Album Review – Moonspell / 1755 (2017)

An orchestral and emotional concept album sang completely in Portuguese that will take you to the year of the horror when a giant earthquake destroyed the city of Lisbon.

The year of 1755 marks the year of the horror when a giant earthquake destroyed the city of Lisbon, when almost 100 thousand souls lost their lives, and this tragic event is still considered one of the most disastrous catastrophes in European history and nature. Now in 2017, in remembrance of the victims and the band’s hometown, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake was turned into a vicious, rip-roaring concept album straightforwardly titled 1755, the twelfth full-length studio release by Portuguese Dark Metal masters Moonspell, an orchestral and emotional adventure sang completely in Portuguese (which gives the whole album an additional poetic touch) that will transport your mind and soul to November 1, 1755, the holy day of All Saints’ Day and the day that the earth shook like never before in Lisbon.

There are a few remarkable differences between 1755 and Moonspell’s latest releases such as Night Eternal, Alpha Noir/Omega White and especially Extinct, as the band “distanced” themselves a little from the more Gothic and melodic approach from the past decade to venture through the realms of symphonic and epic sounds, and the final result couldn’t be more breathtaking. Featuring a lavish artwork by Portuguese artist João Diogo (Dramafall), 1755 might not be an easy listen at first for newcomers to the world of Moonspell or even to longtime fans of the band who don’t know a single word in Portuguese, but the final result is so compelling, sharp and cohesive I’m sure the whole album will grow on you until it becomes a mandatory part of your day-to-day playlist.

When I first saw the tracklist for 1755 I asked myself why they added one of their old songs as the opening track of the album, but after hitting play everything made sense. Em Nome Do Medo (or “in the name of fear”) is an obscure, haunting and absolutely awesome orchestral version for their biggest classic sung in Portuguese, from their 2012 album Alpha Noir/Omega White (take a listen at the original version HERE), with highlights to the superb job done by guest musician Jon Phipps (who actually created the orchestrations for the whole album) and the insanely beautiful choir (comprised of the amazing Crystal Mountain Singers and Tristania’s own Mariangela Dermutas) that accompanies frontman Fernando Ribeiro and his piercing vocals, and that epic aura of darkness goes on in the title-track 1755, where keyboardist Pedro Paixão delivers as usual some insane keys that complement the guitar sounds flawlessly. And what to say about Ricardo Amorim’s souful guitar solo? Put differently, I simply can’t wait to witness Moonspell playing this metallic opera live. And leaning towards a more metallic, rockin’ vein we have the threatening In Tremor Dei (or “fear Of God”), presenting the band’s characteristic Dark Metal with Fernando being beautifully supported by guest vocalist Paulo Bragança (who supplies the trenchant voice of a Fado fallen angel who is a big part of the Portuguese culture), with the song’s lyrics perfectly depicting the fire, wreckage, despair and death that took over Lisbon that day.

Desastre (the Portuguese word for “disaster”) gets closer to what the band did in Night Eternal, with Fernando’s growls sounding deeper and more enraged as he screams the word “culpado” (or “guilty” in English) with all his fury. Furthermore, the beats by drummer Miguel Gaspar will hit you hard inside your mind, showing how acute the entire album is. Then orchestral elements shine in another great display of Dark Metal blended with classical music titled Abanão (which means “quake” or “shakeup”), where Pedro once again boosts the song’s epicness with his keyboards while Miguel and bassist Aires Pereira live up to the song’s name with their rumbling beats and bass punches, respectively; followed by Evento (or “event”), where Moonspell keep blending their own sonority from Night Eternal with Memorial and more intense elements from orchestral music, not to mention how its lyrics showcase the thin line between love and hate people experience with religion. It’s another one of the top moments of the album, and needless to say it should also sound fantastic if played live. And 1 De Novembro (or “1st of November”), in reference to the day the earthquake happened, brings forward a more contemporary version of Moonspell where Fernando’s voice sounds considerably different than usual and where tons of heaviness and epicness arise due to the excellent job done by Pedro and Miguel on keys and drums.

