Artist: Moonspell

Album Title: 1755

Label: Napalm Records

Date Of Release: 3 November 2017

I’ve had a soft spot for Moonspell ever since I heard the awesome ‘Irreligious’ back when I was a teenager. Songs like ‘Opium’, ‘Awake’ and the full-on epic majesty of closer ‘Full Moon Madness’ really captured my imagination. The rich, moody timbre of vocalist Fernando Ribeiro made an indelible impression on me, as did the bold Gothic imagery and heavy instrumentation. However, as brilliant as ‘Irreligious’ is, it took until 2015 and the release of ‘Extinct’ for the Portuguese Gothic metal xtet to hit somewhere near to the heights reached some 20 years ago.

The hope is that the follow-up to ‘Extinct’ maintains the momentum or, even better, increases it. Entitled ‘1755’ album number eleven focuses on the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year and, as the press release states, “the band has developed a lyrical concept that looks into the death and rebirth of Lisbon and how the disaster changed Religion, Politics and Philosophy in the whole of Europe.”

What’s more, it is sung entirely in Portuguese. This fact alone might scare off a few possible suitors and maybe even some long-term fans. But not me, because I love it when bands embrace their mother tongue, whatever that might be. More often than not, it sounds more sincere, more effortless and, whilst I may not be able to understand the lyrics, you can’t mistake the added passion that it often conveys.

In the case of ‘1755’, this is most definitely the case. Ribeiro sounds alive like never before. His naturally commanding delivery has a fierce determination, a sorrow and a vibrancy that shines through the material in equal measure. But it isn’t just the vocals where this is the case; the entire content of ‘1755’ is full of the same enormous resonance, to the point that it is impossible to ignore.

Without doubt, ‘1755’ is a bold and ambitious work, but Moonspell have risen to the task and more besides. Despite having access to the English lyrics, I have decided to refrain from translating any of the material. ‘1755’ is sung in Portuguese for a reason, and that’s how it shall remain within this review.

The trade mark Gothic metal overtones have not disappeared at all, but the material on this record has been given the full symphonic, bombastic treatment. The orchestral elements that fittingly bathe large swathes of ‘1755’ lend the compositions a sense of drama, intensity and grandeur. When coupled with the dark and often horrific subject matter, it creates a hugely powerful soundtrack. Indeed, you can sense that this record is, in many ways, more than just the next record in a band’s career – it is the exploration of a true event that has enormous historical and cultural significance to Moonspell and their Portuguese roots.

This opus begins with ‘Em Nome Do Medo’ and it is instantly recognisable as Moonspell. The hushed voice of Ribeiro cuts through a dark, claustrophobic Gothic soundscape full of clandestine atmosphere. But then, rather than cut loose with full metal power, instead, the track develops into a grand orchestrated composition. Ribeiro still growls with anger and intent throughout, but aside from a few subtle, acoustic guitars, it is dominated by the orchestration courtesy of Jon Phipps and layers of choir vocals. The sense of drama is fantastic, as you feel like you’re listening to a soundtrack to a beautiful nightmare. The melodies counteract the sense of malevolence expertly, and after a few spins, it makes sense and fast becomes a firm favourite.

The sense of theatre via the orchestration and the keyboards of Pedro Paixão continues throughout ‘1755’, playing a significant role in how the record ultimately sounds. However, with the introduction of the title track, we are treated to our first blast of Moonspell in metal mode. And it’s great. The band hinted several months ago that ‘1755’ might be a heavier album than some of their previous outings and they weren’t kidding. The guitars of Pedro Paixão and Ricardo Amorim deliver some chunky riffs and venomous lead lines, whilst Aires Pereira (bass) and Miguel Gaspar (drums) provide a commanding and forceful rhythmic spine. The chorus is huge and epic-sounding in the extreme, whilst the hint of Middle Eastern melodies elsewhere is intriguing.


If anything, ‘In Tremor Dei’ is even better. The Gothic trappings with which Moonspell are so effortlessly conversant come to the fore, albeit cloaked in the fineries of the bold, atmospheric symphonics. Again, after a couple of close listens, the melodies burst forth and become irresistible, particularly in the rousing chorus which transforms the track into a haunting anthem. And to top things off, Moonspell invite guest vocalist Paulo Bragança to add his distinctive clean tones to the song, an intriguing counterpoint to Ribeiro’s gruff approach.

Elsewhere ‘Desastre’ is a formidable and muscular piece of heavy Gothic metal that packs a punch in its surprisingly short life span of under three-and-a-half minutes. It has an energy to it that sucks you in and then it blossoms in the latter stages into a hugely memorable track dominated by huge melodies. ‘Abanão’ is one of the most uncompromising compositions, whilst ‘Evento’ is one of the most varied and complex offerings on the album. It undulates from bombastic to quiet and atmospheric with a deftness that is both subtle and sophisticated.

‘1 De Novembro’ is slightly different in tone however. The symphonic overtones remain, although there is more of a carefree feel to it, more of a ‘normal’ heavy metal track if I can refer to it as such. The tolling bells that are a penchant of Moonspell make a brief return within ‘Ruínas’, as do the vaguely Middle Eastern melodies that surfaced earlier in the record. The closing moments of the song take the plaudits though, as it is nothing short of anthemic, led by some exuberant lead guitar playing.

‘Todos Os Santos’, for pretty much the first time on ‘1755’, introduces something approaching an uplifting tone, albeit relatively fleetingly. The chorus sounds like it could be the sound of defiance and a resounding cry of love for their homeland, wrapped up in a heady swirling flurry of guitars, strong rhythms and passionate vocals, led as always, by the irrepressible Ribeiro.

Not for the first time (‘Full Moon Madness’ anyone?), Moonspell leave the best until last, in the form of the sensational ‘Lanterna Dos Afogados’. Opening with a rich and melancholy piano melody, it then explodes at slow pace with some fierce guitars and some gorgeous orchestration. Ribeiro whispers his lamentations as the track returns to quieter, darker climes before the rumbling bass of Pereira leads the almost ballad-like slow-burner into another section of restrained power. The eerie synth and drum-led segment around the mid-way point is dark and unsettling, but soon the soothing, plaintive and thoroughly beautiful melodies resurface, digging their sorrowful claws into you whether you want them to or not. Ribeiro allows his clean voice to emerge, the choir vocals add a morose gravitas and the sparingly-used lead guitar solo sends shivers down my spine. It isn’t love at first listen, but after a few spins, it is downright impossible not to fall for the subtle but enormous charms of this incredibly complex and intelligent composition.

Speaking as someone who regards ‘Irreligious’ as a top 20 album of all-time, it is a joy as well as a surprise to be thinking of ‘1755’ in the same bracket. But it would be hugely uncharitable to not do so, such is the quality of this superb release. ‘1755’ is clearly a hugely important album for Moonspell, not least because of the subject matter that it explores. But musically, ‘1755’ is almost perfect too. The bombast, the cinematic drama, the power and the melody all combine perfectly to create some of the best music of Moonspell’s career. On this form, Moonspell are an utter joy to listen to.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vhPdKCNpGc&w=560&h=315]

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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