Review Summary: The purveyors of gothic doom strike a chord once again.
Back in the early 1990s Moonspell were the poster boys of the gothic doom scene, but for a band who’s existed for as long as I have been alive, (yes literally), I’ve sometimes found myself at a loss when visiting the band’s back-catalogue. Mostly I’ve found a sense of ‘enjoyment’ in whatever particular record is playing—but I’ve never been blown away by what the Portuguese based group has since offered. There were exceptions to the generalities expressed here (of course), but not to the levels I had hoped. Maybe I had set my expectations too highly, experiencing the likes of Irreligious
and the band’s blackened, yet experimenting brand or later, in the forms of The Antidote
and Night Eternal
, which took concept and atmosphere to a whole new level (and are also personal favorites of mine). On a personal level I had thoughts this is a group that would transcend the basics of music, a true premiere act. It’s only now that I can look at Moonspell for what they are; a group inconsistent in quality, but enjoyable for all their quirks.
More recently, the group’s exports in Extinct
reaffirmed my thoughts on Moonspell. Yes, the music was enjoyable, but I fell into a feeling that some parts are simply better than others. The group’s inconsistencies spread not only from album to album, but into parts of the band’s latter day records. For Moonspell in 2021, Hermitage
fails to break a trend of inconstant musical fluctuations, but they do manage to release another solid, albeit lack-lustre record.
Now that probably sounds a little harsh—but it’s not meant to be. Comparative to previous records, Hermitage
is straight-forward, tame, and back to basics. Gone are most of the atmospheric tropes that would see titles like The Antidote
and Night Eternal
reach for the heights. Instead, “The Greater Good” ebbs gently into the fray with bombastic, even phrasing and insatiable grooves. The opening track’s larger themes are awash with some of the album’s more prominent atmosphere, before doing away with them, resorting to a landscape of simple progressions and occasionally forced vocal lines. Despite this, there’s a jarring switch to grunted roughness, namely in the track’s later sections. The harsh vocals that once had tone and power feel odd, out of place and frail in comparison.
moves forwards it’s clear that Moonspell’s magical energy is wavering. “All Or Nothing” takes a while to get into gear, but quickly resorts to melancholic murmurs and circling musical ideas. The melody that carries the seven-minute track in itself is nice, but once again Moonspell fails to achieve more than a passing grade. It’s lucky that this particular track has one of the better guitar solos of the band’s later career, otherwise there’d be little here to talk about.
The album’s title track is guilty of two things: some of the band’s best riffs [to date], along with “The Hermit Saints” and a firm reclamation of a listener who may find themselves on the fence about new Moonspell music. Still, it’s hard to justify why this particular album should be ranked amongst the band’s more prominent releases, especially when it’s only, at least in parts as great as those it’s compared with. I may be generalizing here, but if Hermitage
could take the best features of the band’s discography and condense them into a fifty minute export, we wouldn’t be having the same conversations about quality, whilst reminiscing about Moonspell’s hey-day. At a glance, and with further, repeated listens Moonspell’s biggest failing in 2021 is in Ribeiro’ aging vocal nuance. One minute he’s belting out hooks, the next, shouting out forced, cheese-filled hooks. “Apophthegmata”, like “The Greater Good” ebbs into the fray, but is better than the former due to smoothness. Where “The Greater Good” jumped from melancholy to jagged abrasiveness, “Apophthegmata” transitions into smooth contrast. Ultimately, “Apophthegmata” should have opened the new album. The takeaway here: I simply expected better.
At a personal level I had hoped Moonspell would revisit some of that blackened atmosphere that saw the likes of The Antidote
and Night Eternal
cemented within my memory. Instead, the group has further streamlined the soundscapes found within Alpha Noir
and continued dipping in vocal quality. If we follow the band’s trajectory over the course of the last few releases, one thing becomes clear; Moonspell definitely aren’t the same group that formed in the early 90s (a given for any group heading towards three decades as an act), but the likelihood that a new release will achieve the same prestige as the early days is becoming less and less—and yet, I don’t find myself hating this for what it is...approachable Moonspell for a casual, no-frills listen.