On their 13th album in 25 years, Portuguese goth metal trailblazers Moonspell still find new permutations on their rich, elegant, eclectic signature sound, stressing different sonic priorities from album to album – sometimes, as on Hermitage, from song to song. It’s an approach that guards against stagnation and formula, yet whenever a new advance cut drops, there’s always a tier of listeners apparently flummoxed because the new song doesn’t sound like the last album.
In this case, brooding opener The Greater Good reintegrates the softer textures and clean vocals largely absent from 2017’s 1755 – a narrative concept album about the titular year’s Lisbon earthquake, with obvious artistic demands for more extreme, dramatic atmospherics. Right away Hermitage is a more opaque, enigmatic, reflective experience – “this album is all about how we feel”, comments frontman Fernando Ribeiro – sensitive and profound but with a brutal sting in its tail, where wistful melodies and placid quietude give way to infectious, frosty metallic riffing and vein-popping growls.
Advance buzz suggested that Moonspell had gone all Pink Floyd, but really, Moonspell have stayed all Moonspell; the quintet have been flirting with the progressive dynamics of light and shade and harmony and dissonance for many years, but Hermitage ramps up the capital-P-prog, nailing it with aplomb. With their mellow, hazy acoustics and pensive languor, All Or Nothing and Solitarian explicitly prise open a portal back to the era of scrutinising gatefolds by the light of a lava lamp, and Entitlement augments its melancholic beauty with shimmering Mellotron.
But the icy crunch of a cosmic dark metal riff is never far away, most satisfyingly on The Hermit Saints, Fernando bellowing his heart out with windswept intensity. Arguably the band’s most artfully balanced recording, this is your one-stop shop for everything Moonspell are good at.