MOONSPELL — Hermitage (review)

MOONSPELL — Hermitage album cover Album · 2021 · Gothic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Blessed be the Top Albums of the Year lists! Preparing mine for The Metal Observer forced me to look back at a bunch of 2021 albums that I had overlooked at the time they were initially released. Among them there is Hermitage, Moonspell’s 12th full-length studio album (I am not counting Under Satanae that contains re-recordings of the band’s early material). In the 1990s, the Portuguese goth metallers were one of my favourite metal bands, but I somehow lost touch with their obscure art at some point during the late 2000s. Hermitage, however, gloriously reminded me why I was so in love with Moonspell during my teens: it is a superb album, dark and elegant, full of variety and class, that builds on the band’s classic sound but also ventures in new directions, subtly merging together gothic metal, extreme metal and modern progressive rock.

I have to confess that, when I gave Hermitage its first spin, it wasn’t instant love. The album sounded slick and classy, but also hazy, understated and difficult to grasp. None of the melodies or arrangements stood out. The album flowed away pleasantly, but I felt there weren’t enough moments that really grabbed my attention and pulled me in. Curiously, the same had happened to me with another Moonspell’s album, released exactly twenty years ago: 2001’s Darkness and Hope. I remember it took me many spins to fully appreciate that album, pretty much for the same reasons I initially struggled to connect with Hermitage: the melodies felt too subtle and elusive and the atmospheres too understated, to the point that the album seemingly lacked a strong character and identity. It was only after a half-dozen listens that Darkness and Hope finally opened up to me and I could fully appreciate its delicate and obscure beauty, for which I still consider it today one of the best albums by the Portuguese combo. Mindful of that experience, I decided to persevere and kept playing Hermitage until the album finally clicked with me. And, boy, I am so glad that I did.

Hermitage is an album that only a band as classy, talented and experienced as Moonspell could have written. “Mature” is probably the word I am looking for. The record oozes sophistication and aplomb as it takes the listener to a dazzling journey through different shades of dark rock anchored in the band’s classic gothic sound, but modernized with a multitude of different influences, from modern progressive/alternative rock, to psychedelia, to jazz and electronic music. All these influences are blended together with disarming simplicity, relying on minimalistic arrangements and a warm, stripped-down sound that exalts the essence of each song.

The album’s first five tracks are extraordinary, in this respect. They each explore a distinct sonic niche without failing to retain strong cohesiveness and consistency. “The Greater Good” flirts with the dark alt/prog metal of bands like Soen and Anathema, with muscular grooves and hypnotic guitar riffs, while retaining a strong gothic allure that explodes in the surprisingly heavy finale. “Common Prayers” shifts weight towards more traditional gothic rock atmospheres, while “All or Nothing” is a delicate slowburner that lulls its way through groovy drum patterns, bluesy guitar riffs and a gorgeously Floydian solo, conjuring up visions of smoky jazz clubs after midnight. Meanwhile, the almost punkish title-track brings to the fore the band’s black metal roots, and “Entitlement” harks back to the tasteful experiments with electronica that Moonspell also attempted previously in their discography (for instance, their 1998’s Sin/Pecado album).

The second half of the album is perhaps a tad less spectacular. It contains two slightly lacklustre instrumentals (though the cold piano arpeggio of “City Quitter” provides a spellbinding album finale) and a song, “Apophthegmata”, that builds on an interesting atmosphere but ultimately does not develop into much more. However, we are also treated with what is probably the best track of the LP, “The Hermit Saints”. Pretty much like the album opener, this song takes Moonspell’s classic gothic sound and reimagines it through the lens of modern alt/prog rock: Ricardo Amorim’s bouncy guitars frantically buzz their riffs over a tapestry of groovy basslines, majestic organs and shifting drum patterns (new drummer Hugo Ribeiro deserves a shout-out here for a stellar performance, perfectly balanced between muscularity and coloration), while Fernando Ribeiro switches back and forth between a deep, velvety croon and his abrasive semi-growls, creating an intoxicating final mix. The album also closes strongly with “Without Rule”, probably he Hermitage’s most surprising song, with its lysergic vibes that hark back to early Pink Floyd and 1970s psychedelia.

Hermitage is so rich and diverse, and yet at the same time so refined and restrained, that it takes time and patience to properly take in all of the album’s different shades and contours. A superficial listen may even confuse its subtlety and elegance for demureness or lack of character. Jaime Gomez Arellano’s sober and natural production adds to this false first impression, as the detailed production work only fully blossoms on repeated listens, as one learns to appreciate the exquisite balance in the mix between the different instruments and the overall sonic clarity.

As such, Hermitage is most definitely a grower, albeit one that thoroughly deserves your time investment. When the album finally opens up, it is deeply intoxicating with its obscure romantic atmosphere. The quality of Hermitage that I probably appreciate the most is how fresh, modern and exciting the record sounds while at the same time retaining Moonspell’s classic sonic identity. This stands in defiance to Fernando Ribeiro’s own words in promo interviews, where the singer questions whether the band’s time may be coming to an end. If anything, Hermitage shows that Moonspell are still a fresh and very relevant voice in today’s metal, nearly 25 years since they have moved their first steps in the scene. This is a massive achievement for the Portuguese band, and one that not many of their peers can claim to have fulfilled.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]
Share this review

Review Comments

Post a public comment below | Send private message to the reviewer
Please login to post a shout
No shouts posted yet. Be the first member to do so above!


Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
Master of Puppets Thrash Metal
Buy this album from our partners
Moving Pictures Hard Rock
Buy this album from our partners
Paranoid Heavy Metal
Buy this album from our partners
Powerslave NWoBHM
Buy this album from our partners
Rising Heavy Metal
Buy this album from our partners

New Metal Artists

New Metal Releases

Sirens Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Buy this album from MMA partners
Železnej Král Heavy Metal
Buy this album from MMA partners
Survival Of The Sickest Death Metal
Buy this album from MMA partners
Survival Of The Sickest Death Metal
Buy this album from MMA partners
Jötun Crust Punk
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Metal Online Videos

More videos

New MMA Metal Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions


Latest Metal News


More in the forums

Social Media

Follow us