Moonspell - From Down Below: Live 80 Meters Deep - (8/10)
Published on September 30, 2022
Live events have been one of the main victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of concerts were cancelled and entire tours rescheduled. This has inevitably threatened the livelihood of our beloved bands and more than one sadly went bust. In the face of adversity, some bands have become creative and explored new ways to interact with their fans, from virtual live shows to Zoom exclusive events for fans. Moonspell came up with what is probably the most eccentric of all pandemic live events I am aware of: a live show performed in front a small audience entirely underground – 80 meters below the earth, to be precise. Released on September 30th via Napalm Records, From Down Below immortalizes that experience, allowing a wider audience to witness the memorable event recorded at Grutas de Mira D’Aire, Portugal, one of the most impressive caves in Europe.
The concert is centred on the band’s most recent studio LP Hermitage, released to critical acclaim in 2021 (you can read our review here). The band played the album in its entirety, minus the instrumental outro song “City Quitter”, but adding to the tracklist “The Great Leap Forward”, originally released as 7″ vinyl and only included in some special editions of Hermitage. Live shows where bands play one of their full-lengths in their entirety are a growing trend recently. Moonspell themselves have released a triple-live record in 2018 consisting of full play-throughs of three of their most iconic LPs, Wolfheart, Irreligious and Extinct. There are pros and cons to this formula. These shows feature a cohesion in atmosphere and sound that is rarely matched in “conventional” live concerts that offer a mix-and-match of a band’s catalogue. But full play-through concerts also inevitably inherit the defects of the parent record, such as any weaknesses in the album’s content (fillers, unbalanced tracklist, etc.).
Fortunately, Hermitage is a strong album, rich in atmosphere and splendidly balanced between Moonspell’s trademark gothic metal sound and modern progressive rock and dark metal influences. In our recent in-depth reivew of the band’s catalogue, the album ranked 6th overall, ahead of most of Moonspell’s recent releases. My admiration for the album’s material only grew when I listened to the live rendition of the songs. The sound is inevitably less polished than on the studio record, but this benefits the music greatly. The guitar has a fuller, rawer tone than on the original LP, and the drums are punchier and more vivid. Fernando Ribeiro’s vocals are edgier too, both his growls and his baritone cleans. All this contributes to create a more sinister and bleaker atmosphere that elevates songs like “The Greater Good”, “Hermitage”, “Solitarian” or “Apophthegmata” to a higher level of awesomeness. The instrumental piece “Solitarian” is a perfect example of this. On Hermitage, this song comes across as a loungy intermezzo between the album’s “meatier” pieces. But on the live album “Solitarian” takes a whole new life: it’s moody and mysterious, driven by dramatic, Goblin-like keyboards and a mighty guitar distortion that fills the space, before breaking down in a gorgeous Gilmouresque solo. Rather than a simple intermezzo, the song almost becomes the climax of the whole show.
While sonically From Down Below is phenomenal (kudos also to Jaime Gomez Arellano who mixed and mastered the album), the visuals are somewhat less impressive. Don’t get me wrong: I am sure the visual experience of the select fans who could attend the event has been nothing short of exhilarating, given the special ambience of the location where the concert took place. But reproducing that experience in video does not come without challenges. Low lights and limited space put significant constraints on video shooting as well as on the band’s stage presence. The stage itself is very small, squeezed between two walls of rock and the audience. With the exception of Fernando Ribeiro, who occasionally moves two steps forward or two steps backward, all band members stay firmly grounded in their assigned position for the whole duration of the show. The video indulges in lots of close-up shots, which is nice, but there is limited scope for medium and wide shots. This adds to the bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere, but in the long run also reduces the dynamic aspect of the video material. Moreover, a fully-masked, seated audience with Bluetooth headphones on their heads does not really make for the most engaging crowd to observe. Add to that there is practically zero interaction between the band and the audience, and you have a fairly static and sedated viewing experience overall.
While I don’t think I will revisit the video of this release any time soon (although the DVD/BlueRay contain bonus material that was not part of the material I got to review – so there may be some hidden gems there), I am pretty sure that the live CD will become part of my heavy rotation for the months and years to come. Hermitage was a dark, moody album and From Down Below takes that mood and adds a gloss of sinister atmosphere on top. It makes for a fairly irresistible listening experience if you want to delve into some deep gothic darkness. In fact, I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that, whenever I will be in the mood for some Hermitage, From Down Below – and not the studio album – will be the CD I’ll be reaching for.