Moonspell – Peeling the Second Skin

Sunday, 31st March 2013

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Far and away the biggest Portuguese metal band, Moonspell’s career arc has been that of two initial quick bursts (1995’s Wolfheart and 96’s Irreligious) and slow, steady growth. The sheen of their early Goth metal era has given away to a bristling hard metal attack, best personified in albums like 2006’s Memorial and 2008’s Night Eternal. This year’s Alpha Noir (their first for Napalm Records) has a similar style and approach, as it’s basted in the band’s ultra-aggressive Goth angle, further augmented by singer Fernando Ribeiro’s ever-imposing rasp. While it’s not the shimmering, melody-driven foray of years past, it is another deadly shard from a band who has remained rather useful and viable.

Ribeiro has long been the band’s spokesman and as evidenced by our discussion below, the towering frontman isn’t one to mince words, especially when it comes to topical matters relating to Moonspell’s previous output (including the much-debated Sin/Pecado), their North American touring runs, and their status in their home country, where jealously apparently runs rampant. Onward we go… You made quite the statement by saying that Alpha Noiris the “most exciting, sexiest, darkest, and catchiest stuff we’ve written in ages.” It’s not like Night Eternal was no slouch, but what prompted you to say this?

Fernando Ribeiro: We have a bulletproof belief in our music and we are not afraid of being vocal about that. Sometimes we get carried on, but make no mistake that we are our worst critics. I think we never released a slouch album; sometimes our albums were met with a slouch response. That cannot be controlled. All we can do is to back our press release quotes with a strong concept, quality music, an open invitation to novelty, to an experience that can you take you further into our songs. What prompted us to say so was that belief, nothing else. We have nothing to gain from people who believe we are big-headed or arrogant but also we cannot always pretend to be modest when you have a fire burning from the inside. How does it feel to be on Napalm Records? They’re your third label home, but all things considered, they seem to be a perfect for Moonspell.

Ribeiro: Our history is quite a match, no doubts about that. We both started as underground black metallers with a need to expand, pretty much fuelled by the early 90’s in European metal, a quite effervescent period when many of today’s greats were born like Opeth, Samael, Paradise Lost or Tiamat. We’re both still in time to write our own little page on all this commotion, them with their releases, ours with records such as Wolfheart or Irreligious. It’s only right we join forces after 20 years. I am very positive about this collaboration. Napalm is trying to prove their name on the scene and we identify with that spirit, since we are far away from being one of those bands that do not have to fight for a space in the scene. It’s a war out there and is good to be armed with a strong collection of songs and an enthusiastic label to take them to the people. Four years in between albums is the longest you’ve gone. What kept Moonspell away from the studio during this time?

Ribeiro: Memorial and Night Eternal were albums that brought a lot back into our life. We started to have more and more gigs since Memorial’s release and we quite never stopped touring since 2007. What we knew is that we needed to give back something into our songwriting, so immediately we decided to take more time, do more songs and try to perfect them as much as we could. The compromise was that every break we had from the road we would be on studio practicing, writing, spending time together. There was not a lot of vacations or personal time in these last four years but in the end, we think we came up with better music and as a better band. Going into the recording of Alpha Noir, what was the mindset? From my first few listens, the album feels more direct, yet it has tons of layers. It’s very multi-faceted. It feels like you’ve managed to strike a balance between your early period (i.e. Irreligious) and some of your more recent works. Did you do any looking back to old releases when composing the material for the new album?

Ribeiro: Most of it was done in our rehearsal studio where we invested and transformed into a recording studio. That bought us a lot of time and comfort and I think that shows on the record. We did the drums in Denmark with Tue Madsen and he also flew to Portugal for the setup and some recordings. We also had another producer involved when we arranged the album and it was a true task force we had to do this one. They were both very excited about the concept of so many songs and layers and the wish to get a powerful sound, but less dense/more direct, as all the Alpha Noir songs and lyrics were showing signs that they would work better with a more alive atmosphere. But the band was more involved than ever on the production of this one, especially Pedro Paixão, our keyboard and guitar player.

A band does not need to look to the other albums or the past as they are always all around us and belong to our daily life. And no fan lets us forget about that. We are at ease with our past, but our ideas are straight when we set ourselves into doing a new album. We have no pretension of recreating the first or the second album, as it is impossible. And it’s not the band, the crowds and the whole scene has changed. Fans are always more suspicious and sometimes cynical than willing. That’s the Internet and the exposure to stuff that is very rarely musical or artistic but rather social or polemic. As a band who wrote those nowadays labeled as “classics” from European metal, our relationship with them is mostly musical and of gratitude for both great and hard times. So it is obvious that musical reminiscences from those times come up, here and there, after all they are our templates. One thing is for sure we wanted to sound as together and enthusiastic as we did when we first came up on the scene, like a fresh, new thing but none of our albums, Alpha Noir or Omega White are sequels to anything. What can you tell us about the special edition of Alpha NoirOmega White?