1755 Deluxe Box

Then infused with modern Gothic and Dark Metal similar to what they did in the darkest and most melancholic tracks of Alpha Noir/Omega White, but with an epic twist, Ruínas (or “ruins”) displays an 80’s-inspired rhythm where the bass lines by Aires sound ominous, with its lyrics passionately declaimed by Fernando transmitting a true sense of hopelessness, setting the tone for Todos Os Santos (or “all saints”), one of the strongest tracks of the album and the musical depiction of the eternal war between men and God. Its thrilling guitars combined with the powerful vocals by Fernando and its thunderous backing vocals result in top-notch Moonspell music, also presenting a catchy-as-hell chorus (even if you don’t know anything in Potuguese) in a beyond perfect closing to such sad and important event in the history of Portugal. As a matter of fact, there’s still one more song in the regular version of the album, their cover version for Brazilian rock band Os Paralamas do Sucesso’s hit Lanterna Dos Afogados (listen to the original song HERE), feeling more like a “bonus” than a regular track and sounding very somber, melancholic and touching, with Fernando giving a lesson in dark vocals. Moreover, if you go with any of the special editions of 1755, you’ll also be treated to the Spanish version of Desastre, which according to Moonspell themselves is a homage to all their Spanish-speaking fans around the world, as in the late 18th century a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese was spoken in the streets of Lisbon.

What Moonspell did in 1755, turning all devastation, death and grief from the 1755 Lisbon earthquake into first-class art, is not only terrific musically speaking, but it also proves that the human being is capable of finding beauty even in the most adverse moments, and I guess that’s some sort of subliminal message the band wanted to send us all with this excellent album. With that said, go grab your favorite version of 1755 at the Napalm Records webshop, or at the band’s own BandCamp page or official European webstore, and learn more about one of the saddest and most terrifying day in the history of Portugal. 1755 might be known as the year of the horror, as the year when God abandoned the people of Lisbon, but at least we have Moonspell to properly tell that grim story to us all and to soothe our hearts and souls forevermore with their undisputed Dark Metal.

Best moments of the album: 1755, In Tremor Dei, Evento and Todos Os Santos.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2017 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. Em Nome Do Medo 5:32
2. 1755 5:12
3. In Tremor Dei 4:26
4. Desastre 3:22
5. Abanão 4:08
6. Evento 4:43
7. 1 De Novembro 3:53
8. Ruínas 4:45
9. Todos Os Santos 5:10
10. Lanterna Dos Afogados (Os Paralamas do Sucesso cover) 6:30

Deluxe Box/Digipak/Limited Edition/Japanese Edition bonus track
11. Desastre (Spanish Version) 3:36

Band members
Fernando Ribeiro – vocals
Ricardo Amorim – guitars
Pedro Paixão – keyboards, guitars
Aires Pereira – bass
Miguel Gaspar – drums

Guest musicians
Jon Phipps – orchestrations
Paulo Bragança – vocals on “In Tremor Dei”
Martin Lopez – darbuka in “1755”
Crystal Mountain Singers (Carmen Simões, Alexandra Bernardo, Silvia Guerreiro) and Mariangela Dermutas – choirs

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Concert Review – Epica & Moonspell (The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 01/22/2016)

An electrifying fusion of Melodic Death Metal, Dark Metal and Symphonic Metal from distinct parts of the world storms the Opera House in Toronto in a memorable celebration of music.

OPENING ACT: Starkill

The North American Enigma PosterAlthough the winter hasn’t been too harsh so far in the city of Toronto this year, there’s nothing better than warming it up even more with some high-quality metal music from different parts of the world, all at the same place and time, don’t you agree? That’s what happened this Friday at the nice and cozy The Opera House, where fans could witness the riveting fusion of Melodic Death Metal from the United States, Dark Metal from Portugal and Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands on a cold but (thankfully) snowless night.

