Friday 5 March 2021

Moonspell - Hermitage (2021)

Country: Portugal
Style: Progressive/Gothic Rock/Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Feb 2021
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Portugal's premier gothic metal band return with a new album, their twelfth, which returns them to a predominantly English language approach after their concept album, 1755, about the earthquake that year in Lisbon, which was entirely in Portuguese. As has increasingly become the case, this is a gothic metal album that isn't what we would usually think of when someone mentions gothic metal. There is no beauty and the beast vocal interaction and no female vocalist at all. In fact, there's not a heck of a lot of metal either.

While Moonspell reached this stage of their careers in a gradual shift away from the black metal they started out playing, this feels like it started instead as goth rock, moved into progressive rock and, at points, heavied up a little. The Greater Good, which opens the album, plays with that contrast, mostly staying in a rock vein but happy to get more crunchy and emphatic at points. However, a song like All or Nothing feels like it's still in that prog phase, the gothic tone mostly in the pleading of the vocals but overshadowed by some neat guitar solos. It doesn't even think about becoming metal, even when it could.

I quite like this sound, even if I was hoping for something heavier, but these songs aren't particularly immediate. I liked what I was hearing, even on a first time through, but it took a few listens to really start to appreciate what Moonspell are doing here and, even then, little of it wowed me. I just became increasingly comfortable with it until the point where some of the songs turned into old friends. The longer I listened to this album, the more I appreciated it, but it took time.

Entitlement was the first song to seep under my skin. It's a slower, proggier piece, but an atmospheric one too, that atmosphere being dark and obviously rooted in goth, if notably underplayed goth if we compare to what the early eighties would have done to it. It chooses to beckon us in rather than bash us over the head and drags us there, which helps to underline that it may be one part Bauhaus but it's one part Bauhaus to four or five of Pink Floyd, the name that I kept coming back to. That influence is a stronger one as the album runs on, especially in the solos of Ricardo Amorim, who has been paying a lot of attention to Dave Gilmour, though the band are never derivative.

What surprised me, given the album's title and song titles such as Common Prayers, Solitarian or The Hermit Saints, is the lack of a religious feel. Clearly this is themed, if not a concept album, and we're constantly hearing references in the lyrics. I was following the music a lot more than the words, but it ends up being impossible not to hear words like "saints", "pray" and "hermit" repeating everywhere. However, excepting some choral backing vocals, the first hints I found were in Apophthegmata, eight songs in, and even there, it's only at points, through a well placed church organ, and not integral.

By the way, that song title doesn't refer to the name of a demon, it presumably refers to the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, or the Apophthegmata Patrum, a set of stories that describe spiritual practices of 5th century Christian hermits in the deserts of Egypt. It doen't explore them specifically, but there is a common thread running through this album about leaving the world of things behind and going elsewhere to think and pray and regain some sense of who we are.

And talking of identity, it's interesting to see that Moonspell apparently still think of themselves as a gothic metal band. Their Bandcamp page still uses tags like black metal, dark metal, gothic metal and progressive metal. There's no black metal here at all and, while the other three still hold truth, this is much more of a rock album. Sure songs like Common Prayers, The Hermit Saints and the title track are willing to add some metal crunch and vocals that are more overt but, over time, that gradually seems like a holdover from the older Moonspell, who are inexorably moving away from it. I'm interested in seeing where Moonspell go from here.

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