Moonspell @ Gramercy Theatre

MANHATTAN, NY—Heavy metal band Moonspell formed in 1989 in Lisbon, Portugal, originally known as Morbid God. The group renamed itself Moonspell in 1992. Moonspell released its first EP in 1994, a year before the release of its debut album. Through its early years, the band moved from folk-tinged black metal to gothic metal to experimental metal and back to doom metal. Vocalist Fernando Ribeiro is the sole original member in the band; he also is the author of three poetry books and a collection of short stories, all in Portuguese, and a bilingual autobiography of the band, XX 20 Anos/Years. The group’s ninth and most recent studio album is 2012’s double CD, Alpha Noir/Omega White. The band is presently comprised of Ribeiro, guitarist Ricardo Amorim, keyboardist/guitarist Pedro Paixão, bassist Aires Pereira and drummer Miguel Gaspar.

At the Gramercy Theatre on Feb. 17, Moonspell did not fall easily into any metal subcategory. Performing many songs from its history which were never before played live in the United States, Moonspell sometimes cranked Judas Priest-styled songs, at other times crunched Metallica-type heavy creepers and still at other times sounded like a lofty progressive metal band, building a song’s dynamics through changing rhythms. In the middle of the set, a series of songs slowed the tempo for so long that the moshers took a long break. Synthesizers and programmers are uncommon in metal, but here they were used to enhance the eerie atmosphere of many of the songs’ flourishes, almost like a spooky movie soundtrack.

The unifying sound throughout the performance was a dark, mysterious gravity to Ribeiro’s singing and the band’s musicianship. Ribeiro both growled and sang in deep, ominous tones. Chugging, down-tuned guitar riffs and double-bass drum percussion often shadowed Ribeiro with heavy, driving force. All in all, the scope and depth of Moonspell’s concert proved fascinating. Ribeiro fittingly ended the set by acknowledging a defunct New York band with a similar sound; he dedicated the last song, “New Tears Eve,” to the late Peter Steele, the deep-voiced singer, songwriter and bassist for goth metal outfit Type O Negative.