Who was your gateway band? The one that got you into metal, the one you blame for this obsession that never goes away? Mine was Nightwish; the idea that you could combine orchestral and metal concepts together swept me away completely, and for a while, symphonic metal was all I could listen to. Today, however, I only listen to the band rarely, and I believe the genre is sadly stagnated. But while navigating the depths of the promo bin, I found myself drawn to it once again and decided that my first “official” review around here1 should pay homage to that exhilarating initial experience. Enter Mooncult, the sophomore album from Finnish band Silver Bullet, an orchestral monster that tells a story loosely based around the North Berwick witch trials.
I’m happy to say that Mooncult defies the shortcomings of its genre by striking a deft balance between its orchestral and heavy elements. Orchestra is still the king here, but riffs are the crown prince, their prominence giving Mooncult an edge that helps it to stand out from its contemporaries. Hannes Horma (ex-Turisas) and Henri Asikainen offer terrific performances on guitars, from heavy riffing to speedy solos and electric leads, while Ossi Elonen and Patrik Albrecht’s bass and drumming round out the bottom end with aplomb. Every song sounds as though it was written as power metal first, and the band added the orchestral elements after. If you were to strip away the orchestral extravaganza, you’d be left with a power metal album that’s still worth listening to.
But, of course, you can’t strip away the orchestral extravaganza, because it is a huge component of Mooncult’s aesthetic. Very few of the album’s fifty-six minutes pass without some kind of symphonic element present. On the subtle side are songs like “The Witches Hammer,” where this is largely confined to backing strings that add to the urgency of the whole. On the other side of the fence are songs like “She Holds The Greatest Promise,” which embellishes its leads and choruses with orchestral hits and a choir section that’s dedicated to burrowing its way into your head, where it will be chanting the titular lyric for the rest of the day. Not that Nils Nordling (vocals, ex-Dreamtale) needs the help exactly; his delivery navigates smoothly between aggressive verses, melodic choruses, and grim narrations. I imagine he could carry the album’s many catchy choruses on his own, but nearly every one is better for its orchestral enhancement. What makes Mooncult so endearing as an album is that, despite the excess and the cheese that naturally comes with the territory, it sounds fresh, fun, and memorable.
I have only one major complaint to level against Mooncult, and it’s largely tied to the album’s length. The album starts at a sprint, exciting and promising all at once, and never really slows down. There’s no obligatory ballad, no truly bad song, and no shortage of creative ideas. Mooncult is a very detailed album that clearly took time and passion to create, and I have huge respect for the end result. Around halfway through the album, however, “The Chalice And The Blade” and “Burn The Witch” show up. Like the rest of Mooncult, these are strong songs with catchy leads, strong choruses, and great performances. Unlike the rest of Mooncult, however, each one is seven minutes long, and each has me checking around the four-to-five minute mark to see if it’s nearly over. Fifty-six minutes of constant in-your-face extravaganza is a lot. The album starts strong and finishes strong, and is filled with great music, but it’s a lot to listen to all at once. With an album this detailed and big, ear fatigue quickly becomes a real issue.
If an album is going to have only one major issue though, “too much” is a pretty good one. I have to admit, I have the bar set pretty low for symphonic (power) metal. Silver Bullet took that bar and threw it at me2. For the first time in a long time, I am genuinely looking forward to the future activities of a symphonic metal band, and that is a really exciting feeling.