MOONSPELL - HERMITAGE
Updated: Apr 4, 2021
IBERIAN MEN IN BLACK RETREAT TO THE DESERT WITH THEIR PINK FLOYD COLLECTION
For a band that have been active for the guts of 30 years, Moonspell can't be accused of stasis. Since emerging as a rough blackened doom band they have successfully developed into accessible gothic metal grandees always prepared to experiment with their sound. Although those experimentations have not always stood the test of time, their work was never formulaic. Hermitage is album number twelve and its most immediate songs come up first. The Greater Good has a cerebral, tense atmosphere redolent of a Tool album but with a rockier classic edge perhaps nearer a brooding Queensryche. The suspenseful build-up precedes a stamping piece of rock metal that is propelled by an undulating, hypnotic bassline and imperious guitars. There are ballsy stadium rock pretensions on Common Prayers, a strident, confident number where sonorous deep-voiced verses are inter-sectioned by a big breakaway chorus that is backed by unsettling yet rousing organs. It is a sleek, headbanging one-two to start where predominately clean singing gives way to harsh vocals near the end of each track, belying the band's heavier origins.
Then, a change in direction as All Or Nothing signals the first excursion into classic prog rock. It is an alluring, powerful clean guitar dreamscape that has Pink Floyd written all over it. The restrained, emotionally wrought vocals are used economically with guitar instrumentals and stratospheric soloing that will keep eyes closed and heads gently nodding along. The song's epic impact comes from keeping it focussed and restrained to the four minute mark rather than wandering off in an elongated prog odyssey. Similarly, Entitlement, co-opts wistful prog influences as an enhancer to an ethereal number than waltzes through both menacing gothic and uplifting rock shades. This dallying with prog tendencies eventually gives way completely and the band go on a full proggy traverse with Solitarian, a longer, enveloping instrumental mini-epic. It is a slightly curious interlude and the shimmering synths can stray into hackneyed territory but this is atoned for with a cool groove-led grindy finale.
Notably the harsh vocal style, a staple of the band's early career output, come into play only periodically with clean singing pervasive. Like modern-era Paradise Lost, it can be debatable when either vocal approach should be used to greatest effect. Occasionally - such as near the end of The Greater Good and Common Prayers - the harsh vocals are perhaps extraneous and used when no additional metallic crunch was needed to these already strong tracks. Elsewhere on the likes of the gruffer, heavier and more abrasive Hermitage, the throaty, coarse vocals are more apposite. Overall, however, the voice of Fernando Ribeiro is more commanding when it comes do dulcet cleans whether it be the hushed croons on the spooky Apophthegmata or his more bombastic bellow. Conversely the harsher style occasionally sounds a little forced and betrays the ravages of time.
Moonspell's brand of refined gothic rock is polished and stately like a blacked-out, dark coloured Bentley and the sheen of Hermitage is a mirror to human insignificance. The style has an air of controlled pomposity with a typically rich, sumptuous production sound and this is a sophisticated gothic rock collection. There is a definite and recurrent prog element that keeps materialising, like a ghost of a more foreboding Pink Floyd. The prog leanings are, though, encompassed sparingly and artfully rather than indulgently and the ship is kept relatively tight for a band who have often been fond of stylistic theatricality and thematic overstatement. In fact, it could even be said that Hermitage marks a stripped down, ascetic evolution. Gone is overblown grandiosity and orchestration in favour of a more reflective presentation based on self-imposed abandonment and physical and spiritual retreat. The song titles such as the title track and Hermit Saints confirm the anchorite narrative: 'We paid too much significance to things.." is the repeated refrain on Without Rule before the unfussy, quiet album closer of City Quitter (Outro). After 30 years and no little experimentation with their sound Hermitage is another advance by dialling down.