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Alpha Noir

Napalm (2012)
Rating: 8/10

Portuguese metallers Moonspell return with Alpha Noir, an album that reinforces the idea that they are still, in fact, one of metal’s premier acts. Over the last decade, the band have increasingly pursued the gothic side of their sound to the point that many metal fans simply walked away thinking the band had lost interest. Not unlike brethren Paradise Lost and Amorphis though, Moonspell dig deep and craft a much heavier album than anyone expected.

Alpha Noir is a welcome revisit to the band’s early works and probably their most ferocious sounding since their debut, Wolfheart (1995). This is due in no small part to the guitar work. Throughout this album the guitars offer face melting riffs and wild soloing that lasts more than a few seconds here and there. Additionally, there is a ton of lead work happening at all times and it just makes everything bigger and angrier.

‘Axis Mundi’, ‘Lickanthrope’, the title track and ‘Love Is Blasphemy’ are perfect examples of how rockin’ this album gets. While they still maintain a gothic underpinning, the guitars and aggressive vocals that are at the fore command your attention. They have killer riff led verses with an explosive chorus that make you want to pump your leather studded wrist band laden fist in the air and sing along. I love most of Moonspell’s work but it’s been quite awhile since I could say the band moved me in that particular way.

For my money, ‘Opera Carne’ is the centrepiece here. It’s got some really memorable lead guitar pieces and a vocal that sounds like its wordsmith is being torn to pieces as he sings. When the chorus hits, it blankets you in Rammstein-esque gang vocals that sound like a million angry oppressed.

It’s not all upbeat here, don’t get me wrong. Fans of the bands last few albums will find traces of things to enjoy as well. Most notably, ‘Sine Misssione’ which has a very atmospheric feel to it that reminds me a bit of Sin / Pecado’s material (1998). ‘Em Nome do Medo’ is another moment that leans more to the gothier side, although its edges are still heavy.

To further showcase the band’s darker side, the limited edition version of Alpha Noir features a second disc that leans more towards the band’s more ever evolving gothic sound. ‘Versus’, with its underlying disco beat, and the forgettable ‘Grandstand’ are the only weak moments here.

Moonspell are one of those bands that always bring it but I was shocked to hear such an aggressive album from them as they seemed to have moved past this style a long time ago. If you are a fan of the first couple of albums and lost heart then you should come back asap. If you love the band’s output in the new millennium, you’ll still enjoy plenty of this but be sure to pick the special edition so you can feel entirely fulfilled.

Mark Fisher