Moonspell + Rotting Christ @ Islington Assembly Hall, London – Tuesday 29 October, 2019

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Review by Emily Castles

This evening, we gather at Islington Assembly Hall for a single UK date which brings together two of the southern European heavyweights of the metal scene; Greece’s Rotting Christ and Moonspell from Portugal. Both bands combine elements of black and gothic metal; this evening promises to be one of doom, gloom and all things dark.

Rotting Christ are Moonspell’s guests on this tour and so take to the stage first. Earlier this year saw the release of their 13th full-length album The Heretics – this is a band that continues to rebel and experiment with the sub-genre of black metal. They open with the almighty demon-summoning ‘666’, taken from their 2013 album Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy which would easily be at home in an episode of Game of Thrones; the battle song of the white walkers.

Sadly, the Greeks only play two songs from their new album The Heretics, one of which is ‘Fire, God and Fear.’ There aren’t many bands that would need to credit a ‘narrator’ on a song, but Rotting Christ know no bounds. It opens: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’ This is a deliciously complex composition; we have Batushka-style monastic chants, groovy little string-bend riffs and more traditional ‘fast and heavy’ 1990s black metal elements.

‘Apage Satana’ is tribalistic – powerful and simple, reaching out to the darkness with its rhythmic Burundi-like beat. Later on, ‘The Forest of N’Gai’ ignites the room once more; this is straight up Transylvanian Hunger, alongside the same distinct tribalistic/ religious chanting component. They end with ‘Non Serviam’; the pit opens up and we dive into Hades’ lair.

And then it’s time for headliners Moonspell. A pipe organ lies in wait in the centre of the stage. A biblical cross towards the right. Cemetery gates in the distance. There is a crash of lightning and Guy Fawkes’ twin creeps onto the stage like a graverobber in the night. He scouts us out mischievously; his long black coat sweeps along the floor, a leathery fedora caresses the top of his bedraggled hair and his silver hooped earrings glisten in the fire of the lantern that he holds out before him, as though unsure of his path.

Moonspell launch into ‘Em Nome Do Medo’ with its dramatic, unsettling score and high-impact, chanted vocals. It’s mystical and conjures up a sense of intrigue. Soon after this entrance, frontman and goth metal legend Fernando Ribeiro, introduces the title track of their latest album 1755.

He informs us that the band’s 11th full-length album is sung entirely in Portuguese and details the 1755 Lisbon earthquake – one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. The album is powerful and transportative and many of the tracks are aired tonight. This is gloriously grand, orchestral stuff. Moonspell are also happy to take a trip down memory lane and as the unmistakable riff of their 1996 classic ‘Opium’ rings out the crowds go wild, as they do for the likes of ‘Breathe’ and ‘Extinct’.

This evening is all about theatrics. Half way through their set Ribeiro resurfaces from the wings wearing a steampunk beak mask whilst for ‘Vampiria’ he brings a cape into the mix, swishing it elegantly like a slightly camp Captain Hook. Tonight, it is clear why Moonspell have been such a key influence for so many bands in the metal sphere. The tongue-in-cheek horror, the orchestral grandeur, the sophisticated composition and the often poignant themes; black metal, goth rock, doom – whatever you class them as, they are an undeniable force.

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