Review Summary: If Wolfheart isn’t among the best gothic metal albums, then it’s at least one of the most fun
Moonspell are essentially the leading face of Portugal metal, but their status in the larger gothic metal scene feels harder to pinpoint. They aren’t commonly regarded in the echelon of groups like My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, but they’ve also evaded the generic copycat tag given to subsequent generations. One could also trace bits of Type O Negative-esque camp in the comically vampiric vocals and over the top aesthetics on display.
Fortunately, the band backs up the goofiness with some stellar musicianship where each instrument has its own personality. The rhythm section actually does much of the heavy lifting as the drums have a hard-hitting presence while the bass puts in as many sturdy lines as the jagged guitars with abundant fills abound. The keyboards also go all-out in dispensing ethereal swells and theatrical flourishes, fleshing things out without feeling overstuffed.
That theatrical style is also demonstrated with the song order presented, cycling through a variety of influences in an almost conceptual fashion. “Wolfshade (A Werewolf Masquerade)” makes for an impactful start on this front as its tranquil intro eventually gives way to heavy fanfare guitars and verses whose double bass patterns and raspy barks hint at the group’s blackened roots. “Love Crimes” pushes that influence to uptempo ends with some driving goth rock verses thrown into the mix.
The next couple songs lean even more into that hard rock spirit. “Of Dream and Drama (Midnight Ride)” feels like a chimera of “Black No. 1” and Danzig’s “Mother,” revving upbeat verses and a soaring chorus rounded out by spirited piano. It’s also nice to see the band’s nationality highlighted as “Lua D’Inverno” provide a brief flute-led interlude before “Trebaluna” dishes up a particularly jovial folk metal jig sung in Portuguese.
It all culminates with Wolfheart’s last three songs reaching their most bombastic point. The echoing Dracula purrs and Mickey Mousing synths no doubt make “Vampira” sound cheesy as hell, but the fluctuating twists in the structure provide a lot of extra character. “An Erotic Alchemy” bolsters the sort of orchestral strings and beauty-and-the-beast vocals that bands like After Forever and Lacuna Coil would take even further, and “Alma Mater” features a celebratory rhythm reminiscent of Viking era Bathory and mead hall choral vocals that end the album as triumphantly as it began.
If Wolfheart isn’t among the best gothic metal albums ever released, then it’s at least a candidate for being one of the most fun. While Moonspell has some other stellar full-lengths under their belt, they’ve never topped their debut’s combination of standout musicianship and full commitment to camp horror theatre. It’s no doubt an acquired taste but it provides some great spoopy vibes.