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Lycanthropic Delight - 90%

TheArchivist, April 3rd, 2019
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Century Media Records

“Wolfheart” is Moonspell’s potent synthesis of black metal and gothic metal; as a standalone work of audio art, it perfectly captures the spirit of aristocratic nobility and the melancholic ravings of Edgar Allan Poe. The record in itself is a very classy showcase of musical creativity and compositional imagination; it is very elegant in its presentation and the ideas expressed by the music burn fervently with a garish black flame.

After the dark but somewhat dull and uninspired EP “Under the Moonspell” (a record combining the concept of Arabic chants and devil worship), they unleashed their legendary oeuvre, “Wolfheart” upon an unsuspecting metal populace. Moonspell’s debut is a true cult metal classic with various influences blending into one big intoxicating sonic brew. Very few albums in the metal realm have that profound effect on the metal subgenres and it seems this record had a hand in the mid to late 90s black metal scene’s infatuation with gothic themes and motifs (Agathodaimon comes to mind as one of the bands taking direct inspiration from the album) as well as in perpetuating the popularity of symphonic black metal. One could imagine Dani Filth listening to this and changing his band’s entire image and lyrical subject matter. Comparisons with other goth/black metal bands aside, there is no half-assed song like “Nymphetamine” to be found anywhere on the CD. Musically though, there is nothing here that sounds remotely like the other aforementioned bands, it is only in the band’s aesthetics where Moonspell share similarities but the group’s music is totally different from say, Dimmu Borgir.

In my viewpoint, the best song on the album is the sixth track “Vampiria” (It is also one of the best songs about Nosferatu, along with Black Sabbath’s “Nightwing”). it is a very regal and majestic composition, ideally embodying Anne Rice’s vision of the vampire as a dark and romantic literary figure. Fernando Ribeiro’s speaking voice is how I imagine Vlad the Impaler would sound if you meet him within the dingy halls of an isolated Carpathian castle (it’s obviously how Dracula actually sounds in horror movies). Vocally, Ribeiro is very similar to the late Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele and to a lesser extent, Glenn Danzig; he has a very thick timbre to his voice but at the same time, he could also manage to be versatile with his singing.

Music-wise, the riffcraft on display here can be approximated or described as blackened gothic metal. The riffs have enough meat in them to not qualify as black metal but are also not as densely distorted to be labeled as death metal; this can be readily observed in the song “Love Crimes” where Ribeiro’s imposing vocals bond with the guitar riffs to lend an air of bestial savagery to the track’s epic sense of dark romanticism. With the addition of a woman chanting in the background, the Chinese concept of yin and yang or Aleister Crowley’s impression of the Baphomet (according to occultists, the merging of male and female, to form a new androgynous individual) is finally expressed in its purest musical form.

There is also a nice instrumental called “Lua d’Inverno” which is fairly similar in atmosphere and ambiance to Amorphis’s “Folk of the North” from the Black Winter Day EP. It serves as a bridge or breather before resuming with the other songs; it conveys a sort of folk/pagan vibe to the album’s gothic nuances. The next track, “Trebaruna” may get mistaken by some white supremacists as some sort of neo-Nazi chant but is in reality sung in Portuguese. Instead of singing about the supposed superiority of the Aryan race, the song celebrates the worship of the female deity of battles and alliances; there is no excessive use of black metal clichés here, like what you would hear in several pagan metal bands.

“…Of Dream and Drama (Midnight Ride)” is the one song here with an unconcealed black n’ roll influence. Even with the heavy riffs emanating from the guitars, it manages to capture that elusive thrashing feel which many metal bands of this style find hard and difficult to achieve. The closest comparison I could make is with Throne of Ahaz’s “Nifelheim” album (a record I highly recommend as it has great replay value); also, Ribeiro’s vocals on the song remind me of Glenn Danzig’s classic exploits on the microphone.

“Wolfheart” achieves what bands like Abazagorath and other black metal bands failed to accomplish in their attempt to express an authentic blackened feeling from their music. Through this effort, Moonspell succeeded in summoning a non-distilled and genuine expression of the black arts while still managing to have that darkened romantic aura channeled by the music. It is also the only worthwhile Moonspell recording as the succeeding releases do not quite reach the level of quality which “Wolfheart” had in spades (or they’re just not to my liking or taste). Definitely, a must listen for those new to the group’s sound or those interested in the mid 90s Portuguese metal scene.