In my mind, when I think of twisted darkness, I don't turn to the frozen north. While extreme metal has for so long been driven by the sensibilities of that geography, the real heart of artistic darkness rests in the Gothic nature of the Victorians. They were the ones who built real monoliths to the dark side, who could see the beauty that came from looking at the worst we're capable of. It's a bit disappointing, therefore, that extreme metal has not often reflected that influence. There is Gothic metal, to be sure, but it is not often enough used in the more extreme places, where a bit more artistry could make the whole thing a bit more powerful. Moonspell is one of those bands that understands that beauty and extremity can go hand in hand, as they use every tool at their disposal to mine the darkness.
“Breathe (Until We Are No More)” lets you know what you're in for within the first minute, as a slinky riff gives way to a throaty roar, then a symphonic swell, before the song drops down into the verse. The instrumentation is subtle there, the vocals somber and morose. When the chorus hits, and the band swells to full volume, the vocals turn towards growling, and the juxtaposition is one between dark and darker.
It's not surprise that “Extinct” is a record obsessed with darkness, but what makes it interesting is that it is a record that focuses on inward darkness, and the beauty it can contain. Like a stream gently flowing in the moonlight, some of the melodies Moonspell is able to put into these songs are captivating. There is no attempt to hide the emotions that power the songs, which is what gives them strength. A song like the title track uses the power of melody to bring you under the spell, slowly integrating the more unorthodox sounds in a way that you might not even notice their existence.
“Medusalem” takes the sound in a middle-eastern direction, with a riff that carries that feeling, and a string orchestration that heightens the tension perfectly. It's a formidable illustration of how expert songcraft can integrate any number of influences into a potent work.
What Moonspell has evolved into is a band that, like their contemporaries, are able to harness more than the visceral hatred that lurks in the darkness. The somber mood and mournful melodies are able to, as weird as this sounds, humanize the inhuman pain that fuels the music. The music on “Extinct” brings to mind other bands, as Moonspell reminds me a striking amount of a more energetic take on modern Katatonia. Moonspell doesn't wallow in their darkness, they accept it as a fact of life, and then move on to make the best of the hand they have been dealt.
Songs like “Last Of Us” sounds as down-trodden as anything else on the record, but when you stop and look at it in a different light, it could be a great melodic rock song if played in a different context. Brighten the sound, and raise the vocals an octave, and you would have a beautiful song that would have mainstream appeal. The fact that it has been turned dark is a statement about how everything has to be taken in context, how we can twist reality to fit our beliefs. We believe Moonspell to be dark, so we hear the music that way, when in fact the music itself does not belong to the dark or the light. It's just music.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of “Extinct” will depend on what you want to get out of music. If you're looking for something to have fun with, and liven up your day, move along. “Extinct” will not do that, but if you just want to hear music that is sometimes beautiful, and has a lot going for it, Moonspell's newest work is worth checking out. I don't know how often I would be in the mood to listen to this kind of album, but when I am, “Extinct” is a fine choice.