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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Moonspell

Under Satanae

Review by Gary Hill

I’m pretty fussy when it comes to extreme metal. Growling death metal vocals generally turn me off. There are exceptions, though. Moonspell is one of them. The dark power and evil majesty that makes up their sound compensates for a lot of the problem I have with those vocals. This CD is not for the faint of heart, but for those metal fans who enjoy the extreme stuff, or just have a sense of adventure, it’s a darn good release. It has a tendency to get over the top at points (but doesn’t most European epic metal?) and isn’t the most revolutionary music you’ll ever hear. The thing is, it’s all delivered with such power and skill that it more than makes up for any shortcomings. And, it should be noted that this is actually re-recordings of the earliest material the band released. The last four are all demos (one of which dates to before the band was called "Moonspell.")

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Halla alle halla al rabka halla (Praeludium/Incantatum solistitium)
This is an Eastern toned, soundtrack music type introductory number. While not much by itself it serves as a great intro to the disc. The rhythmic excursion later in the number, though, elevates beyond mere background music.
Tenebarum Oratorium (AndamentoI/Erudit compendyum)
They pound out here in epic metal fury, made to feel even harder due to the contrast with the sedate tones that made up the last piece. The vocals are at times guttural snarls and at other points near spoken recitation type deliveries. This is hard edged and a bit over the top, but quite tasty. They drop it back to a mellower jam with female vocals and more of those Eastern elements mid-song. As they build back up from there those Eastern modes take center stage at times. When they power back out into the more metal approach we get female vocals skirting on the edges in a definite modern European epic metal technique.
Interludium/Incantatum Oequinoctum
Continuing the contrasting light and dark we get a pretty acoustic guitar solo here.
Tenebarum Oratorium (AndamentoII/Erotic Compendyum)
A frantic metal romp takes over here. The approach here is a bit less over the top in terms of the vocal delivery, but we do get plenty of those female vocals as counterpoint to the male in true epic fashion. There is also a dark and dramatic mellower motif in the middle of this piece. As they rise up from there a creepy spoken vocal line builds on the top of this fertile soil. They crunch it back out from there in a definite thrash sort of manner and just plain rock out from there. The guitar solo is especially juicy. They move through a number of dramatic changes in true epic metal fashion from there and this is one of the hottest pieces of music on show here. It shifts out into an odd rhythmically based world music section at the end, calling to mind both flamenco and gypsy music.
Opus Diabolicum (Andamento III/Instrumental Compendyum)
As this starts with neo-classical sounds and carries forward like an orchestra tuning up, one might get the idea that the switch between hard rocking and mellow is continuing. That motif only makes up the introduction of this nearly instrumental piece, though. Instead, this pounds out into a killer, neo-classically tinged epic metal type composition that is one of my favorites on the disc. They know when to pound it out with a more droning sound and when to focus on the swirling lines of melody. They work through a number of very strong changes and never fail to rock out. The vocals consist of what sounds like the recitation of some kind of incantation. Mid-piece they drop to spooky atmosphere over which more of those recited vocals are placed. Then it rises back up with sounds of female moaning, leading one to think it was some kind of a fertility rite. After this, though, the guitar soars in one of the tastiest solos of the whole CD. Sound effects oriented motifs end this and segue into the next number.
Chorai Lusitania! (Epilogus/Incantatam Maresia)
This feels a bit like a slightly out of tune acoustic solo segment. It calls to mind early Hawkwind a bit. While it has little bit of a raw edge to it, it’s also quite cool and serves as a great way to break things up.
Goat on Fire
More odd soundtrack sounds that definitely have more of that world music texture create the introduction here. As they pound out into the noisy metal death growls are thrown over the top. This is a plodding, heavy as lead slab of dark metal. They still weave epic sounds over this backdrop, though, with keyboards and more dramatic powerhouse vocal accompaniment. They turn it into more dramatic epic metal later, and then pull it out into rawer punky sort of metal. They work back through most of the various modes of the piece as they carry on, creating new variations and reiterations of the musical themes. They drop it back to pretty, almost balladic motifs for a while. This powerhouse is one of the strongest cuts on show here. The dark and creepy ballad structure that ends it is a nice touch.
Ancient Winter Goddess
Frantic thrashy sounds with a definite hardcore punk leaning makes up the core of this piece. A cool instrumental motif takes it and then they drop the speed back with more of those world music modes creeping in, but still delivered with a raw metal fury. They take it through a number of sections, dropping it down at times in both tempo and volume and then at other points screaming back up. All through, though, this is extremely dark and brutal – even the mellower motions seem to hold a certain sense of terror and fury. The powerhouse epic metal jam with its neo-classical structures is one point that does not share that brutality. It’s also a scorching segment of music.
Wolves From the Fog
Appropriately howling wolves accompany the introductory music on this one. As the group launch into a slow paced screaming metal stomper the vocals are in spoken lines. This is extremely dramatic and powerful, feeling a bit like Candlemass or some even more doomy outfit. After a section like this, though, they switch this out towards more epic metal territory. This kicks into fast paced musical fury after a while screaming out with powerhouse epic jamming. They move through a series of varying motifs in the course of their workings and reworkings on this piece. Mid song the wolves take over again, coming up from a false ending. Then keyboards and other sound effects join, eventually taking their place. This builds upwards from there as a powerful epic metal jam. The wolves finally return to end it.
Serpent Angel
Here we are pounded into final submission by an aggressive piece of death metal fury. They drop this back to a slower section that (particularly because of the tolling bell) reminds me a bit of early Metallica, but with a more pure modern extreme metal vocal. They shift through several more changes and iterations in the course of the creation of this piece. When they drop it down to acoustic guitar balladic motifs in the middle of the track it both serves as a great change and brings those early Metallica sounds even further to the fore. They eventually drop this back to melancholy, but quite pretty keyboard music that sounds like it belongs in the soundtrack to a horror film to end it.
 
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