Moonspell – 1755 – Album Review

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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.

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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

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black
Communic – Where Echoes Gather
Impureza – La Caida De Tonatiuh
Auđn – Farvegir Fyrndar
Beast In Black – Berserker
Serenity – Lionheart
Sorcerer – The Crowning of the Fire King
Daydream XI – The Circus of the Tattered and Torn
CyHra – Letters To Myself
Devoid – Cup of Tears
Ne Obliviscaris – Urn
Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony
Enslaved – E
Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

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