Moonspell – Breathe In, Breathe Out

Monday, 9th March 2015

By the time Moonspell’s 1996 Irreligious album hit the scene, Goth metal was far from a codified form of heavy music. Sure, the glorious trinity of British doom (Anathema, My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost) were creating some crossover effect, and Type O Negative were leading the commercial charge, but for the underground, there wasn’t a prime leader in the clubhouse. That is, until Irreligious and it’s melodically-defiant, deep, and burly Goth vocal saunters started to have impact, which it did shortly after its release. A lot of the ideals laid out by said album (and the band’s Wolfheart debut, which came a year earlier) eventually became copied and tweaked into many of the sub-categories that fall under Goth today. But make no mistake: Moonspell kicked down the door – a lot of the other bands simply walked through it.

This prescient because the band’s new Extinct album has perhaps the most direct line to Irreligious than any of the band’s preceding albums. Flush with elaborate melodies, dense atmospheres, and vocalist Fernando Ribeiro’s thick-as-fuck-but-totally-commanding clean vocals, Extinct boasts several soon-to-be Moonspell classics, in particular the title track, “Medusalem,” and “Domina.” Moreover, it’s one of the year’s first real barnstormers.

Here to wax on Extinct is the aforementioned Ribeiro, who in between taking care of his young son (who was audible during our entire chat), was quick to delve into the complexities of the band’s career, and Extinct. Read on…

Dead Rhetoric: We’re at 20 years since the release of Wolfheart. Have you done any sort of reflecting?

Fernando Ribeiro: The years just pass by, and sometimes Moonspell is such an active band in doing other stuff than celebrating the past. Even we’re caught by surprise. It happened to me when we turned 20. We were in Moscow and after the show, and I was stressed about something – something with the band probably – Mike [Gaspar, drums] bought me a really expensive beer. Russia is crazy with their prices. He told me, “Chill out. You’ve been doing this for 20 years.” And I said, “Wow, 20 years!” We did a couple of a shows here and there, a book, so but it wasn’t like stopping everything we were doing to celebrate. Now it’s the same for Wolfheart, which is an album we remember very vividly. It’s an album that turned out to be a major surprise for everyone. For us, for the scene, the fact that in a way, it has endured the test of time. A lot of new generations are discovering. I can’t say it myself – but others have said it’s a classic for dark metal. For me, it’s just an album we did and we knew we really felt inside our heart was something different. We weren’t sure it was going to work out. It was something that went to a lot of places.

I was in an interview and somebody was describing Wolfheart – I know it and we play the songs – he told me that it in his opinion that are a lot of blueprints for styles that dominate the scene, like folk, Gothic metal, and vampire stuff. When we did that album, we couldn’t see it coming. We were more concerned with trying to survive, and play as tight as we could. We were so young. I was 21, Mike was 19. We were thrown at the wolves. [laughs] We came out of Portugal, and Wolfheart was very meaningful.

Dead Rhetoric: You’re right. You’re one of the first big bands to come out of Portugal, and, you were on Century Media who were just getting going around that time.

Ribeiro: That’s true. I have to say Century Media really supported us. Robert [Kampf, founder], Oliver [Withoft co-owner]…especially Robert. I know when he signed Moonspell, he told us straight away, “I know your music will be weird for most of what we release. But I’m attracted to it. You call it Moonspell. It’s like a spell.” The intention of Century Media was cool; they wanted to sign bands from exotic countries, well, not exotic to us. [laughs] They definitely made something that I think was quite original and groundbreaking at the time. In Europe in the 90s, there was a lot of people who talked about the “Century Media metal.” It was avant-garde. People were keen in listening to with more people experimentation. It was a small period, not even a decade that was really something…how can I say? Things were really happening in Europe. Since ’98 or the 2000s, the more conventional metal piled up, and these bands had a dark period. But it seems the entertainment part of metal is losing a little bit. It’s cool to do the Viking robot and to do dance to the pirate songs at festivals, but sometimes these bands lack depth.

