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Wednesday 24 February 2021

Reviews: Moonspell, Paranorm, Sunnata, Spelljammer (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Paul Scoble)

Moonspell – Hermitage (Napalm Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Do you have a band that you really enjoy every time you hear them, yet have never really engaged with in anywhere the depth that they deserved? Well, Portuguese gothic pioneers Moonspell are that band for me. I’ve dipped in and out of their career for several years, with 2012’s Alpha Noir, Omega White one of the albums I’m most acquainted with. Their most recent releases, 2015’s Extinct and 2017’s 1755 were both brilliant releases, and you can find my reviews of them both in these pages.

Now approaching their 30th anniversary, the band’s ambition and creativity is stronger than ever. Hermitage is simply stunning from the opening strains of The Greater Good to the closing bars of outro City Quitter. Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jaime Gomez Arellano ((Paradise Lost, Primordial, Ghost, Sólstafir), the darkness, sensitivity and epic style remains pivotal to their music. Beautifully crafted, thoughtfully developed and superbly constructed, there isn’t a note here that is out of place. It’s a soaring, uplifting, deep and emotionally sonic soundscape that captivates, all the while retaining those metal roots which run deep within this sensational band.

Embarking on a journey through the darkest days of human existence, The Greater Good begins Hermitage with a slow build, then driven by Aires Pereira’s thunderous bass line and Fernando Ribeiro’s haunting vocals. The scintillating skill of guitarist trusty lieutenant Ricardo Amorim is woven through the song whilst newly installed drummer Hugo Ribeiro does a fabulous job of replacing Miguel Gasper, the band’s drummer since their formation in 1992. The Greater Good provides elements of everything that is good about Moonspell, from the gothic overtures to the fierce thrashier elements.

Whilst there has always been a rich seam of Pedro Paixão’s ever present keyboards that add to the more spiritual elements of the band, the riffs are never far away and on tracks such as Common Prayer and The Hermit Saints there is ample opportunity for those underused neck muscles to get to work. The darker. Introspective feel is integral to the band’s sound and it remains up front and centre on the the soaring All Or Nothing. The Floydian strains of the penultimate track Without Rule is the crowning glory, a seven-minute plus song, it’s progressive style veers sharply away from the band’s darker sound yet remains essentially Moonspell, the veils of blackness that linger adding to the eerie, echoing feel.

Hermitage is an album that demands repeated listens. It is instant yet holds so much more that repeated plays are essential. Even after a dozen or so listens, the melodies, intricate song construction and the overall musicianship make this an album that already looks to be one that will feature in the end of year lists. If not, then 2021 will be hell of a year. After years of skirmishing with their catalogue, it’s time to fully immerse myself. 10/10

Paranorm - Empyrean (Redefining Darkness Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Although formed in 2007, it’s only now that Swedish Formed in 2007, Paranorm is a progressive thrash/black/death metal band Paranorm are ready to unleash their debut album. The four-piece based in Uppsala, Sweden have slowly crafted their music and previously released two EPs. The first, 2011’s Pandemonium's Rise and the follow up, The Edge Of Existence in 2014. A change of line-up in 2018 saw the band recruit drummer Samuel Karlstrand of Wretched Fate who joined vocalist/guitarist Markus Hiltunen, guitarist Fredrik Kjellgren and bassist Marcus Blom. Empyrean is a well-balanced and crafted record that starts with the high tempo Critical Mass. A shredding delight, the immediate impressions are of a highly technical and competent outfit who play at frenetic pace. Hiltunen’s vocals are the one area which I struggled with, the one-dimensional gravel-soaked croak failing to lift the songs to the level that the intricate playing deserves. Some clean harmonies would add to the band’s sound. Apart from that criticism, there is ample to enjoy and explore in Empyrean. 

Varying the length of songs woks well, with the opening tracks laying the foundation for the impressive nine-minute Edge Of The Horizon. A detailed, expansive track, it rampages in an almost power metal style, segmented with slower, retrospective passages that provide welcome pauses to catch breath. The tempo rarely slows for longer than a few seconds, and at times the pace is so relentless that you wonder how it can be maintained. A combination of Carcass, Wintersun and Allegaeon are all in the mix on Intelligence Explosion, the choppy guitar work accentuated by blisteringly fluid solos.  There’s even a bit of Iron Maiden type gallop included. The title track is central to many albums, and Empyrean is no different. Standing proud at just shy of nine minutes, Empyrean is a towering piece, accelerating early before levelling into a more reserved tempo, pausing for a measured, gentle mid-section which provides an opportunity for the band to demonstrate their calmer, semi-acoustic side and then returning to the frantic explosive delivery. 

