may go down as one of the swiftest transitions from disappointment to elation on record. From the opening lead of 'Breathe (Until We Are No More)' it is instantly clear that Moonspell has once more tapped into what made them the truly great band they are. This opening song has their trademark, smooth-voice-following-the-bass-line, with those ethereal guitar lines, drifting symphonic keys, and even some chugging blast going on. The lyrics drip with the Lusitanian poetry that normally spills from Fernando Ribeiro's lungs like blood from the jaws of a wolf. The title track's delicious synth lines set us up for one of the catchiest choruses this side of power metal. The song, as well as a few others on Extinct, will potentially be to Moonspell lore what 'Opium' and 'Alma Mater' have become. It has symphonic flourishes and a stunning guitar lead, as well as a fatalistic lyrical approach ideal for the bleak outlook of fans of goth/dark metal.
On Alpha Noir, the back half of that album was dedicated to bands like The Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, and Fields of The Nephilim, big influences all. 'Medusalem,' however, does more to pay tribute to the sounds these timeless bands espoused, while retaining every bit of the vibe that Moonspell builds so well. It's their own song, with another chorus so dreamlike and catchy it will wrap itself up in the cerebral cortex of the listener for ages. 'The Future is Dark' is another darkwave ode to all things melancholy, with Moonspell firing off yet another gorgeous ode to existential hopelessness.
The savor of this album doesn't stop there. 'Domina' is driven by a strong, slow vibe and a bass-line not unlike what was found on 'Nocturna' off of Darkness & Hope (2001). But Moonspell has been at it for a decade and half since then, and their songs have a dark, smoky polish to them on Extinct that has never sounded this damn complete. 'The Last Of Us' is a bit more traditional metal in structure, with a very Sisters of Mercy multiple-voice chorus going on.
For fans expecting more songs like 'Finisterra' or 'Night Eternal', Extinct is probably not going to scratch that itch. This is one of the things that makes Moonspell so essential in the heavy metal canon; their versatility in revisiting some themes and leaving others behind is truly a plus. Their next album could have tons of blast beats and no one should bat an eye. There are death metal vocals aplenty on Extinct, however, but the music sits somewhere between Irreligious and Sin/Pecado, with nods to The Antidote and Night Eternal.
'Funeral Bloom' builds tension before delivering another catchy, dance-able goth rock anthem. Truly classic stuff, with a clean vocal / harsh vocal trade off before driving even higher amid some nice double bass by drummer Mike Gaspar. 'The Future is Dark' has a latter day Tiamat vibe going on, but with far more gravitas than most of Johan Edlund's more sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek fare. The song could be an anthem for the depressed. Everything's f***ked kid, but get up and keep going. 'A Dying Breed' in structure is very similar to their work from The Antidote, but one thing they seem to have added to their songwriting is a steady uplifting increase in the overall power within each song. It's layered to take the listener up a few levels, as opposed to plodding along in any safe, predictable way. Again, the awesome lead guitar work by the Morning Blade himself, Ricardo Amorim, combined with the phenomenal ear for dynamics in keyboardist Pedro Paixão and bass guitarist Aires Pereira, shows that in 2015 Moonspell are firing on all cylinders as though they were hungry newcomers, and not the 25 year vets they really are.
One has to dig to find negatives on this album. Some of the clean vocal lines in 'Malignia' sound a tad strained, which does not wholly ruin a slow but aggressive number that fits nicely alongside the rest of the album. Lastly, the closing song 'La Baphomette' is a strange, lounge-y piece of music with some interesting piano. The closing vocal lines all sung together aren't bad, but this one should either have been fleshed out a little bit more or left off altogether. Small complaints for what is otherwise a glorious return to form for a multifaceted band, and one of the original throwbacks to that magical Century Media roster from the middle 90's. Extinct should ensure that Moonspell become anything but; I submit that it is so good, in fact, that it stands on par with anything they've done in all their storied past.