There are few bands who keep us on our toes quite like Portugal’s most successful heavy metal export. Moonspell have been making music for twenty-five years now, emerging in that multitudinous wave of 1990’s Century Media madness that bewitched and begat so many fans. Never ones to repeat the same script twice, the dark metal sorcerers return with their twelfth full-length album and third for Napalm Records. Entitled 1755, that restless muse which pushes founding father Fernando Ribeiro forward embarks Moonspell once again onto an unexpected path. Will fans of this chameleon-like musical collective join them upon their latest voyage?
Billed early on as a declarative examination of their Portuguese culture, 1755 is the band’s first album sung entirely in their native tongue. Seems fitting, considering Ribeiro and company are shedding light on Europe’s largest recorded earthquake, making that year one of wholesale apocalyptic change for the small coastal nation.
If there is any band who can capture the beauty and hope of destruction and ruin, it is Moonspell. Where prior album Extinct reveled in goth rock undertones, substantial clean vocals, and catchy arrangements, 1755 is a harder beast to wrap one’s ears around. There is a grandiosity here, evident primarily from the majestic use and snazzy placement of choir vocals within the compositions. Take ‘Todos Os Santos", for which a moving video was made.
Fernando’s vicious vocals and the crunchy guitars are underpinned by layers of keyboard reminiscent of how Amorphis backs up their own songs of late. The whole thing builds up in tension until it crashes, not unlike the tsunami that blasted Lisbon after that 18th century quake. Moonspell caresses the song with their signature breaks, Miguel Gaspar’s drums adding a rolling Mediterranean flare which old fans will savor.
The Tue Madsen (Dir En Grey, Dark Tranquillity, Meshuggah) production pays homage to the potential within choral and orchestral arrangements, saving the album from sounding tinny or gimmicky. The ethnic flavoring in "Ruinas" jaunts pleasingly to Fernando’s gruff linguistic patterns. The guitar playing, especially the soloing, from Pedro Paixão and Ricardo Amorim, are souful throughout this song, as well as the rest of the album.
"1 de Novembro" begins in a fashion similar to a band like Skyforger or Obtest, with a labored vocal a bit contradictory to the smoothness of the song. Moonspell then injects a broken arrangement of chorus vocals amid an interesting percussive section, breaking the song up and ratcheting it into a raucous celebration worthy of repeated listens.
For the most part, 1755 keeps the songs brief, even by Moonspell standards. This helps maintain maximum tension and intrigue, as evinced in the dark metal cauldron of "Evento". The approach of the Enlightenment, its conflict with stifling orthodoxy, and how this affected the Portuguese proletariat struggling in the wake of such change is explored here. The imagery evoked is made all the more powerful by Gaspar’s use of the floor tom against the choral vocal bombast. Orchestral while still metal as f*ck, Moonspell know just when to build tension with a quieter interlude, before pouring lovely guitar leads into the breach as wine into an empty glass.
For sinister gothic menace, "In Tremor Dei" creeps along upon the depths of the bass tones of Aires Pereira, Fernando sounding as dark as the needless nightmares of the god-fearing. To enthralling effect, the contribution of Portuguese vocalist Paulo Bragança injects a moonlit beauty into this ode to religious fear.
Similarly, the title track paints scenes of fire and terror into the script of Moonspell flavor, a trip into Therion and Samael territory nestled in a sheath of gorgeous, layered sound that is so Moonspell. Conversely, the album winds down with "Lanterna Dos Afogados", a sultry whisper of reflection and pain. Its not unlike moments on The Antidote, an album which bridged the hard and the soft in their sound.
If a heavy metal album could carry a listener into the very crucible of calamity, it is 1755. We don’t have the goth, new wave, smoothness of Extinct or Irreligious, the heady experimentation of The Butterfly Effect, or the black metal trappings of Memorial and Alpha Noir. In a way, 1755 evokes the feeling of Under the Moonspell and Wolfheart, refracted through the kaleidoscope of songwriting wisdom steadily accrued. 1755 is about Portugal. Moonspell have traveled the world, no doubt inhaling its scents, its tragedies, and its passions in equal measure. As when they penned their first recordings, 1755 takes them home. I daresay their fan base will be on board with the album, steeped as it is in the caress of darkness this band has so carefully and artfully cultivated. There can be such value in doing exactly what you want when you want, artistically speaking, and Moonspell are proof of that.