by Ştefan Bolea
Music is an art for the average listener and a science for its creator. Thus if I perceived the beauty of a particular song, the composer would speak of it in terms of truth. Should we speak about a work of art in terms of aesthetics or of epistemology? Keeping in mind this inherent ambiguity, I shall discuss the meaning of Moonspell’s ninth full-length album, Alpha Noir, released on April 27th 2012. As I mentioned, we must be aware of the paradoxical nature of the pair beauty-truth to encounter yet another distinction between revealed truth and occult truth. For the purpose of this review I will consider Moonspell (and especially Fernando Ribeiro, the author of the lyrics) a group of cutting edge scientists (engaged in the discovery and the manufacturing of musical truth), firstly, and a band of dark alchemists (trying to hunt the unrevealed, subliminal character of truth).
The first track of the album, Axis mundi (Latin for world pillar) is a wonderful introduction to the melodic black metal atmosphere of the album. I would say that Moonspell continues the dark and occult direction of Night Eternal (2008), going a step further in a more furious territory, which is at the same time more melancholic. Towards the end of the track, after a wonderful guitar solo, we encounter the truth of Axis mundi, sung by Ribeiro in clean voice: “Equinox in every word/ Falling leaves in every soul/ Equinox in every word/ In every word in every soul”. How shall we deal with this truth? Is it a symptom of passive nihilism? Is it a translation of the metaphysical point on view from the Planet Melancholia? Is it a dark celebration of the Libra? We should all choose our answers. The tension and the continuity between the generous and enthusiastic guitar riffs and the autumnal truth is almost perfect. Moreover, if the truth of the first track were the equinox, the truth of the equinox would be the feeling of alienation and loss: “We’re lost in a dying world.” One loses oneself in a dying world, because one is alive, while the others are a multitude of corpses that only imitate life.
I shall pass briefly over the powerful Lickanthrope, noting that it reminds me of Rammstein’s Du riechst so gut and that we learn from it two basic facts: first, salvation is cheap and second, Little Red Riding Hood is a whore.
Versus, along with the title track Alpha Noir, is the philosophical masterpiece of the album. I propose two interpretations:
1) The center of this song, the fundamental message is: “we’re not making peace”. The core of this center, the inner nucleus that goes even deeper should be: “I’m here to take your life”. We should declare war to our former selves, basically to our sub-humanity, to the ordinary death in life (the center). If resurrection were our goal, we must die first (the core). “I’m here to take your life” doesn’t mean “I’m here to kill you”, on the contrary it signifies “I’m here to transform you”.
2) Fernando builds up an opposition between the forces of Pan and Christianity (on a philosophical level, between Dionysus and Plato: body against idea, soul against spirit, darkness against light, instant against eternity). “We” (“the fire can’t tame us/ … Haters can’t break us”) are obviously on Pan’s side, identified by the reactionary Christian philosophers with the Antichrist. “You” (“I am here to take your life/ … Be prepared to meet your end”) shall be destroyed, if you refused transformation. You will die, because your religion is dying too and because religions are mainly psychological sublimations of the death instinct.
The same opposition between the principles of Pan and Christianity is developed in Alpha Noir. Pure Alpha is the traditional dominion of the Christian God, who is seen as a manifestation of death in life: “So let the wise men write/ Our death threats in Bible paper.” Alpha is fundamentalism (this habit of writing death threats is almost Islamic!) and primary nihilism, the basic force that eats like a worm the core of our civilization. Alpha noir is anti-fundamentalism, anti-nihilism: “Alpha Noir, we want a new world! Alpha noir, our truth, our code”. Alpha noir is a possible world, which is yet to be created. Perhaps the Anti-creator is the reigning God of this world, perhaps someone else, whom we fail perceive, because He doesn’t exist yet. Ribeiro seems to be attacking Freemasonry as well (“Let the weak man have/ The final word/ Order from Chaos”) and seems to be implying that destructive nihilism should first clear the ground, and impose chaos before order.
Going straight to the sixth track, Opera Carne (work of flesh), we see how Moonspell are developing a sort of esoteric materialism: “Our flesh burns in mysterious ways”. No one can claim the thesis of the body/ soul dualism anymore (“Frontiers are coming down between body and the soul”); right now we have a splendid monism: the body is the ultimate manifestation of the soul – our souls sweat through our bodies. Body and soul is one and the same thing: we are our bodies, as a French philosopher had put it.
Grandstand, the last track before the instrumental Sine Missione, which prepares the way for the gothic rock bonus material from Omega White, has a strong message as well. If we understood his metaphor in a more prosaic way, Ribeiro could be attacking the world’s obsession with economy, which discourages star exploration in the first lyric („So many stars above our heads and yet we choose to starve”). He continues to make a plea for scientific curiosity and vivid knowledge („So many stones out there to turn and yet we choose to ignore”). A bit later and in the same line of thought, Moonspell’s vocalist and composer “argues” that freedom and pure possibility are the most important things in our lives (“So many choices we could have made and yet we choose to kneel down”). We should keep our future opened and never resign. I cannot help noting that Ribeiro proposes an interesting refinement of one of Nietzsche’s key aphorisms: “To take the grandstand on the top of the world/ And scream the truth: what does not kill, hurts us.” The popular statement of the German philosopher goes like this: “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” The aphorism is mostly read with the ordinary lenses of the will to power: “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” The Portuguese vocalist and poet proposes another emphasis: “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” It is somehow true that what does not kill (us) could make us weaker, because a trauma is never healed and continues to hunt us down like a ghost from the brain, like a perpetual demon over our shoulders. Moreover, a victim of perpetual pains would be eventually destroyed, existing in a near comatose state like the victim of sloth from Se7en. If Nietzsche were exuberant, Ribeiro would prefer a more realistic and analgesic version of truth.
Summarizing, Alpha Noir is more about the truth of a musical and poetical genius (Fernando Ribeiro) and less about the obvious beauty of the tracks. As I have said, there is a conflict between the revealed truth (the wonderful architecture of the album which gives you a special state of mind) and the hidden message (which I am sure that can be read in a totally different way than I have). One could say that occult truth transgresses revealed truth, and that basic fundamental truth probably surpasses the reign of beauty, but someone else could disagree and argue that the aesthetical sphere is primordial and autonomous. If there is no Beauty there is Nothing.