Album Title: As We Set The Skies Ablaze
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 22 July 2022
In so many ways, this has been a very tricky review to put together, but I think I have finally sorted through all my thoughts to bring it to you much later than I had hoped. Moonshade are a Portuguese quintet hailing from Oporto and they came to my attention thanks to the cover artwork that adorns ‘As We Set The Skies Ablaze’, their sophomore full-length. I’ve made it clear many times how important a cover can
be to me when sifting through the shelves in a record store or more latterly, the plethora of reviews that are thrust into my overflowing inbox. And Moonshade immediately made it impossible for me to ignore their release thanks to a really excellent album cover, even if I was a bit thrown by the band photo that suggests a much more radio-friendly experience than is actually the case.
Moonshade classify themselves as melodic extreme metal, but they are kidding no-one because the material on, is as melodeath as it comes. And this is the first issue that I need to deal with, because Moonshade are not an original-sounding band. Theirs is a style of music that borrows widely from many of their more well-known peers and, when you listen to ‘As We Set The Skies Ablaze’, you will no doubt hear many of the influences writ large within their compositions. The list is endless, but I hear bands like In Flames, Omnium Gatherum, Mors Pincipium Est, early Dark Tranquillity, to give you an initial flavour of what you might expect should you jump in and take a listen.
And originality aside, I would recommend you take a listen because on the whole, there are some very positive sounds that emerge, particularly if you spend a little time with it. Initially, I was teetering on the brink of dismissing Moonshade as a derivative clone of the genre’s more established forerunners, but with time, there is a definite quality and charm that shines through, especially in the first half of the album.
The album opens with a Gothic sounding spoken word line that feels a little incongruous when abutted to a fast-paced, energetic, and almost symphonic blast of highly melodic death metal, led by the dual guitars of Pedro Quelhas and Luís Dias and the powerfully precise drumming of session musician Diogo Mota, assisted by bassist Nuno Barbosa. The contrasting deliveries of vocalist Ricardo Pereira are impressive, from a higher-pitched dry rasp, to a deeper, more guttural growl, ensuring that the ‘extreme’ tag is well-placed. It also adds a certain amount of familiarity too, recalling Anders Fridén at his early best as well as others that are slightly more elusive to recall.
With the die cast and the colours of the band nailed firmly to the mast, they waste no time in trying to prove to us that theirs is a worthwhile endeavour. ‘Valley Of Dying Stars’ is an impressive composition that once again seeks to blend the symphonic elegance of the genre with a harder-hitting metallic core. The melodies within the song are some of the strongest and most immediate, whilst there’s an ubiquitous section that introduces clean vocals, adding the name of Amorphis to the ever increasing list of influences to be heard.
The fast picked riffs that dominate ‘Blood Of The Titans’ adds a slight black metal feel to the composition, whilst we’re treated to more welcome melody and a rather nice lead guitar solo that only adds to the entertainment levels for my personal tastes. However, easily my favourite song on the album arrives in the form of ‘The Shadows Of My Dissent’, that features a gorgeous chorus that’s slightly more of a sorrowful lament than anything that has gone before it, or indeed comes after. The composition just captures the right mood, and the deep growls of Ricardo Pereira, alongside some melancholic lead guitar lines add a sense of despair an anger to enhance the emotions within the song.
The jury remains out to some extent with what comes next though, in the shape of ‘Artemis’. It has a much more pronounced folk edge and also features guest vocals from Sandra Oliveira (Perennial Dawn). As good as she undoubtedly is, it messes with the Moonshade formula and the song becomes a much more straightforward affair with more basic ‘chugging’ riffs, meaning that it doesn’t hit as hard as it could. I’m also not a fan of the layered choral vocals that come across more as ‘gang’ vocals.
As the album develops, I do find my interest waning slightly; Moonshade definitely frontload ‘As We Set The Skies Ablaze’ with their strongest material and it shows towards the end of the record. They go from delivering tight four-minute tracks to near the six-minute mark and the result is a little more meandering and a little less punch. There are sections within ‘The Antagonist’ and the title track that I like, but I’m not sure that the extended run times are entirely warranted. And, within the title track, we get more gang style, shouted vocals that are not necessary as far as I’m concerned.
‘Everlasting Horizons’ is a much better song with a waltz-like tempo and rousing feel that plays to the band’s strengths a lot more, preventing the record from simply fizzling out disappointingly. In fact, when I look at the material objectively, I would say that there is a great deal of music on ‘As We Set The Skies Ablaze’ that is of a very high quality, massively outweighing the negative elements. It might not be original, it might sound a bit too familiar in places, and it might wear its influences on its sleeve , but there is a reason we all like the bands that I have referenced in this review – they all create good music. So, there’s no harm in letting Moonshade share a little of your love too, because I believe they deserve it. ‘As We Set The Skies Ablaze’ is a very solid and commendable slab of melodic death metal that I recommend you check out sooner rather than later.
The Score of Much Metal: 80%