How ironic that the sunniest season of the year has yielded some of the darkest, gloomiest, evilest sounds to ever penetrate the crusty shadows of the FEARnet music catacombs? not that our pale-skinned legions venture above ground too often anyhow, but that?s beside the point, dammit! Musically speaking, Summer 2008 has definitely spilled forth a bounty of spooky treats ? and among the sweetest of all is this bloody confection from Portugal?s venomous virtuosos of Metal.
I stumbled across Moonspell relatively late in the game by way of their stunning accompaniment to Miguel Angel Vivas?s impressive zombie short I?ll See You In My Dreams ? which made quite a bloody splash at 2004?s FantAsia Film Festival, taking home the prize for Best Short Film. The song itself, a cover of a Gus Kahn crooner from the early ?20s, seemed an oddly romantic diversion for what I thought was a full-on Gothic Metal combo? but I chalk that up to my noob-ish naiveté about Moonspell?s creative output at the time.
As it turns out, darkly romantic themes inform much of the band's material, an aspect I soon discovered with the 2006 release of Memorial ? which turned out to be one of the most amazing Metal albums I?d heard in a long time. But since the band?s been around for something like two decades, I realized I was in for some serious catch-up.
Having released a half-dozen albums for Century Media since the mid-?90s (they?re now on SPV), Moonspell already enjoys a massive, loyal following in Europe, and continue to build a strong and steady cult in the US? but it was Memorial that really kicked them into high gear. The first-ever Metal album to sell gold in Portugal, it snagged the group high critical praise and blasted them up from the underground.
A couple of retrospective releases followed: Under Satanae contains remastered recordings of early material that not only show how their sound has evolved over the years, but demonstrates how the sinister sonic seed had been planted and nurtured early on. This, combined with greatest-hits compilation The Great Silver Eye, serves as an ideal overview for a Johnny-come-lately like yours truly to get exposed to the band?s creative arc? so I'd know where the hell I was coming from when I tackled their latest epic, Night Eternal.
Granted, you don?t have to know anything about Moonspell to appreciate this cosmos-shredding masterwork. In fact, I'd suggest it might even serve as a perfect portal to the demonic delights this band has to offer. Musically as grandiose and eerily atmospheric as its predecessor, Night Eternal almost feels like the second half of a thematic series, continuing the same larger-than-life production style, complete with soaring keyboard passages, intense but catchy riffs and a broad vocal spectrum delivered with consummate skill by singer & lyricist Fernando Ribeiro. The only noticeable digression from the previous album is a tighter focus on heavier death riffs, the occasional guitar solo and more pronounced percussion (the double-kick really hits the gut this time around), with slightly less emphasis on symphonic atmospheres and more naked aggression.
There's still plenty of moody ambiance to spare, as evident in opening cut ?At Tragic Heights,? but the keyboard passages (accompanied by Ribeiro quoting from Revelations) are more of an overture to the principal action, and the song soon kicks into violent riffage from guitarist Ricardo Amorim. The intensity continues at the same level for the subsequent title track, but ramps up to its peak with the insanely powerful ?Shadow Sun? ? a masterpiece of roller-coaster dynamics that ascends from deep arpeggios to a primal main riff that will bite into your skull like a bone-saw, woven perfectly with vampiric vocals that alternately seduce and terrify, often in the same breath. ?Moon in Mercury? runs a close second for sheer fire-breathing intensity, particularly in the vocal delivery.
Night Eternal is not all about spine-crushing riffs, however. A grandly romantic heart still beats within this evil creation, as evident in the first single ?Scorpion Flower? ? a companion of sorts to ?Luna? from the previous album, again featuring a duet between Ribeiro and a female guest singer. This time it's Anneke van Giersbergen (formerly of The Gathering) lending her haunting, ethereal voice to the proceedings, and the end result is operatic in its scope. Together with Satanic love ballad ?Dreamless,? it recalls the sweeping Gothic output of the band's middle period.
Closing track ?First Light? is another breathtaking achievement, driven by Amorim's excellent riffs (and an effective solo), a bombastic chorus (buoyed mightily by accompaniment from the Crystal Mountain Singers) and the full range of Ribeiro's vocal skills, which begin with a come-hither spoken passage and explode into snarls of fury and triumph. It's an explosive close to a focused and powerful body of work ? one which belongs in any collection of extreme music.
Although a downloadable version of the standard album is available, I?d recommend you pony up the extra few bucks for the Special Edition CD, which not only includes bonus and remixed tracks (including the unbelievably awesome ?Age of Mothers?), but also tosses in a bonus DVD of live perfs from the 2007 Wacken Open Air and videos from two Memorial singles ? ?Finisterra? includes a making-of feature, and the sweetly sinister animated short ?Luna,? in which a Goth rag-doll undergoes a chillingly beautiful transformation.
Like me, if you?re less drawn toward the band?s earliest Black Metal days or their mystic/Gothic middle period ? in other words, if Memorial was the hook by which Moonspell finally snagged you ? then Night Eternal will be the one to reel you in completely. If I were to continue the fishing metaphor, then I?d say this album will fillet your soul and fry it in a light herbed breading, served with a delicate Sancerre.
But enough of the snooty critique. Rest assured Night Eternal will rock your ass right out of your distressed leather pants. Not content to coast on that statement based on the album alone, I hope to follow up this review after hearing some of these songs performed live ? this Halloween, in fact, when Moonspell join evil icons Dimmu Borgir and several other acts in support of Danzig?s aptly-named ?Blackest of the Black? tour. If I survive, you?ll read all about it here. If I don?t? well, you?ll probably be reading about that too.