And I was finally able to get a full concert in Toronto from the very first second, without missing anything, starting with the young and restless metallers from STARKILL. Still promoting their latest album, the good Virus of the Mind, from 2014, this talented American quartet distilled their Melodic Death Metal in a precise way, warming up the crowd for the main attractions yet to come. Lead singer/guitarist Parker Jameson and guitarist Tony Keathley seemed very comfortable on stage and also among the crowd right after their concert was over, having a few beers with their fans, therefore showing how humble these guys are too. Despite adding a couple of nice unreleased songs to their setlist (entitled Burn Your World and Cloudless), in my opinion they truly thrived with songs from their two studio albums, in special the excellent Be Dead or Die and Fires of Life. I just wish they had played a faster song such as “Breaking the Madness” or “Skyward” instead of Before Hope Fades to close the show, but that was just a minor detail in their solid overall performance.

Setlist
Be Dead or Die
Burn Your World
Cloudless
Fires of Life
Virus of the Mind
Before Hope Fades

Band members
Parker Jameson – lead guitar, vocals
Tony Keathley – guitar, backing vocals
Shaun Andruchuk – bass guitar
Spencer Weidner – drums

MOONSPELL

IMG_1037About 24 hours before the moon in the city transitioned from First Quarter to Full Moon, and after an interesting alternate version of La Bafomette working as an intro, the iconic Portuguese Dark Metal wolf pack MOONSPELL stormed the Opera House with their obscurity, heaviness, electricity and undisputed talent. I really don’t know what to say about their performance so perfect it was. Perhaps that it took me too long to watch those old school Gothic metallers live for the first time? Anyway, their live concert is so damn brilliant it feels like an enhanced version of their studio albums, especially the performance by frontman Fernando Ribeiro. There’s so much passion emanating from his voice, either through his deep clean vocals, through his powerful growls or through his “real-time poetry” (or even when he made a joke about the guys from Starkill being so young they could be his children),  that it’s impossible not to get completely mesmerized and stunned by him during the entire show.

IMG_1032Of course, the rest of the band contributes enormously to the perfection of their music, with highlights to the polished and soulful riffs and solos by guitarist Ricardo Amorim, and to the sinister notes by keyboardist Pedro Paixão. There’s an absolute attention to detail coming from each musician involved, turning the experience of seeing Moonspell live into something unique. In addition, when you have such a masterpiece like their 2015 album Extinct guiding the setlist, with incredible compositions like Breathe (Until We Are No More), Extinct and The Last of Us complementing their old classics Night Eternal, Opium, Vampiria and Full Moon Madness, it’s extremely easy to put a sincere smile on the faces of the fans that attended the concert.

My only complaint is that their setlist was way too short and didn’t live up to their dark legacy. When the show was over after a little less than one hour, I was eager for more of their Gothic Metal, something you can expect from such an amazing band with a dazzling career like Moonspell. Well, they haven’t risen to stardom for no reason, right? If they had another 20 or 30 minutes to showcase more of their beautiful music, maybe by adding songs like “White Skies” and “Scorpion Flower” to their setlist, the night was going to be epic and, more important than that, more than eternal for us mere mortals. I cannot wait to see the “gajos” from Monspell live again, and next time, before the lights go out and before our time is gone, they better be the headliners or we riot!

Setlist
La Bafomette (Intro)
Breathe (Until We Are No More)
Extinct
Night Eternal
Opium
Awake
The Last of Us
Funeral Bloom
Vampiria
Alma Mater
Full Moon Madness

Band members
Fernando Ribeiro – vocals
Ricardo Amorim – guitars
Pedro Paixão – keyboards
Aires Pereira – bass
Miguel Gaspar – drums

EPICA

IMG_1069However, as most fans at the venue were there to see the main attraction of the night, the Dutch metallers from EPICA, I had to cope with the fact Moonspell’s concert was over and get ready for another good performance by the red-haired bombshell Simone Simons and her loyal crew. Due to personal reasons, they had to cancel their concerts in Toronto, Chicago and Minneapolis last September, which is why I believe their fans at the Opera House were so excited this Friday night.

