Review Summary: Moonspell’s sixth full-length release has them returning to their heavy roots, with excellent results: The Antidote is truly their magnum opus and is even today unrivaled as the best work of their career.
It's 2003 and Moonspell’s musical journey has already been an impressive one thus far. Fernando Ribeiro and his four brethren gave birth to already five full-length releases since 1995 – of which the first two are today regarded among the most important metal releases of the ‘90s – and now it is a mere 8 years since the release of their debut Wolfheart, yet Moonspell find inspiration somehow for a already their sixth album: The Antidote. One might suspect the quality of releases to dwindle because of the furious pace in which albums are being produced, but apparently nothing could be further from the truth concerning The Antidote: the Antidote is regarded by many as Moonspell’s greatest album in their career. However, looking back 11 years after the original release of The Antidote, is it truly the masterpiece it is often claimed to be?
The Antidote is a concept album – or rather an album with a series of concepts – of which the lyrical themes were crafted together with one of Portugal’s most promising fiction writers back in 2003: José Luis Peixoto, who simultaneously with Moonspell wrote a short-story novel ‘O Antidoto’ (the Portuguese translation for The Antidote). It is no wonder then that with his help lyrically Moonspell have never been as strong as they are on The Antidote; every individual song on this album truly has its own brilliantly written story. Since the album is a coherent piece of art of which one sample would not do justice to the entire product it is pointless to sample some of The Antidote’s lyrics here, but Moonspell themselves express quite accurately on the opening statement of their CD booklet what kind of mental images are summoned by this album: “The Horror of Beauty, The Beauty of Horror”.
Musically, The Antidote threads roughly the same path as laid by its predecessor Darkness and Hope, but manages to do so much more at the same time. The focus on creating a melancholic and dark atmosphere is still as strong as on Darkness and Hope, but the diversity between instrumental grandeur and ambient samples, between low-tempo power ballads and high paced metal anthems and between fragile beautiful singing and fierce screaming has never been as perfectly balanced as on this album. A new element on The Antidote is Moonspell’s freshly found aggression, so this release has Moonspell finally returning to their metal roots. However, the heavy sections on this album are clearly influenced by death metal rather than by black metal, which might be surprising since Moonspell was a full-fledged black metal band in their earliest days. The end-result is excellent nevertheless: the combination between Moonspell’s matured gothic rock vibe and vicious death metal works like a charm. Unsurprisingly, the mix between gothic rock and death metal would be the foundation on which future albums are also built upon.
Moonspell’s sixth album opens with “In and Above Men”, that treats the listener with a furious attack of double bass drums and heavy riffing during its first moments and immediately sets the tone for the rest of this album. Furthermore, this first track has Fernando Ribeiro already using his fierce harsh vocals during the choruses, which have improved significantly in comparison with previous releases. The remainder of this album's first part is much in the same vein as “In and Above Men”: “From Lowering Skies” is a brooding low-tempo song that builds up to a crushingly heavy climax, while “The Southern Deathstyle” works to a bonesplittingly heavy climax towards the end of the song as well and has Miguel Gaspar drumming with more ferocity than ever before during that part. “Everything Invaded” is the lead single from The Antidote for which also a music video was made, but appearances can be deceiving: this is not the ‘easiest’ or catchiest number on this album meant for a wide audience. “Everything Invaded” may very well be the best written song in Moonspell’s career thus far since it has all the best elements of Moonspell combined in one: aggression, musical variation, top-notch lyrics, melancholy and Fernando Ribeiro giving his best vocal delivery to date.
The second part of this album has Moonspell trading in some tempo for more time to build on atmospheric soundscapes that show the gentler side of Moonspell. “Antidote” and “As We Eternally Sleep On It” are both beautiful (power) ballads, of which especially album closer “As We Eternally Sleep on it” is worth mentioning as one of Moonspell’s brightest moments on this albums. “Lunar Still” is the most experimental song on this album, that remains relatively quiet and ambient on the first part and explodes suddenly just before the closing seconds. “Capricorn At Her Feet”, “A Walk on the Darkside” and “Crystal Gazing” sport the more classic gothic rock sound that remind us of Darkness and Hope, but unfortunately are somewhat less interesting than the rest of this album. The limited edition of this album also contains “The Darkening”, which is a melancholic and catchy song that would have worked perfectly as a closing track on the regular version of this album.
The Antidote truly is a grandiose album that deserves its epic status in Moonspell’s discography. All pieces of the puzzle seem to be coming together on this album for Moonspell: their heavy and soft sides are balanced out perfectly, the incorporation of death metal into their sound works really well and each song on this album is overall expertly written both instrumentally and lyrically. The brightest moments on this album – and perhaps in Moonspell’s entire career – are “Everything Invaded”, “As We Eternally Sleep on it” and “The Southern Deathstyle”. So to get back to the question whether this is indeed the masterpiece it is often claimed to be: absolutely. Within the boundaries of its genre this is a true classic that deserves anyone’s attention that missed it back in 2003 but appreciates heavy music today.