An interview with Fernando Ribeiro, frontman and vocalist of the Portuguese gothic, black, death, folk metallers, marking this week’s release of their ninth full-length album, Alpha Noir/Ómega White.
Portugal is not really known in the world for its metal scene: how did you decide to become a musician and create Moonspell?
Maybe that holds some truth in what regards to our country, it still does unfortunately, but I believe it’s all a question of commitment and doing things both with passion and intelligence. Moonspell did not get it right all the time, but times enough to allow us to break from the indifference of the world towards the Portuguese metal scene and to defy the established UK/USA/Germany/Scandinavia monopoly. I am always happy when bands from the so-called neighbor countries do the same, be it Sinoath or Lacuna Coil in the case of Italy. The fact was that in 1989 up to 2002, there was no band in Portugal that we felt was embracing the blooming underground scene of the early nineties, so we decided to make our own. We never imagined it would turn out to be what Moonspell is today.
What was it like for you to have your very first album, Wolfheart, in 1995?
Wolfheart was like a dream come true for the band and I am really still proud that it became a classic of European metal; for us, everything was quite new and a bit chaotic at the start. We flew to Germany, recorded with Waldemar (Waldemar Sorychta) in the Woodhouse Studios, which for us was simply the producer and the studio we really, really wanted since we formed as a band. Everything was quite magical, yet hard. People sometimes think that Wolfheart was an overnight success, but it wasn’t! Everything was hardly earned; inch by inch, this album got the band into manhood. We have a deep sense of gratitude for what that album brought us, as well a certain pride that we could come up with these songs at this early stage.
In 2006, Memorial, your seventh album, gained you the status of the first Portuguese metal band to achieve a gold album. Was this something you expected at all?
We never expect anything, but we always fight for it; some of it becomes true, some other things are never achieved, but if you always settle for something, things will not be reached. Memorial was an album that brought us a great recognition. Beside the gold record in Portugal, it boosted our sales worldwide and people started to pay more respect to us after some years of unjustified obscurity. We also won the MTV Europe Best Portuguese act of that year; but above all, Memorial brought along a great self esteem and made us believe that we can swim against the tide and still do what we like musically, without compromising. I guess that was the most important thing about that album.
Your music has some very strong black metal roots that you kind of set aside on Irreligious to experiment with a more gothic and often heavier metal sound. How did these changes of direction occurred?
Black metal has always inspired us, but along the years I got really cold about it as it seemed that the good bands were just being drowned by the not so talented ones which were burning churches and killing competition. I always hated that fuzz about black metal; I always focused on the bands I really loved back then and still do, like Bathory, Celtic Frost, Mayhem, early Arcturus, Thorns, and of course King Diamond; there were too many mediocre musicians having their way through stupid violent acts. Anyway, black metal was never our sole influence and bands like Celtic Frost or Bathory showed us heaviness and brutality are not the only ways that you can mark the scene with. On Irreligious, we were heavily into goth and metal; Type O Negative, Sisters of Mercy and Fields Of The Nephilim were like the holy trinity for us at the time and it really came across on Irreligious, which enjoyed also the crowd’s favour; it was the right album for the right time.
Let’s talk about your latest album, Alpha Noir and the additional Ómega White. Alpha Noir has been described as “an incendiary album,” whereas Ómega White enfolds more of “pure atmosphere and shadows.” What is the concept behind your latest work divided into two completely different categories?
We see Alpha Noir as the arena and Ómega as the healing room. The ancient gladiator image is quite essential to describe the album both lyrically and musically. While one screams at your face with loud guitars, heavy pace and guttural outbursts, the other takes you to a quieter place where you can let loose and enjoy the sheer beauty of the songs. We wrote both albums not only to please the creative hunger for more and more songs, but also because we feel that to picture these two natures, these two main guidelines that oriented us since the early works, would be the thing to do finally. We do hope the fans will dive into the nuance and enjoy not another ordinary album, but hopefully a musical experience for all our fans.
More than a professional producer I guess, Tue can be considered also a friend and he worked really hard and was there in every moment for us during the four years which it took us to write and record these albums. The same can be said about another producer who worked with us for the first time on the arrangements, Benny Richter, with whom we felt immediate empathy as well. Then again, Tue has been working with us for three records now and he was really getting into this double one as he felt it was also a challenge for him. He was passionate during all stages of the making and we could not be happier with the outcome; we can only thank not only Tue and Benny but the true task force which worked on Alpha and Ómega without rest.
One of my favorite songs of the album is Lickanthrope. How did you create the initial growling? It sounds like there was a real one in the studio.
Aha! I recorded the vocals with Pedro (Pedro Paixão, our keyboard and guitar player who is also a key element of the songwriting and production) and he was quite pushy with me as he knows me better than everyone else as a singer. He told me that Lickanthrope vocals, especially on the verses, would have to “sound” like a wolf bite. I had a hard time to come up with it, but he meant the words to be sharp and short and it really worked. As for the howl going into the chorus after the clock is ticking, it was just me overlaying a growl with some howling I did myself. No samplers. I always liked to howl here and there and I did it a couple of times on Full Moon Madness and this time around we did not want to use an animal recording. The song is about a lycanthrope, so there is some humanity on that howling and I think that’s why it got out so “real.”
This great song is rumored to be your first video: any anticipation?
Indeed this is the video song for the Alpha album. For Ómega we choose White Skies. Lickanthrope was picked up for its visuals and morals; the lyrics are like an adult version of the big bad wolf/little red riding hood fable but with a twist in words that are populated by fiction characters like the above mentioned, but also dancers, a queen tying the hands of a king, you name it. Also, it is a song that deals with refusing long-haired artists, Baudelaire readers, red wine drinkers. Filipe Melo captured all that feeling into the video and transformed me into a beast, a werewolf. You can watch it on the Napalm Records YouTube channel as my words cannot match what’s going on this great, great video we are all proud of!
En Nome Do Medo changes the path of the album towards a more melodic approach. Did you have this song in mind as the perfect intermission for the album?
Em Noem Do Medo is for me one of the highlights of this album. I sing in Portuguese in this song and the atmosphere is crushing. Once I heard it, I had a gut feeling that it should be exactly what it turned out and I think this made it very special. This song is one of my favorites and I am glad it stands out even though it has a perfect flow with the other Alpha songs.
Grandstand exudes lots of vibrant live elements: are you planning to take it on stage?
Grandstand is my favorite song of this album. I wrote it as true piece of independence and this is very meaningful for me, especially the chorus bit. In a world where you are oppressed every day by men smaller than you, you have to know how to be and love yourself at all times. To take the grandstand even when people think you are being arrogant or such. One can not go through paths and lines other people wrote; finding within yourself the motivation to unveil your own route is something too precious in today’s world that the meek and the evil have truly inherited. Musically, it’s one of the most epic songs we ever wrote and it comes close to Full Moon Madness in many ways. It will be a must on our live set-list of course; I really love that epic, larger than life lyrics and music.
One of the many comments on the album I have read is that Alpha Noir/Ómega White is “a genuine release by a legendary act.” What in your perspective are the elements that make it genuine?
Our bulletproof belief in our music and the fact we never listen to anyone else than our heart and gut feeling to make music. In a scene where most bands play to an agenda or some other non musical “inspiration,” maybe the person who wrote this statement on Alpha Noir/Ómega White felt exactly what we wanted to achieve: an album that is personal, that shows a lot of ourselves as a band without alienating people in the process. There is a feeling of truth on these records that I can definitely agree on.