Blending old classics with newer songs from their 2014 album The Quantum Enigma, Epica captivated the hearts of most people at the venue, with Simone connecting every single moment with the fans. As it happened with Moonspell, songs like The Second Stone and The Essence of Silence, despite not being classics yet, set fire to the crowd and boosted even more the impact of their classics, creating a very positive atmosphere among the crowd. And what can I say about the weird keyboards by Coen Janssen? What the hell was that? I mean, it looks cheesy, but it ends up working well with the music. If you like Epica, you know what I’m talking about.

IMG_1066There was just one minor issue with Epica’s performance, that being Moonspell. Well, not actually Moonspell, but the quality of the sound by the Portuguese metallers was way above what Epica provided the fans, which in the end felt odd. Sometimes their music sounded a bit muffled or tangled, not as clean as their studio versions, with Simone’s voice sounding lower (and almost inaudible in some moments) than all instruments. Nothing that could diminish the excitement among the fans at the venue, though, and obviously nothing that would make the night less memorable. If that mix of different subgenres of heavy music from distinct countries will ever happen again, only time will tell. In the meantime, all that’s left for us is keep those good moments deep in our hearts and wait until these bands come back to Toronto (especially Moonspell, in my case) for another shot of top-notch Heavy Metal.

Setlist
Originem (Intro)
The Second Stone
The Essence of Silence
Sensorium
Unleashed
Martyr of the Free Word
Cry for the Moon (with drum solo)
Storm the Sorrow
The Last Crusade
The Obsessive Devotion
Victims of Contingency
Design Your Universe

Encore:
Sancta Terra
Unchain Utopia
Consign to Oblivion

Band members
Simone Simons – lead vocals
Mark Jansen – rhythm guitar, harsh vocals
Isaac Delahaye – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Rob van der Loo – bass guitar
Coen Janssen – keyboards, piano
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums, harsh vocals

Album Review – Moonspell / Extinct (2015)

While this distinguished Portuguese Dark Metal band is among us, we can rest assured good and meaningful music is far from being extinct.

Rating1

moonspell_extinctIt’s definitely not an overstatement to say Portuguese Dark Metal pioneers Moonspell are the best music group in the history of Portugal, and of course, the best Dark/Gothic Metal band of all times. They’re not just a Heavy Metal band exploring the darkest and deepest emotions with their matchless music, but over the course of their more than 20 years of career they reshaped and redefined Gothic Rock/Metal worldwide, taking it to a whole new level. And even after so many years on the road they still have a lot of creativity and electricity flowing through their veins, culminating in the Goth masterpiece Extinct, their eleventh full-length album and undoubtedly one of their best to date.

With beautifully disturbing cover artworks designed by Greek artist Seth Siro Anton (also known as Spiros Antoniou, leader of Greek Symphonic Death Metal band Septicflesh), a different one per album version by the way, Extinct has an impeccable overall production that only increases its magnitude. Furthermore, the album feels like it’s purposely split in two distinct parts, the first leaning to a more Heavy Metal sounding whilst the second pays homage to pure Gothic Rock. And it doesn’t matter which “part” you prefer, it’s impossible not to enjoy Extinct in its entirety.

moonspellWhen Breathe (Until We Are No More) starts, you can already feel Extinct is going to be a great album. With the keyboard notes by Pedro Paixão providing that ominous atmosphere we love in Gothic music and its progressive riffs blended with a very ferocious chorus due to the harsh vocals by lead singer Fernando Ribeiro, you’ll feel embraced by the band’s unique musicality for sure. The title-track, Extinct, is a work of art of darkness and passion, offering the listener powerful headbanging riffs, beautiful guitar solos and keyboard passages, an incredible job done by Fernando on vocals, as well as a chorus that is beyond phenomenal  (“Before the lights go out / Before our time is gone / A taste of your lips / Before we go extinct”). In addition, the official video to the song, which you can see below, perfectly depicts its musicality, and if it doesn’t give you a thrill maybe you should go listen to Justin Bieber or One Direction, because you’re not worthy.

