Artists who re-invent themselves over the years will tend to shed some of their early fanbase while picking up new followers as their genre appeal shifts, but it’s a testament to Moonspell’s creative powers – and the promotional savvy of their labels and management – that their audience continues to grow with each new phase of their career. The best evidence of that skill I’ve seen so far is presented in their new DVD release, Lusitanian Metal.
Moonspell’s popularity in Europe has grown exponentially over the past decade, but the group held only niche appeal in the US until they were signed on to Danzig’s ultra-heavy “Blackest of the Black” tour along with Dimmu Borgir, Skeletonwitch and Winds of Plague, followed by their current “Darkest Hour” tour with fellow epic metallers like Cradle of Filth and Septicflesh. As confident as they have become in the wake of gold-selling releases Memorial and Night Eternal (on current label SPV Steamhammer), they once struggled to find their own distinct path since their inception in the early 1990s – a quest that has now been documented in precise detail in this 2-DVD set, which was once reportedly entitled 13 Years of Doom.A comprehensive collection of live performances from Moonspell’s independent beginnings and their Century Media releases (up to and including 2003’s The Antidote), this double-disc set is packed with an incredible 5-hours-plus worth of footage – ranging in quality from shaky, hand-held VHS to multi-camera digital video mixed in Dolby 5.1. Some of the early stuff can be a little headache-inducing, but it’s still essential viewing for those interested in the highs and lows of a hard-working and talented band whose menacing majesty appeals to darkly-inclined audiences of all cultures.The first disc contains the centerpiece of the collection – a 2004 concert in Katowice, Poland that had personal significance for the band: when Moonspell had last performed in the so-called “City of Ravens,” they were surprised and delighted to hear crowds chanting the band’s name before the show for the first time in their career, and frontman Fernando Ribeiro points this bit of trivia out to this night’s audience, who respond with the expected enthusiasm.Highlights from the Katowice show include the powerful opener “In and Above Men,” its companion piece “From Lowering Skies,” the demonic anthems “Alma Mater” and “Mephisto,” and powerful closer “Full Moon Madness.” Another high point, the flamboyant “Vampiria,” is one of the band’s most overtly Gothic pieces (in the past Ribeiro has delivered the song wearing a velvet Dracula cape), but they manage to break through the wall of creepshow cheese and come back around to sly sophistication, with Ribeiro taking on a kind of Lord Byron persona. The band is in top form as a five-piece combo – with Pedro Paixão working double-duty on keyboards and rhythm guitar (when a beefier guitar sound is called for). The mix is precise and showcases Ribeiro’s vast vocal range – from throaty bass-baritone melodies to shuddering animal roars and many combinations between – as well as the intricate picking technique of lead guitarist Ricardo Amorim. The camerawork and editing are also superb, capturing some unique angles while never resorting to showboat tricks or cheesy effects. Moonspell is also legendary for moody, atmospheric use of stage lighting, and the deep primary colors that wash over the band call to mind Argento’s Suspiria.Rounding out DVD 1 is “Graveyard Impressions,” and excellent interview with all band members – filmed, naturally, among the mausoleums and headstones of an impressive Portuguese necropolis. There’s also a collection of nearly all of the band’s official videos from the Century Media period, including the sexed-up “Butterfly FX” and their breakthrough “Everything Invaded,” which is designed to resemble a horror movie trailer (complete with a title and credit card at the end). Unfortunately the superb “I’ll See You In My Dreams” – which accompanied the award-winning zombie film of the same name – is absent from this collection, but you can see it in its entirety on the Fantasia Film Festival compilation DVD Small Gauge Trauma.The second disc is a treasure trove of archival material, broken into several “eras” from the band’s history. It’s not only a fun look back at the band’s evolution, but also shows how confident they must be today to be willing to reveal their bumpy but fascinating struggles to find their way through straight-up satanic pomposity to exotic “gypsy metal” to electro-infused Gothic rock, eventually settling into the progressive and epic mode that characterizes their current output. The archive begins with Moonspell’s first known recorded performance during a live rehearsal in 1992, and is followed by their hilarious first show, complete with a second vocalist (who mostly just broods in a corner of the stage) and a frighteningly large amount of pyro for such a small venue (in light of Great White’s fatal club catastrophe of 2003, I’m relieved Moonspell and their fans survived this phase of their career). Next up is the band’s gypsy incarnation (complete with dancing girls) as the opening act for fellow dark-metallers Cradle of Filth in 1994, and in support of legendary death-grind outfit Napalm Death the following year.In the late-1990s and early 2000s footage that follows, we see the band step fully into the European metal spotlight with their first headlining tours, often playing massive arenas complete with a full arsenal of varilights (distinct computer-controlled multi-color beams that can be directed in an infinite number of intricate patterns) and KISS-level pyrotechnics. Throughout these shows the sound and camerawork range from fairly decent to just plain awful, and you might find yourself skipping ahead in frustration... but it’s still worth watching to get a sense of the scope of the group’s presentation, which reveals just how big they’d become in a very short time.You can tell when Century’s presence as a power-player label begins to emerge with the professionally edited footage from the “Spreading the Eclipse” tour from 2003 to 2005 – evident in the “Full Force Anniversary” footage from the band’s appearances in Istanbul, Athens and other key European cities. It’s not at the level of the Katowice show, but it’s technically slick, despite some silly seizure-inducing edits.For its exhaustive coverage alone, Lusitanian Metal is a must-have for Moonspell fans… but it may manage to seduce curious dark-metal fans to the dark side as well. The band’s last two releases for SPV still rank as my all-time favorites, but it was older tracks like “Vampiria,” “Everything Invaded” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” that first drew me in, so I’ve been eager to get an overview of their work from that period; these discs not only satisfied that urge, but managed to whet my bloodlust for more of their back catalog… and I’m sure I’m not the only one gripped by that urge.