I’m really surprised more people aren’t talking about this album. I don’t meaning raving and claiming it to be the second coming of Master of Puppets or whatever . . . just surprised that I’m not hearing Moonspell pop up in musical conversations more often. Okay then, allow me to turn the topic over to these doom-y, gloom-y, goth-y, super heavy (heavy with a cape) Portuguese rockers.
I have a couple of Moonspell records in my ever morphing collection of music, and though I like the bands past records, they never jump out as the albums that I feel compelled to propel me through the doldrums of every day. They’re good, they have their moments, they just don’t live up to what I guess I want them to be. That’s completely on me. I’m good with that. Those albums aren’t going anywhere, so in time, I may find the hidden brilliance in them as well. As I said, I like them, I just don’t currently love them.
Now, Alpha Noir finally hits every mark for what I ever perceived of this band (which means that the old school Moonspell-heads probably think it sucks . . . but they’re wrong). This album, released through Napalm Records, is all things heavy, and intricate, and nihilistic, and oppressive, and moody, and all the dark things that make me think that Moonspell is all about. Alpha Noir is a demonic groover that emits the faintest odor of brimstone as it spins on the player. A positively dark record that has me banging my head at my desk, behind the wheel, or pushing a shopping cart through the grocery store. Simply beastly.
Take your pick of songs . . . the lead track, “Axis Mundi”, for instance . . . it has a great and intense building intro that is a true harbinger of devastation to come. Huge tribal rhythms amidst a wash of feedback and thundering sound effects, and then a laser-like guitar riff that cuts through ¼ inch sheet metal like it was a sheet of velum. That’s the kind of stuff the fires me up! Follow this up a few seconds later with a one of the more powerful riffs on the album, all accompanied by a drummer who more than knows his way around a kit, and I’m in pure heaven. The tightness of that riff and the steadfast and straight forward drumming make the opening couple minutes of this song an exercise in power. Moonspell do a great job of mixing in a little ambient texture in the song, as well, by dropping in some subtle keyboard flourishes . . . and then there’s the middle/end break where the band completely drops out and we’re left listening to the creepy crooning voice of frontman and band mainstay, Fernando Ribeiro sing over a plaintively plinking piano passage. Fucking epic song that never gets old!
Check out the title track and its opening salvo of galloping guitar riffs, and then feel how you’re blown back a step or two when the band kicks in. What a wonderful treatment of mid tempo, palm muted riffing! Feel the song kick into overdrive as the double bass drums suddenly thunder their way onto the scene. And the textural washes of the keyboards and contrasting melodic guitar lines that weave throughout the chaotic flurries of sound. Just a well composed track that has enough changes and shifts to keep things constantly interesting and compelling. Searing guitar leads and Ribeiro’s trademark gothic croon sprinkle the last bits of seasoning that this song needs to make it a must listen!
“Opera Carne” is a blistering tune that features one of those melodic choruses that’s accompanied me in my early waking moments for the past week. It’s not one of those over the top melodies with a huge operatic choir or a big sing-along moment, but there’s something about the way Ribeiro growls the words “How our flesh burns . . . in mysterious ways” that it sticks in my head and I easily hum this ghastly tune. Musically speaking though, this one is brutally heavy! Great effects on the guitars opening the track and the production on the drums it superb . . . the drums sound like they’re set up in my office right next to me. Sharp, crisp, powerful!
Then onto my personal favorite on the album, “Love Is Blasphemy”. I can’t play this monster loud enough! It’s almost ridiculous how killer this song is . . . the opening musical intro with its rhythmic tom work and melodic guitar lines, creating a few moments of dark tension. Then Moonspell drop the fucking hammer. A guitar riff crafted by the hands of goblins in the darkest reaches of Mordor, cymbal crashes that invoke memories of Metallica at the moment when they were poised to rule the world, a guttural vocal utterance that spits venom in the faces of church leaders world-wide, and one of the most tastefully aggressive heavy metal songs one will hear for the rest of the year. Beautifully crafted, not up its own ass with too much progression, not too stripped down to be redundant . . . Moonspell get to the meat of the matter right off the bat and beat the listener senseless for just over four and half minutes.
The musicianship throughout Alpha Noir is top notch, but it’s not too show-y. Moonspell have chops, but thankfully, they don’t see the need to pummel us with technical glitz and just keep the music simple. This is, by far, the heaviest record I’ve heard all year and also the biggest surprise I’ve experienced. As I mentioned, I know some stuff about Moonspell, and I’ve just never been a monstrous fan. One of my first experiences with them was when I caught them live opening for Opeth a few years back, and they blew me away! The showmanship, the stage presence, the seemingly 7’ tall Fernando Ribeiro extending his arms and looking like some nightmarish vulture . . . it was enough to sear an impression in my mind’s eye for a lifetime and with Alpha Noir, the sound I always associated this live imagery with has been captured. Massively heavy music propelled by monstrous grooves full of heavily distorted guitars and insane drumming. Great record that I simply can’t listen to enough!