Moonspell - Alpha Noir

Napalm Records
Produced by Tue Madsen

Moonspell's debut for Napalm Records is a somewhat difficult move. The last few years have been somewhat schizophrenic for the Portuguese goth metal pioneers. On one hand, they've been keen to highlight their heritage, especially the band's first two albums –Wolfheart and Irreligious. These are the two albums that have the most prestige from their back catalogue. On the other hand, Moonspell's recent releases have not been without acclaim of their own; Night Eternal was very well received from new and older fans, moving the band into heavier territory without taking away from their variety.

This duality – fitting for a band so obsessed with werewolves and old horror stories – is reflected notably in the release of Alpha Noir and Omega White. The former is the band's aggressive and heavier side, the latter presumably the softer and more delicate end of Moonspell's nature. Splitting their material in this way certainly has its drawbacks, not least of which is how these two albums are being released. Rather than being released consistently as a double-CD set, or as two separate albums, Omega White is being released as a bonus CD with limited edition versions of Alpha Noir. This is somewhat confusing – should we assume that Omega White is nothing more than extended bonus track fodder? And if it's meat to be an equal to Alpha Noir, why release it in this fashion? Is this extra album worth the extra coins?

Alpha Noir on its own does betray some of the band's intentions, even if perhaps not the label's. A consistent with recent Moonspell albums has been their diversity; ranging from aggressive extreme metal through to goth metal crooning. Alpha Noir does not have this trait; it is an album with a singular sound, a singular formula, and singular intention. Moonspell have clearly got in touch with some of their roots and influences, less extreme than Night Eternal but still having something of a more punk-like edge in the way the material is delivered. Alpha Noir is sharp and often to the point, and has very little room for filler (unlike Memorial, which had plenty). Every track has the same type of sound, centred on simple but memorable guitar melodies and accompanied by Fernando Ribeiro's harsh but charismatic snarl. His singing is rare and infrequent, unlike even the heaviest of Moonspell albums. There's certainly the odd move away the sound, but they aren't large shifts nor enduring.

That being said, whilst Alpha Noir delivers just one side of Moonspell, that's not to say that Alpha Noir isn't good. Nothing quite has the epic scope of Full Moon Madness, the gothic charm of Opium, the grand majesty of Scorpion Flower nor the sheer terror of Night Eternal. But songs like Lickanthrope, Versus, En Nome Do Medo, etc. have a certain groove to them, simple yet still quite identifiable. Regardless of the end result as a completed album, Moonspell are still excellent songwriters – and Alpha Noir most certainly has great songs.

The problem though is that there are too few - not including the final instrumental, only eight songs. It also isn't an album with much structure – it doesn't have much of a conclusion, nor much of an introduction, and far too often feels like just a collection of songs rather than a real album. This, combined with the album's much more concise style, would most certainly lead the listener to believe this album wasn't meant to be without its sister release. One hopes that Omega White fills the holes left by Alpha Noir, and as Moonspell are on the whole a band of high quality, one has few doubts that it will. It just seems bizarre that Alpha Noir would be released on its own at all.

“ just one side of Moonspell ”

Tracklist: Axis Mundi / Lickanthrope / Versus / Alpha Noir / En Nome Do Medo / Opera Carne / Love is Blasphemy / Grand Stand / Sine Missione

Written by James Donovan
More: 2012, Albums, Gothic,

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