Dead Rhetoric: As for Extinct, this album, in relation to your previous albums, has more of a feel toward Irreligious. I’m referring to the melodic aspect. Do you have that feeling as well?

Ribeiro: I think no band is an island. You can look into that past and find connections and bridges. I think everything we have done, experimental, radical, more by the book, everything ends up in the way we approach music and the way we write music. We came from extreme, or at least in our case “extreme” albums with Memorial and Aura Noir. We were really getting into in a way, clashing our darker sound with something more alive, and more aggressive. Our state of mind was a little angrier than what it is now. Now, it’s more contemplative and desolate. In the process, we got a hangover; the feeling we were probably trying to compete in a logic, in a direction that probably doesn’t represent us fully. Of course, we love Aura Noir, but as musicians we always try to change ourselves. Moonspell has been balancing between these two sensibilities – the more metal, and more melodic. When we do melodic, we reach further with the songs and atmospheric. It has this Irreligious and Sin/Pecado touch, but what counts is how the song insinuates. It’s not an in face your album. It goes around and penetrates like smoke.

Dead Rhetoric: A good example of that would “Domina,” where you are primarily singing, not growling.

Ribeiro: Yeah, I had to work hard on the vocals. It’s hard work when trying to find the right mood to express myself. It’s very important with all the mood swings of the Moonspell songs. When I got this, it’s one of the main differences for Extinct, even though there is some screaming and grunting. They do belong and they lend to their parts. One of the things people will notice more is that there is a lot more singing. That has to do with the fact also I was much more involved at the early stage of composition. The other guys would come in and say, “It’s not that we’re going to make a vocal oriented album. But you came up with a lot of the ideas to kick off some musical parts.” There was more of me on this album. It was a big challenge. Finally after so many years, I’ve tried to work on my accent, on the lyrics, I tried to give people my best, most heartfelt performance. Some people will definitely like it who were expecting it. Some were demanding a return to more melodic vocals.

Dead Rhetoric: I love your melodic vocals.

Ribeiro: That was something that just happened. [laughs] When we wrote songs like “Domina,” I said “We had to create some memorable things with vocals.” The vocals will be a key element on the album that throw people away, or get them into a cool experience. When we worked with Jens [Borgen, producer], I felt really important, but sometimes vocals are just the thing that comes at the end of the music, like the lyrics. It doesn’t happen with Moonspell, but a guitar player is a guitar in a world of notes, and a drummer is a drummer. It’s instruments, and sometimes the vocals can be the weakest link or a shade. That happens a lot in Goth metal.

Dead Rhetoric: They’re an afterthought.

Ribeiro: Yes. This time around, they lead the album, especially to the atmospheric parts and enlightening parts, the ones that are more spacious and breathe more. I think I mentioned it’s something people have to be ready for. It’s like a black metal vocal oriented album. It’s an album that’s very emotional when it comes to singing. You can only do that by challenging yourself, and having experiences that allows you to progress.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the approach to touring with Extinct going to be? Any thoughts in coming back to North America?

Ribeiro: We’re in the process of brainstorming. We believe we took our music and performances to the next level by going to Sweden, so we want to do this with the live show. People know that touring the States for a European band is not a walk in the park. It’s expensive. Not because of the crowds. The cities are great, but some other places, we have to work harder. There’s always, as we call it, “politics” that you have to deal with. Regardless, us, and Napalm [Records] we’re keen to bringing more fans into Moonspell from North America. It’s not confirmed, but we’re starting with Europe, like in Germany, France, and Spain. Then I believe in May, we’ll take the same package, Moonspell and Septicflesh to the US. It’s great; we’re done really well with Marduk and Leaves’ Eyes. They’ve been successful, and sometimes I look at the States and go, “We’ve worked so hard.” We’ve had so many nights without showering, but still, we don’t have a solid fanbase in the States. We definitely want to change it.

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