Legendary Portuguese gothic metallers Moonspell are back with their twelfth studio album, 1755. This is a special album for the band: it is a concept album dealing with the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. And in an effort to give the material increased emotion, the album is sung entirely in Portuguese. Does it work?
For the most part, yes. Fernando Ribeiro sings the album using his harsher style, more like the band’s old black metal days, giving the songs a raw edge. I don’t speak Portuguese, but the band were kind enough to provide an English lyric sheet, and the tones, inflections, and feelings of the vocals do seem to convey the tragedy, panic, and confusion of the lyrics nicely (even with Ribeiro’s lack of variance, which I’ll touch on later).
Musically, this is an aggressive record. There are plenty of orchestral moments throughout, starting with the epic opening track “Em Nome Do Medo” and popping up in many other songs, but for the most part this is a pure heavy metal record. Even the gothic overtones are more accents than emphases – one has to listen closely with that focus in mind to catch the gothic sides of songs (massive choirs notwithstanding). It’s a multilayered and complex album, to be sure, but heavy nonetheless.
As with previous albums, 1755 is produced by Tue Madsen (Meshuggah, Dark Tranquillity), and the music really comes to life throughout. Drums explode forth from the speakers, guitars cut through the mix like razors, strings and choirs are appropriately majestic. Bassist Aires Pereira loves his chorus pedal, making his playing sound a lot like Tool’s Justin Chancellor.
Capping things off is a performance on “In Tremor Dei” (Fear of God in English) by Fado vocalist Paulo Braganca, who offers haunting, sorrowful counterpoints to Ribeiro’s harshness. The song is one of several high points on the record, along with “Desastre” and “Evento,” which is one of the band’s heavier songs. Album closer “Lanterna Dos Afogados” hits the mark, with its piano intro and ponderous, epic arrangement.
There are a couple of missteps here, of course. No album is perfect. “1 De Novembro” misses the mark, sounding too “normal” compared to many of the other tracks, and Ribeiro’s insistence of singing almost everything harshly can get tiresome. A few moments of restraint (notably in the finale) would have ramped up the tension of the subject matter.
1755 is an excellent release from Moonspell, definitely one of their stronger, more aggressive outings since the days when they were more of a black metal band. Ribeiro’s growled vocals (and lack of variety) may turn off some fans, but the lush production and excellent songwriting overcome this.
(released November 3, 2017 on Napalm Records)