Moonspell – Hermitage Review

Once upon a time, Portugal’s Moonspell was the Gothic metal elite. Wolfheart and Irreligious, Memorial and Night Eternal—these are albums I lose myself in. Going from simple to bombastic, Moonspell‘s goth sound has evolved a lot in the last 25+ years. By 2017’s 1755, it was as big and complex as ever. It was all Portuguese and used The Great Lisbon Earthquake as its theme. 1755 was a grand effort but it didn’t all work. With 2021, comes something different. In these times of isolation, the band has come to the realization that their time is coming to an end. A statement that saddens me to read. But Moonspell feels they still have a little more juice left in them. This retrospection has resulted in a new focus—a focus to buckle down and use their remaining time as a band to pump out the best songs possible. Along with that, they”ve cut the fat off Hermitage. The keys, the sad vocals, the gothic melodicness is still intact, it’s the orchestrations that are gone. Like the band’s good ole days. But, stripped to barebones, is the band even capable of recreating their greatest moments?

In short: no. The band’s last best effort continues to be Extinct1. And, even that album has its issues. As the band described, Hermitage is indeed stripped and cleaned. While it’s refreshing to hear them shake off the cloak of excess, it’s quite the about-face. As I sit here listening to the band’s first two albums, I hear that simple sound in Hermitage. The only difference here is that Ribeiro ain’t no spring chicken. That’s clear when the harsh vocals arrive in opener “The Greater Good.” The man is getting old and that aggressiveness he once had is waning. Though, he did have some surprising umph on songs like Extinct‘s fantastic opener, “Breathe (Until We Are No More).” Unfortunately, the harshness of “The Greater Good” is jarring. That said, he takes to it again for the back-half number, “Apophthegmata,” and it works. Like the opener, it’s a classic mix of Moonspell‘s dark, haunting, and intense character. It’s just a more pleasant version of it than “The Greater Good.”

When I say the album is stripped down, I don’t mean it’s without riffs. Songs like “The Hermit Saints” and the title track channel headbangable moments and heavy, plodding riffage. “Hermitage,” in particular, is a tasty cut, with plenty of groove and powerful vox. “The Hermit Saints” bleeds of heavy gothicness, with a pre-chorus/chorus combo that reminds me of the vocal approach to Night Eternal. “Common Prayers” is another with an enjoyable riff and big, memorable vocals. Like the other two songs, Ribeiro is at his best, letting beautiful cleans soar as only he can do. Unfortunately, “Common Prayers” suffers in its mid-region. Feeling like a forced transition, I can’t wait for it to be over and return to the main riffage of the song.

Sadly, there’s more of that on the album, if not in slightly different ways. For instance, the mid-point instrumental, “Solitarian,” is truly solitary. It stands alone as the most boring track on the album. It’s moody and clearly an intended intermission, but it has no redeeming qualities. Something I can’t say about closer “City Quitter.” This short album outro is a beautiful, gentle piano piece with a sinister atmosphere. In the world of Moonspell goth, it works well to conclude the record. That said, the song before it almost ruins it. With a gallop and a vocal approach that reminds me of the Melvins, I don’t get “Without Rule.” It’s definitely the black sheep here and feels like it would be better suited as a bonus track rather than a dedicated piece.

All in all, I don’t hate Hermitage. Maybe it’s the love I have for the band. Perhaps it’s the passion they can still display even in the least likely places. But, Hermitage is a mixed bag. Displaying strong moments and following them up with weak ones. It’s the same build-up as a best friend coming over for a beer and then to say, twenty minutes later, they can’t make it because of work. Or, it’s like the sharp rise and fall of an EKG. At least it’s not a flatline, but, as a long-time fan, I like the direction they are taking. Time permitting, I hope they stick with it and drop the ultimate Moonspell swansong.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: Fookin’ Stream | Format Reviewed: Streamy Shit
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: moonspell.bandcamp.com | moonspell.com | facebook.com/moonspellband
Releases Worldwide: February 26th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. No pun intended.
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