Portuguese gothic metallers Moonspell return with their new album Alpha Noir to confirm themselves as one of the more important bands of the genre not that we needed reminding. Once more bringing their distinctly powerful dark world and sound the band offers an arguably more intense and inflammable energy within Alpha Noir to leave one enthralled, thrilled and very satisfied. Though not a dramatic step forward from previous acclaimed album Night Eternal, the band has found a rawer edge and darker definition that intimidates as much as it captivates. As always the band challenges with and invites one into the well crafted and thought out songs, bringing intrusively provocative and openly catchy, melodies, grooves, and intensity.
Since their excellent and inspirational debut Wolfheart in 1995 and the equally impactful Irreligious the year after, Moonspell has continually through its twenty year existence forged their own path and sound for others to contemplate and be inspired by. They have never followed but instigated trends and with their ninth album and first release since the 2008 Night Eternal, are pushing their and the genre bar higher again. It may not be a massive rise but it is distinct and very rewarding for all who dive into the heavy blackened atmosphere of Alpha Noir.
The album, recorded with returning producer Tue Madsen (The Haunted, Dark Tranquillity, Halford), is also the first with their new label Napalm Records and is a very strong way to start this new union. Consisting of nine varied and excellently crafted tracks Alpha Noir swoops upon the senses as if they were prey with the impressive dark atmospheric class and grace they are noted for, the deep and striking melodic creativity they are admired for, and a formidable might and intent that they have always inspired with. This time though there is a coarser edge, an extra darkness and raw energy to it all that at first makes one tiny step back before the sounds consume and fulfil.
The album starts powerfully with the opening Axis Mundi and the following Lickanthrope, both songs opening up the senses and ears perfectly though neither finds the spark to truly ignite the passions, though that is remedied further into the release. The first song confidently strides into view on a sonic atmospheric introduction. As its pace and intensity quickens and the rhythms of Miguel Gaspar dazzle the ears with mesmeric effect the guitars search out every corner of its recipient with sharp melodies and cutting riffs. Group chants elevate the moment before vocalist Fernando Ribeiro growls and scowls his lyrics to great effect. The guitars of Ricardo Amorim and Pedro Paixão expand the song with their creative and imaginative play whilst Aires Pereira proves himself to be one of the more striking bassists as he prowls and pulsates through this and every track.
The following wolf homage Lickanthrope continues the good start with a more restrained intensity and pace but still has plenty to rile up the senses with, the keyboard sounds of Paixão adding a good depth but it is after its final howl that the album finds an incendiary like touch. The excellent Versus lights things up with a quite minimal start reminding of 80’s gothic bands before the sounds and members unite into a pulsating and persistent scorched examination of the ear. The intrusive acidic groove the song attaches itself with is infectious and works with relish alongside the increasing intensity which ebbs and flows but constantly builds. This great song is eclipsed by the best on the album in the title track. Alpha Noir is stunning, a muscle flexing predatory beast that ignites each and every sense and synapse, stripping them down and laying heavy towering riffs, barbaric rhythms, and incisive guitar manipulations upon the soreness. With essences of vehement black metal dripped onto the ailing senses for good measure and further explosive guitar play it is a deep and true treat to succumb to.
The whole album is of great quality with the likes of Love is Blasphemy with its Sisters Of Mercy groove, the magnetically grooved Grandstand, and the closing atmospheric instrumental Sine Missione with its epic and majestic soundscape, all leaving one deeply satisfied and happy. To be over critical maybe not enough of the songs lit the fuse within to make it a classic but that is more down to personal taste and it is without doubt that Alpha Noir is an immense release.
Also available in a deluxe edition with a second companion CD Ómega White made up of eight songs that offer homage to their Type O Negative and Sisters Of Mercy roots, Alpha Noir is a mighty and excellent release whilst Moonspell continue to be one of the most influential gothic metal bands.