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Symphony & Moonspell: About As Successful As When That Other Band Tried It

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We fans of Gothic metal already have an uphill battle; we are basically at the same level of coolness as the dudes that dress up as pirates at Alestorm shows. It’s a goofy genre, and you either have to be incredibly self-aware or incredibly not to love it. The bands are usually the latter. That’s part of the charm, of course – nobody wants a goth metal version of Steel Panther. Hell, I don’t even want Steel Panther. Still, even the best acts require a certain amount of lactose tolerance, while the worst make you want to go set fire to a Hot Topic. Far too many of them sound like shitty Sisters of Mercy clones with heavier guitars and way too many keyboards.

Moonspell (despite what Axl Rosenberg says) have always been different – not just in terms of quality, but in terms of general weirdness as well. Even their debut, Wolfheart, performed a bewildering dance between symphonic black metal, pagan Druid shit, and stately doom. They really nailed down their sound into a kind of blackened groovegoth on the minor classic Irreligious, and then they… wandered. Of course, it was the late 90s, everyone was experimenting back then, but they had a few lousy industrial albums before they found their way back to the Irreligious style and stuck with that. It’s worked pretty well for them ever since.

The problem with Extinct, their eleventh album, is that there’s a lot going on. They’ve never exactly been restrained, but the Portuguese band reaches a new level of bombast here, going for big, anthemic riffs and then throwing an orchestra underneath it all. There’s a distinct S&M vibe to the whole thing. Blind Guardian and Nightwish are two of my favorite bands, and it seems a bit much even to me, drowning really solid songs in a sea of strings. Fernando Ribeiro mostly sticks to his deep croon, keeping his distinctive bark in reserve, and he sounds like the dude from The 69 Eyes – especially on songs like “The Last of Us,” which is composed almost exactly like something the Finnish goth rockers would do. That’s fine if you’re The 69 Eyes; less so if you’re Moonspell.

The saving grace comes from the one area they’ve always excelled at, even in their wilderness years: great songs. “Breathe (Until We Are No More)” captures a dark desperation, while “Extinct” and “Medusalem” have giant rock ‘n roll hooks underneath all the production. The symphonic stuff don’t always detract – the moody strings add a killer edge to the cutting “Malignia.” Still, it’s too damn much. It’s great that they haven’t grown complacent, but in the process it feels like they lost the Moonspell of it all and became just another goth metal band.

Moonspell’s Extinct comes out March 17 on Napalm. You can stream the title track here and pre-order the album here.

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