Moonshade – As We Set the Skies Ablaze Review

I always give more attention to a new or upcoming musical release when it comes with a sickening art square to drool over. Yet, I have witnessed time after time that attraction kills. Countless unbearable records disguised in fine tuxedos stabbed me in the back over the years. Still, I never learn my lesson. To that end, Portugal’s unsung melodeath quartet Moonshade managed to snatch my eyes in record time with what I consider to be my current favorite album artwork so far in 2022, commissioned for their self-released sophomore record As We Set the Skies Ablaze. I stubbornly held my faith that a quality first impression like this would yield a wealth of quality content down the line. My faith was duly rewarded.

Moonshade treads a fine line between derivation and imitation with their brand of melodeath. Primarily pulling from the teachings of such stalwarts as Omnium Gatherum and latter-day Amorphis, As We Set the Skies Ablaze combines emotive guitar leads with chunky riffing and easily digestible, hooky song structures. Drummer Fernando Maia’s dynamic rhythmic patterns recall In Mourning, while keyboardist Nuno Barbosa’s melodies and dramatic flourishes hark to Countless Skies. Ricardo’s vocals span the gamut: a fairly standard growl; an absolutely vitriolic shriek highly reminiscent of Genus Ordinis Dei; and competent clean vocals. Together, these elements allow Moonshade to craft an album that’s sure to sound familiar, while still offering high-quality melodeath worthy of placement in your roster.

As We Set the Skies Ablaze’s greatest assets are its guitar melodies. Whether I encounter Pedro Quelhas’ and Luís Dias’ understated but beautiful guitarwork1 in the form of a trem-picked phrase or a harmonized lead, one thing remains consistent: every example is a winner. In fact, listening to their artful performances brings me back to my in-depth sessions with Vorga’s release early in the year, where a fantastic lick or invigorating solo was always around the corner. Opener “Epitaph,” “Valley of Dying Stars,” “Blood of the Titans,” “Artemis,” and “The Antagonist” all shine in this regard. Thankfully, damn near every riff and rhythm providing the driving force behind the leads nearly matches them in playfulness (see: “As We Set the Skies Ablaze” and “Blood of the Titans”), which only invigorates the experience further.

With time, I also began to notice how well-paced As We Set the Skies Ablaze is. It begins with a bang—effortlessly hooking me in for the ride—and keeps that momentum up through the first third before introducing a major tempo change. In conjunction with that shift, Moonshade introduces a new element, moody clean vocals, and uses that new voice as a through-line, cohering the midsection. From that builds a huge climax in “The Antagonist” that makes spines melt and hearts burst. One more dramatic shift allows all of the elements introduced thus far to mingle and frolic for the final third. To finish, a softer exit (“A Treatise of Human Nature”) gives me the opportunity to descend gently from the blazing sky.

On the other hand, I remain conflicted about a few key attributes. Firstly, Ricardo’s scream is full of vim and vigor, and there are plenty of metal vocalists out there who should be jealous of it. However, they occasionally sound at odds with the instrumentation, at least in tone. Secondly, it often feels like I can’t hear the bass guitar until at least one other instrument gives it space to shove forward. At some points that’s simply due to the fact that certain bass lines closely follow the bass drum’s pattern of attack. Even accounting for that condition, I prefer a bit more obvious bass presence. Lastly, there simmers an underlying concern that Moonshade’s style very closely resembles that of more seasoned bands. I feel they have shown several of their counterparts up in terms of quality to compensate for those eerie resemblances, but others might not be so kind. Be warned, this album may sound familiar—at times, a little too familiar.

All in all, I’m glad I trusted my lust for visual eye candy with Moonshade. As We Set the Skies Ablaze turned out to be a very good melodic death metal record that earns the right to bear that gorgeous cover. With infectious leads, passionate performances and incredible pacing, Moonshade’s sophomore record proves that the Portuguese upsets have a bright future ahead of them.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 22nd, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Bass guitar was uncredited, so I assume one of these two bandmates handled the bass as well as a standard guitar.
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