Moonspell
Hermitage

We’re at a point in metal’s history where a band reaching the 30-year mark isn’t the rarity is once was. Still impressive! Especially considering the core makeup of Moonspell’s Fernando Ribeiro, keyboardist Pedro Paixao and lead guitarist Ricardo Amorim have been together for very nearly all of it (bassist Aires Pereira has even been around for nearly 20 years of it now) – but it’s not the nearly as uncommon a feat as it once was.

That being said, I think Moonspell does get extra credit – I can’t immediately recall too many bands lasting that long who have evolved and reinvented themselves as often – and as successfully – as Portugal’s prodigal sons have over their lifespan. From the more blackened beginnings of Wolfheart and Under Satanae, to the much more gothic-leaning Irreligious and Darkness and Hope, to the very Industrial-inspired Butterfly Effect, to my personal-favorite, the stripped-down, doomy The Antidote (somewhat of an outlier in the group and held back a bit by kind “meh” production, but those songs live are fucking awesome) all the way up to the band’s more recent heavier, symphonic gothic/dark metal offerings Alpha Noir and Extinct, the band has done an uncanny job of changing their sound to fit their whims, and end up with a product that was never lacking in quality or imagination.

The band’s evident sense of ambition came to full fruition on 2017’s excellent metal opera 1755, and though last year’s Memorial wasn’t quite on the grandiose scale of it’s predecessor, it certainly showed no signs of the band slowing down or taking a breather. I mention all of this about the band’s prior work not necessarily to size this latest offering up to the rest of their catalogue – instead I think it’s just a necessary part of getting the big picture of where this band is now in their own journey (god that sounds very Millennial to say…) because once again, Moonspell are changing the script a bit and taking things in another direction.

Hermitage is, far and away, the band’s moodiest record they’ve put together in quite some time – putting some of their more recent aggressiveness on the back burner to bring brooding atmospheres back more to the forefront. If ever there was a band capable of creating effective melodrama, it’s Moonspell, and they put those skills once again on full display. This change in focus is most likely intentional – playing into both the darkness of the last year of our lives, as well as Ribeiro’s lyrical themes, inspired this time by history’s famed hermit monks (hence, “Hermitage”). But let all this paint the wrong picture, however – the band still pulls on those heavier, bombastic strings that made Alpha and 1755 such compelling listens – they’re just used much more selectively in order to create a counterbalance to the album’s lows. Opener “The Greater Good” serves as a perfect microcosm of the whole album – with a beautiful interplay between light and darkness. It starts with some foreboding atmospherics, building up slowly with some really catchy vocal melodies – until things reach a boiling point… only to drop back down again. But worry n0t – soon enough the band launches in earnest with a fury – guitars, synths and Fernando’s signature bellowing howl reaching full volume to create a sound very familiar to fans of their last few outings. It’s a strong, and very much telling start to everything that follows.

Follow-up, “Common Prayers” keeps the energy up, serving as one of the albums heaviest and most upbeat tracks, featuring some really neat synth backgrounds and awesome bass lines from Aires Pereira. But from here on out, things take a more decidedly bleak turn – starting with ballad “All or Nothing.” Ribeiro really puts his abilities to craft strong vocal melodies and harmonies on display here, and the song also introduces somewhat of a new, very blues-inspired sound to the band. It’s like injecting some of their more goth-leaning back catalogue with a doomy, Pepper Keenan/Kirk Windstein flair southern metal flair. That guitar tone works really, really well with the organ notes in the background, and provides an extra feeling of solitude and isolation. You find a similar feel on tracks like “Entitlement,” and perhaps to its greatest degree on instrumental “Solitarian.” I really dig the addition to the band’s bag of tricks, and it’s cool that after all this time, after all the twists and turns the band has made to their sound, they’re still adding new elements.

“Hermitage” picks the pace back up again a notch – Ribeiro himself throwing another added trick to the mix with a sort of raw, “yell-y” vocal delivery that I’m digging a bunch – like a mad preacher trying to coax a crowd to his will. Again, we get a nice return of some sweet organ backgrounds behind another very blues-driven solo. It’s both very new and very familiar to longtime fans of the band. A few tracks later, my favorite song on the album, “The Hermit Saints,” shows off a band whose experience has led to a mastery and comfort with who they are and what they’re capable of – putting together really infectious, effective harmonies and melodies that are on par with any they’ve created over their career. The traditional heavy metal-leaning guitars sound amazing here – and I’d really like to hear the band show more of that side wherever they move on to next.

Hermitage sticks with the Moonspell tradition of… well, not being traditional. Once again, the band has added a number of new elements, while also harkening back to bits and pieces of their history to create yet another thoroughly enjoyable that feels just about right for the times. Longtime fans and new discoverers alike should find plenty to like about this album, and I can’t wait til the day I can finally hear these songs live. Until then, I’ll very enthusiastically be soaking this up in the comfort of my home. Another fantastic effort from a timeless, unique band.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
March 15th, 2021

Comments

  1. Commented by: J. Mays

    Unless I overlooked it, you didn’t mention one of my favorites, Night Eternal, although I understand why. It was part of the soundtrack to one of the best years of my life. I’m with you on pretty much everything else, except the new one hasn’t stuck with me yet.


  2. Commented by: Steve K

    I did not mention Night Eternal, but that was definitely the start of the excellent run of albums that went all the way up through “Memorial.” Not intentionally omitted, but certainly worthy of recognition.

    This album definitely doesn’t have the immediate impact of their recent output, but I think over time it leaves it’s mark.


  3. Commented by: Martin S.

    Steve, just wanted to thank you for promoting these guys. Ever since I checked them out after your suggestion, I’ve latched on and become a big fan. I’m hoping there’s more to come and this isn’t their last chapter. Either way it’s been a wholly worthwhile discovery!


  4. Commented by: Steven K

    Dude hell yeah! Warms my cold metal heart to hear someone get acquainted with one of my all-time favorites! Cheers, and here’s to hoping they’ve still got lots left in the tank!


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