Review Summary: Darkness and Hope sees Moonspell maturing and finding a balance between their gothic and experimental past, resulting in an overall decent to excellent gothic rock album that marks the beginning of Moonspell’s international success.
The year is 2001 and Moonspell is still in search for balance in their musical yin-yang. In the period just before the end of the second millennium Moonspell had been experimenting with a ton of different musical influences in search for a mature sound that suits them and released two albums in that period – 1998’s Sin/Pecado and 1999’s The Butterfly Effect. Even though these releases showed Moonspell’s ability to blend different genres into a mix that works well at times it was apparent that Moonspell had yet to find them a skin in which they were comfortable and in which the fan’s desire for their trademark gothic sound and their newfound lust for experimentation were both satisfied. It was not until the release of the Darkness and Hope that Moonspell finally showed signs of finding a sound they could further mature with.
Darkness and Hope is aptly named in the sense that the album has both negative as positive sides for Moonspell and its fanbase. Darkness and Hope sees Moonspell return to a much darker and brooding sound, something which fans of the first two releases Wolfheart and Irreligious will rejoice at. Furthermore, Darkness and Hope launched Moonspell into greater international commercial success, reaching for example the German musical charts. This was partially made possible by producer Hiili Hiilesma, who has a knack for achieving a smooth and clear sound on heavy albums and did so for Amorphis, HIM, Sentenced and Apocalyptica. However, for all its gothic atmospheres Darkness and Hope does not mark the return of Moonspell to their black metal roots – far from it in fact: this album is as ‘soft’ as Sin/Pecado was and has only sparse moments of harsh vocals, heavy riffing and up-temp drum beats. Therefore Darkness and Hope left Moonspell’s fanbase divided – just like the previous two releases did. However, looking back, was Darkness and Hope quality-wise an album worth the international success, or was it deserving of the critique it got from part of Moonspell’s fanbase?
Moonspell’s fifth full-length release opens fantastically with an epic, slowly dragging guitar riff accompanied by synths and eerie background chanting of the title track “Darkness and Hope”. Apparent from these first few second into the album is that the focus has once more returned to the gothic aspect of Moonspell rather than their industrial and experimental side. “Darkness and Hope” turns out to be one of the stronger tracks on this album, with the aforementioned grandiose guitar melodies returning a few times, supported by atmospheric sound samples and Fernando Ribeiro's mournful singing. The next song “Firewalking” speeds up the tempo with fast drum beats, heavy riffing and a very catchy, harshly sung chorus. “Nocturna” is a moody track – much like the opening song on this album – and might very well be the catchiest number on this album, written clearly for the promotional purposes it was ultimately used for, in the form of a single and music video. After the first three memorable songs the album meanders on and has Moonspell focusing mainly on creating a melancholic, gothic and at times a somewhat mellow atmosphere. “Heartshaped Abyss”, “Ghostsong” and “Than the Serpents in my Hands” mostly follow the same formula as lead single “Nocturna”, being cleanly sung mid-tempo gothic rock tracks and are at their best during some very tasteful guitar solos. “Devilred”, “Made of Storm” and “Rapaces” are slightly heavier songs with the occasional double bass drumming, grunted vocals and heavy riffing, but overall fail to be as infectious as “Firewalking”. “How We Became Fire” is the most varied track on this album and displays some the finest songwriting that Moonspell has ever produced, switching effortlessly between moods and succeeding brilliantly in delivering the message of love tragedy.
In the end, Darkness and Hope is an album that succeeds in creating an amazing melancholic atmosphere and has Moonspell crafting some of their best songs thus far, such as “Darkness and Hope”, “Firewalking” and “How We Became Fire”. Fernando Ribeiro continues to grow as a vocalist on this album and has him singing more beautifully than ever before in his career. He focuses with his lyrics mostly on lost love, heartbreaks and melancholic longing, and even though at times he is a little predictable and mellow, overall the songs succeed to deliver their depressing message. Sérgio Crestana (bass), Miguel Gaspar (drums) and Pedro Paixão (keys and samples) each bring their a-game on this album and seem both inspired and comfortable with their new sound, but standing out the most is Ricardo Amorim (guitar) who has some great moments of soft plucking, heaving riffing and grandiose soloing. The biggest point of critique on this album is that the middle section of the album is less interesting than the opening and closing tracks and drags on for a little too long, sounding all a bit too similar.
Moonspell’s fifth album manages to both lift their music to new heights as succeed in putting them on the radar internationally. Darkness and Hope is the first album that has Moonspell maturing and balances the dramatic and gothic atmosphere of “Wolfheart” and “Irreligious” with the experimentation of “Sin/Pecado” and “The Butterfly Effect”. The particular sound they establish on this album would remain mostly unchanged on future releases to come and proved to be the key to their later worldwide success, making Darkness and Hope perhaps the most important release of this Portuguese band in their entire career.