The gothic death-metal band Moonspell is Portugal’s biggest rock music export. And while that says more about Portugal’s anonymity in international music culture than it does about the band itself, the fact remains that these guys made some vital contributions to goth metal’s halcyon years that still stand up today. The members of Moonspell revisit some of their golden oldies on Under Satanae, a vicious set of re-recordings of material the band wrote before their influential first LP, Wolfheart, was released in 1995. And praise Baphomet, it’s anything but the DOA nostalgia trip that the concept threatens — Moonspell rips into these songs like a pack o’ hungry vampires at a charity blood drive.
Ignore the glowering expressions in that band photo in the liner notes. They don’t capture the glee that Moonspell must’ve felt while recording Under Satanae’s first six tracks, which reprise the 1994 Under the Moonspell EP in its entirety. Vocalist Langsuyar presides over a black mass of blood ’n’ guts riffing, faux-orchestral synths, Arabic muezzin calls, exotic percussion and acoustic guitar interludes; he bellows trilingual odes to Babylonian gods on the two-part “Tenebrarum Oratorium,” even quoting the Marquis de Sade in his native Portuguese on “Opus Diabolicum.” Moonspell lusts where most death-metal bands hate — Langsuyar whispers the line “The lost chimera of Virginity/ Will be your true purity/ And they Crowleyian erotic laws will rule at last!” with hymnlike reverence. As improbably as it sounds, this lovably deranged song cycle is almost sexy.
The remainder of Under Satanae works backward in time, delving first into Moonspell’s 1993 demo, Anno Satanae, then to the 1992 promo song “Serpent Angel,” written when the band was known as Morbid God. This material is slightly less accomplished than the Under the Moonspell tracks, with a more straightforward black-metal attack and Satanic lyrical bent. It’s all made of the same malleable metallic granite, though, and the Anno Satanae tracks (“Goat on Fire,” especially) show a great command over dynamics, even if Moonspell’s nonmetal elements weren’t as well integrated as they would soon be.
Under Satanae is an ideal compilation, gathering beefy updates of hard-to-find material and presenting them in far superior sound quality than the originals. It’s also an ideal introduction to the Moonspell catalog, with a better balance of goth and grind than some of their later releases. Re-recordings don’t get much better than this.