Ribeiro: It is a full album that is going to be released with Alpha Noir on a special edition. This idea was everything we wanted so that people have the chance to travel in between the two worlds we tried to portray. It might be crazy or hard to get it in the age of buying just one song on I tunes, or flip through pages nonstop, but we wanted to maintain the artistic integrity from this big picture we took where finally we could get together all elements, all parts of Moonspell. I hope it works, one never knows, so it’s better to stick to your original idea, to what you really want to represent instead of trying and second guess what goes in the mind of people and write to an agenda of festivals and touring opportunities. The band has made several trips over to the United States, so how do think the band fits in? Do you think having better label support will help in America?

Ribeiro: We have a very small, but loyal following. You can see that in the cities mostly and I also feel we have a strong support from all the Hispanic immigrants as we have many fans all around North America. We are thankful to all of these chosen few but in truth, we are a virtually unknown in most of North America, outside those I mentioned above. Our fans are fragmented between people who were into European metal for long, some still follow us, others lost touch. Then we have people who saw us touring with In Flames back in 1999 and started showing up in the gigs and tours we did since then, which were, I believe, ten so far. All of this has been a very slow, time and resources consuming so far. All in all I guess we did great tours, with established names like Danzig, Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Opeth, Type O Negative but I feel they were all false starts. I hope this new album and this new label will be the glue to tie all the pieces and that we can give the next step in North America and play more, to more people. Any regrets in regards to the Sin/Pecado album? It has always been the most controversial album in your discography, but 15 or so years later, it holds up pretty well.

Ribeiro: I just regret some of the production aspects of it, and the time we took to finish the songs in the studio when they could have sounded more powerful like the demos. But that’s it and that can be said from almost any album. If you settle or are happy with something and don’t question, then you are dead as an artist, your restlessness is gone. I am sure that in a couple of years I will question some of our choices for the new record, but the time is still new to enjoy. But in fact music is not perfect, the human factor is there and I have realized that’s one of our best things to offer as a band, that’s why we get so involved in every process and detail and for sure that does not create any profound or irreconcilable regrets. The Sin album was destined to open our waters and we became a better band afterwards. We need no one to tell us how our own story goes as we are writing it ourselves. Holding pretty well, indeed. You’ve managed to survive in the underground for over two decades, in Portugal, no less. What’s the secret?

Ribeiro: The capacity of learning with experience and observation through all these years. The capacity we worked on, for years and years, to separate what’s essential from what’s peripheral, concentrating on our music because that’s the only thing we can really excel at and make it under our own terms. To come from Portugal means a lot for us and not all is good. We’re a forgotten country; nobody expects nothing from, least at all, a heavy metal band. Just to travel to the shows from here is a nightmare; we’re far from where things are happening. All we have was conquered inch by inch and we’re always able to keep our expectations real. There is always more than meets the eye of the crowd, the story they tell about you is not really what you’re living. And to know that is what keeps your head above the waters. How did it make you feel having your own postage stamp in Portugal for the Wolfheart album?

Ribeiro: It was a moment of poetic justice. I do not know about the other Portuguese bands that were immortalized on a stamp, but Moonspell were heavy into tape trading and knew inside out how the Postal Service worked and how to get around their abusive postage prices. I have to say I was really proud of that after so many years using the Post. I would never believe if someone told me at the time that I could ship my tapes using my own stamp. Clearly, you are one of Portugal’s biggest metal exports. How much pride and/or responsibility do you feel knowing that when people think of Portuguese metal, they think of Moonspell?

Ribeiro: I really don’t know. Our crowd in Portugal is strong, but the scene kind of hates us for what we are. Portugal has this twisted way of dealing with success. Our best values never really have a fair treatment in our own country. Our only Literature Nobel Prize winner (José Saramago, 1998) moved to Spain after his book was taken of the list for a European Prize title by our government. I feel happy if we can break the ice on a festival where Portuguese metallers meet with foreign ones, but I fear that they are not always saying nice things. It’s a strange feeling most of the times but not strong enough for us to leave our country in search of greener pastures like many musicians here do. There is a lot more than haters in our country, our very own inspiration lives and breeds here, on our legends, myths and Southern culture. Finally, what’s on the agenda for the rest of 2012?

Ribeiro: We start touring in May, Summer Metal Festival season that goes up to the end of August. We’ll be all around, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Austria, Holland, etc. We also have the album release party in Lisbon, on a hometown gig. It’s our biggest headline show so far, for a 4,000 thousand capacity, let’s hope we don’t take a huge dive, cross my fingers! Then more festivals, headliner shows and a tour in November. In December we will join the Barge to Hell Metal cruise, we’ve been on the 70.000 Tons of Metal, so we look forward to it. So we’ll take the chance and try to book things around overseas and takeAlpha Noir right into your town!

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