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Almost four years since the release of their eighth studio album, 'Night Eternal', Portugal's Moonspell have returned with their latest dark metal opus, 'Alpha Noir', and what a return it is. Recently signed to Napalm Records, it's a storming debut for their new home on the Austrian label and amongst Moonspell's best in their diverse canon of work. Continuing with the heavier dynamic that characterised much of the songwriting on its predecessor, 'Alpha Noir' is a hard-hitting, exhilarating and fresh sounding metal record with nods towards the past but also with a forward-thinking, progressive slant.

The album kicks off with 'Axis Mundi' which begins with an atmospherically sinister intro as instruments are introduced and layered in an escalating crescendo of quasi-discordant cacophony - guitar harmonics, pounding bass, chants, rhythmically interesting drums, and bursts of distorted chords - before giving way to an innovative guitar riff for a few bars that precedes the song starting good and proper. It's a compelling opening to the album and a dynamic that's sustained throughout. In fact, Moonspell have never sounded so compelling for years, at least not for the duration of an entire album - there's a discernible freshness and new found vitality to their music that makes for one hell of an exciting experience.

While all compositions are imbued with blackened sonics, sometimes by means of subtle dissonance in ever-developing melodies and differentially layered instrumentations, and at other moments with full-on, aurally nefarious ferocity, every song is its own unique entity with its own essence. Even when there's the brief threat of banality such as on the opening guitar riff to the title track which instantly brings to mind Rammstein, in the blink of an eye it develops into something far less two-dimensional than the Neue Deutsche Härte pioneers.

Death growls largely dominate proceedings, which frontman Fernando Ribeiro has refined over the years with each new release and, here, they're at their best. The distinctive sound of his low-toned clean voice occasionally appears on particular tracks too and provides a nice contrast when it does, invariably deployed over songs' more melodic, serene moments. However, it's the growls that are most prominent but they're efficacious for the aggressively dark aesthetic that underpins most tracks.

With just nine songs, all under the five minute mark, 'Alpha Noir' seems a tad short but, then again, there's absolutely no fat or filler, just quality songwriting all the way through. This is Moonspell at their most darkly potent. Highly recommended.
Napalm Records
Review by Mark Holmes
27th April 2012
1) Axis Mundi
2) Lickanthrope
3) Versus
4) Alpha Noir
5) Em Nome Do Medo
6) Opera Carne
7) Love Is Blasphemy
8) Grandstand
9) Sine Missione
"This is Moonspell at their most darkly potent."