If the naysayers are to be believed, Portugal’s MOONSPELL only released one album worth owning, that being the band’s much-lauded “Wolfheart” album. As good as that album is, and as hit-or-miss some of the subsequent albums have been, I think these guys have actually done a lot of things right in recent years. “Memorial” was a massive step back in the right direction, with its deft balance of Blackened atmospherics and gritty Death touches fully purging the somewhat foul taste left by some of their meandering Goth pomp of the late 90s/early 2000s. “Night Eternal” continued this resurgence, incorporating even more Prog touches into the mix, and of course the “Under Satanae” retrospective collection sated the thirst of those who clamoured for the band’s ancient DAEMONARCH-era material. So, when word came that a new album was on the way this reviewer was nothing if not supremely optimistic.
Queue forward a handful of listens to “Alpha Noir”, and a distinct feeling of disappointment has crept into the equation. By no means is this a terrible album, but I cannot help but feel that it is a bit of a step back for the band. Chief among the problems is the band’s decision to substitute the dark moodiness of “Memorial” and “Night Eternal” for a more sterile modern-sounding brand of Goth-Rock. Sure, these elements have always been part of the band’s sound but whereas the previous few albums tempered it with healthy doses of Black and Death Metal, this one leans far too much in the direction of safe Goth-Rock in the vein of modern-day TIAMAT and the like.
In spite of Fernando Ribeiro’s potent growls and more than a handful of really punchy riffs, the majority of the songs on here display a serious lack of, well, balls. Catchy moments abound, especially on the driving riff-heavy title track and “Versus” (I’m loving that part where Ribeiro growls “I’m thinking vultures ripping the flesh, smashing the bone!” over a steady semi-industrial beat), but ultimately the songs lack substance. It’s all just a tad too simplistic. See the totally worthless “Grandstand “ and “Sine Missione” for sterling examples of the latter. At best, some songs approach an acceptable level of THE MAN-EATING TREE-like Goth/Doom/Rock, at worst it comes across as an exercise in lame DANZIG-isms.
Ultimately “Alpha Noir” is not what I had been hoping for. It has a couple of decent songs (“Alpha Noir”, “Versus”, “Love Is Blasphemy”), but it lacks soul. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to a nighttime drive down the highway, then pick this up. If, however, you’re looking for a soundtrack to a nighttime wander through the woods, this simply won’t do. There is of course the possibility that wolves, which would totally fit in with the lyrics of “Lickanthrope” and would be a lot more epic than the music on here…
(Online May 23, 2012)