Medusalem is not only the fastest and the most metallic of all songs, but the addition of Middle-Eastern elements electrified it even more. I would love to listen to this more-than-perfect epitome of Gothic Metal live, with highlights to Fernando kicking ass on vocals once again. Following that amazing dark attack we have the touching rock/metal ballad Domina, with its thoughtful lyrics enhanced by a mesmerizing atmosphere and more soulful guitar solos, and a brilliant song entitled The Last of Us: with lyrics tailored to drive any girl crazy (“Let me touch you where’s forbidden / And test the limits of your sanctity”), this song kind of kicks of the Gothic Rock extravaganza in the album, focusing on the same musicality that elevated bands like H.I.M. to stardom.

moonspell_extinct02

Extinct Limited Mediabook Edition

The next track, the beautiful Malignia, is even darker than all previous songs, with its name, keyboards, background effects, the depth of the vocal lines and everything else in this Goth anthem being as somber as possible, while Funeral Bloom is a song that could easily be played on any radio station so catchy it is. Besides, the way drummer Miguel Gaspar, bassist Aires Pereira and keyboardist Pedro Paixão are in sync is remarkable. A Dying Breed is another exciting Gothic Rock song where Fernando varies between his clean vocals and deep growls perfectly, with the rhythm flawlessly following his vocal lines from smoother passages to heavier moments thanks to the excellent job done by Ricardo Amorim and Pedro Paixão on guitars.

moonspell_extinct03

Extinct 2-LP Gatefold

There’s so much beauty found in The Future Is Dark it’s hard to explain it in just a few words: it has another very passionate and melancholic chorus that will get stuck in your head for days (“Gotta breathe in, gotta breathe out / Up on your feet, gotta think twice / The future is dark, the future is vile / Without you there’s no tomorrow”), and what can I say about the blackened ambience the band brings forth in this song, mainly due to its guitar lines and solos? That’s simply amazing. And lastly we have the weird French song La Baphomette, which despite not being a disaster it doesn’t keep up with the awesomeness of the rest of the album. It’s important to say the deluxe edition of Extinct also brings four high-quality bonus tracks, and unless you’ve just waken up from a coma you might not have noticed yet they’re alternate versions for four of the songs of the regular album. In my opinion, the best of those tracks is the passionate semi-acoustic Doomina, which is a word play of “Doom” and the original song “Domina”, got it?

To sum up, calling Extinct the best album of 2015 even if we’re still in March, with many months to go until the year is over, is not an overstatement either. An awe-inspiring album like this one truly deserves to be appreciated by all music lovers, it doesn’t matter if you’re a metalhead or not. In other words, go listen to Extinct with the person you love the most, or simply close your eyes and savor it by yourself, resting assured that while Moonspell are among us dark and meaningful music will never be extinct.

Best moments of the album: Extinct, Medusalem, Malignia, The Future Is Dark and the bonus track Doomina.

Worst moments of the album: La Baphomette.

Released in 2015 Napalm Records

Track listing
1.Breathe (Until We Are No More) 5:33
2.Extinct 4:42
3.Medusalem 5:06
4.Domina 5:09
5.The Last of Us 3:26
6.Malignia 5:06
7.Funeral Bloom 4:10
8.A Dying Breed 4:29
9.The Future Is Dark 5:09
10.La Baphomette 2:48

Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
11.Until We Are No Less 7:02
12.Doomina 4:49
13.Last of Them 5:24
14.The Past Is Darker 5:43

Band members
Fernando Ribeiro – vocals
Ricardo Amorim – guitars
Pedro Paixão – keyboards, guitars
Aires Pereira – bass
Miguel Gaspar – drums