Ambitious, technically impressive, this is an album that should appeal to a wide range of metal fans. The passages of play are at times superb, and apart from the vocals it’s only the slightly repetitive style of the song construction that jars ever so slightly. A decent in-house production and a fine piece of artwork by David Östby all add to the package. 8/10

Sunnata - Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Based in Warsaw, Poland, Sunnata have been making music together since 2013. In that time the band have been fairly prolific, Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth is the band's fourth album, it follows; Outlands in 2018, Zorya in 2016 and Climbing The Colossus in 2014. The band is made up of Michal Dobrzanski on Bass Guitar, Robert Ruszczyk on Drums and Percussion, Adrian Gadomski on Guitar and Vocals and Szymon Ewertowski on Guitar and Vocals. The band describe their sound as ‘Shamanic Doom’ which is a pretty good way to characterise, this mix of Doom, Psychedelia and Grunge. A lot of the material has a hypnotic and meditative feeling to it, which fits nicely into a style that is described as Shamanic. 

This feeling is best demonstrated in the track God Emperor Of Dune, which has a nice psychedelic opening that slowly builds into into a big relaxed riff that feels hypnotic, this again builds to huge proportions before returning to the more minimal feel the track has at the beginning, the song has a drifting and meditative sense throughout the track. Apart from the hypnotic and ‘Shamanic’ elements the album also has a certain amount of Gothic to it. The song A Million Lives shows this beautifully. The track starts with a big stoner style riff before kicking up the tempo into some driving Gothic rock, that is fairly reminiscent of the Sisters Of Mercy. The track has a softer more measured section before going back into uptempo Gothic rock til the end of the song. Although most of the album has a hypnotic and psychedelic feel to it, there are a lot of strait heavy as anything moments on the album, probably the most aggressive and dark songs is the track Black Serpent

The song opens in a measured and minimal way with some nice vocal harmonies, just as you are relaxing into these lovely vocals the track takes a turn towards a much darker and heavier sound that is nicely aggressive with nasty harsh vocals. The track vacillates between the minimal and harmonious and the dark and aggressive a few times before the minimal feeling sound drifts the song to an end. I mentioned that there are some Grunge elements on this album as well. For most of the album the Grunge influences are very subtle, however on the song Völva (The Seeress) has a section that has a huge Grunge riff that could be strait off a nineties Alice in Chains album. Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth is a great album. 

It takes lots of different sounds and moulds them together into a whole that is Meditative, hypnotic, heavy, driving and as a whole deeply affecting. The riffs and melodies get into your head, and after only a few listens you will be loving it. A very impressive piece of work that is as innovative as it is hypnotic. 8/10

Spelljammer - Abyssal Trip (RidingEasy Records) [Paul Scoble]

If you do a Google search for ‘Spelljammer’ you’ll find lots of links about Dungeons And Dragons, as Spelljammer is an advanced level in that game, if you Google ‘Spelljammer Band’ you find this group of Swedes. Spelljammer the band have been making huge noises since 2007 when Guitarist Robert Sörling met guitarist and vocalist Niklas Olsson at a Fu Manchu gig. In the 14 years the band have been together they have released 2 Eps in 2010’s Inches From The Sun and 2012’s Vol. II, and one album in 2015’s Ancient Of Days, making Abyssal Trip their second album. On Abyssal Trip Niklas and Robert are joined by Jonatan Rimsbo on Drums.

Spelljammer’s earlier material was very Stoner in style, on this release the music is a mix of Stoner Metal and a much huger style of Doom, maybe think Sleep jamming with Electric Wizard. In fact the opening of the album, the track Bellwether starts in a very similar way to Dopesmoker by Sleep; huge slow riffs that slowly build into a slow devastating groove. Second track Lake is a much faster track for the first half, with a pounding riff that feels relentless. The second half of the song is a much more minimal and brooding affair, with a nice side order of menace. Among The Holy is slow, huge and aggressive for a while before building to a nasty head nodding groove, the song slowly disintegrates and fades.

The title track starts with a fantastically occult sample before going into some very slow and heavy doom, that feels nasty and portentous. There is some nice guitar work that feels bluesy in a way that I thought was reminiscent of Green Lung. As the song progresses the hugeness and heaviness feel like they slowly morph into a very nasty groove. The song has a soft and brooding section in the middle, letting the audience catch their breath a little before the huge and heavy return. Just before the end the soft and brooding feel comes back to take the song to its end. Peregrine is a short, clean instrumental that leads us into final track Silent Rift. Silent Rift opens with feedback before a simply massive riff comes crashing in. The track has a hypnotic sense to it, the mid-paced riffs feel meditative and allow the listener to drift off on whatever currents the music takes them on. The track has a very expressive guitar solo, and is a cracking song to end the album.

Abyssal Trip is a fantastic piece of stoner infused Doom. It’s massive in the way galaxies are massive, slow monolithic riffs that batter the listener, but always seem to grow into huge, highly enjoyable grooves. The album as a whole ebbs and flows in a very pleasing way, and the overall pacing is superb. If you like to be battered in a simply enormous way, then this is highly recommended. 8/10

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