Mão Morta

Pesadelo em Peluche

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Though billed as the Portuguese answer to Swans early on and compared to Nick Cave, Mão Morta have evolved into a beast of their own -- they're dark, laconic, and dramatic, but they're nobody's local ripoff. Pesadelo em Peluche is reminiscent of speedier Fields of the Nephilim, if anyone -- the same straightforward guitar lines, the same half-whisper, half-rasp, and the overall nighttime atmosphere -- but they trade the esoteric pomp for the Joy Division school of down-to-earth laconic riffing. The vocals bring in a much-needed but well-calculated dose of theatrics, too: the frontman sports the alias Adolfo Luxúria Canibal ("Adolph Cannibal Lust"), and sings the part. His lyrics would be wasted on non-Portuguese speakers (our loss), but he needs no words to convey his favorite emotions -- alienation, cynicism, bitter irony. The mix of drama and restraint recalls compatriots Moonspell at times, though there is not an ounce of metal on the record. The music is simple throughout -- the band manages to get by each time on a couple of chords with minimum variation -- but this is a case when less is more. Closer inspection will confirm their skills: arrangements go from blatant U2-style guitar delay textures to rock & roll licks, vintage synths, and gang choruses (complete with a manic cackle on at least one occasion); the rhythms can be very inventive, with "Metalcarne" a particular standout; and the hooks are immediate and fleshed out enough to need no sugar coating. Mão Morta mostly plow on the same tempo through the whole album, except for the haunting, drawn-out closer, but the songwriting is good enough to prevent the music from blurring -- each song has an identity, even if none is a "mmm-bop" hit. On the whole, Pesadelo em Peluche plays like flawless post-punk noir -- and frankly, it doesn't need any better recommendations.

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