Review Summary: On Moonspell’s second album – Irreligious – they lose more of their black metal vibe in favor of more gothic influences. However, Moonspell achieve to make an even stronger album than Irreligious’ predecessor, making this one of the most important
It’s 1996 – barely a year has passed since the debut album Wolfheart – and Moonspell return with their second LP: Irreligious. Irreligious has over the years achieved an even more legendary status than Wolfheart did: even today the backbone of every Moonspell live show depends highly on classics from this album. However, does Irreligious still sound as innovative as it did in 1996 or is the music dated and its praise based mostly on nostalgia"
With Irreligious Moonspell experiment further with their trademark sound, stretching its black metal core further from its roots than ever before. Hereby they exchange even more black metal for gothic influences, making this album lean more towards the latter whilst Wolfheart leaned more towards the former. Therefore, overall this album has a slower pace than their first LP and dedicates even more time in creating their pagan atmosphere. However, it is clear that they do so more effectively than on Wolfheart, resulting in a tastefully diverse album where slow passages successfully fulfill their purpose of enticing the listener onto its occult theme.
Moonspell sees one major change of line-up on this album with Ricardo Amorim replacing Duarte Picoto on guitars. This change is notable; since the harsh and crunching riffs from Wolfheart are less abundant whilst atmospheric plucking, climaxing guitar solos and slow doom-like heavy riffing are more common. Besides that, Fernando Ribeiro steps up his game and significantly improved his clean singing, holding tone much better than a year ago on Wolfheart. Irreligious concerns itself lyrically with all kinds of objections against religion, in which Fernando Ribeiro ranges from brilliant to somewhat cheesy. Pedro Paixão’s keyboards and samples together with the implementation of operatic female vocals still play a huge role in deciding the atmosphere on this album, which works great on “Ruin & Misery” and “A Poisoned Gift” but threads dangerously close into the realm of cheesiness on “Raven Claws”, which is the low point of this album.
This album opens superbly after the introduction “Perverse … Almost Religious” with “Opium”, which despite its humble playing time below 3 minutes has the feel of an instant classic to it. Unsurprisingly this track was chosen as Moonspell’s first single and was released with a music video back in the day, which saw Moonspell finally achieving bigger fame – especially within Portuguese borders. The album continues with the dark and heavy “Awake!” that creates a gothic and doomy atmosphere and has Ribeiro chanting beautifully during some verses and switching in an instant to screaming at the top of his lungs, at which one finds himself involuntarily nodding his head along with the music. This atmosphere returns at several points on this album, such as on crowd favorite and album closer “Full Moon Madness”, “Mephisto” and “Herr Spiegelmann”. Because of this particular atmosphere created in these songs Irreligious at some points feels heavier than its predecessor, despite being obviously slower paced. “Ruin & Misery”, “Subversion” and “Raven Claws” are moody tracks that delve deeper into gothic weirdness, with mixed results.
Irreligious marks Moonspell’s final album that has their ‘classic’ sound going on, before going into an experimental and gothic rock direction on their next albums. Moonspell here is at its best thus far in their career, creating a more than worthy – in my opinion slightly superior – successor of Wolfheart. It’s no wonder that even after almost 20 years songs such as “Opium”, “Awake!”, “Mephisto” and “Full Moon Madness” are still crowd favorites and are included in almost every live setlist. If you haven’t heard of Moonspell before but you are open for an overall heavy album that experiments with gothic, black metal and folk influences you should do yourself a favor and check this one out. If you’re familiar with the newer Moonspell but haven’t gotten to exploring the older part of their catalogue yet: this is likely the best place to start.