Moonspell recently celebrated the 20th year anniversary of Irreligious with a series of special shows across Europe performing Wolfheart and Irreligious in their entirety. From their humble beginnings in Portugal to playing across the world and building a loyal fanbase, the band has come a long way in their 25 year long career and has always been vocal about their deep connection with their heritage. We caught up with frontman Fernando Ribeiro in London to discuss how the band’s sound has evolved over the years, whether he still connects with the early material and how the band will continue to unite its diverse fanbase under the spell.
Moonspell has diversified significanlty over the years. Do you see yourself ever going back to those black metal elements present in Irreligious have you completely abandoned those black metal elements?
Hard question to start with. I will say I was very in love with black metal, especially with Bathory, and the legacy they left was a bit beyond black metal, especially with Hammerheart. They invented Viking metal and with Twilight of the Gods they did something different, epic, very philosophical. And when they returned to the black metal sound it didn’t work in a way and I prefer to stick to this example because for me they were the inventors of black metal as a movement, especially in Scandinavia and if you see the early black metal bands from the newer generations – which are not that new – from the early 80s and 90s like Darkthrone, Immortal, etc., all their records sounded like Bathory which is why I love them in the first place. I think black metal, with a few exceptions of bands that still keep it true, crossed that fine line between being something sublime and being orientated for some things that I personally don’t accept like fascism and racism. Even us in little Portugal, we were getting dead threats from Norwegian bands calling us black people because of our proximity to Africa. Obviously we were smart enough to ignore it and nothing came of it, I mean we’re here in London!
I sort of got cold towards the black metal music because of let’s say the anti-movement, the anti-everything that was part of black metal. Also, we toured with many black metal bands and even though they have their thing going I wouldn’t want to be in a band like that. It’s too chaotic. Aesthetically, I think there are still bands doing interesting stuff and there are bands mixing black metal with other music like Der Weg Einer Freiheit who are with us on tour and I am very excited that Mayhem is playing De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas but black metal when I listen to it, I still listen to the old stuff or new things like, Watain, Satyricon who are still awesome but I don’t see it going back to it. The next album we are doing is a different thing. It will be sung in Portuguese and it has a lot more metallic influences. Some of it might sound more black metal and it is heavily influenced by Bathory but I wouldn’t say we’re going to introduce the kind of pure black metal that people know now to our songs. But you never know with Moonspell!
Do you still feel connected to your early material? Does it feel like it was written and recorded by the same guy?
Definitely, each time more! I never really have denial phases and always try to connect the dots with all the albums, all the musical personas. I think we’re pretty much still the same because first and foremost we like to be a creative band. Whatever that means for people, it means a lot to us. I think that’s what keeps the band together. The possibility of getting in a room and doing something from scratch, anything can happen. Yes, I connect a lot with the old material because I always have this romantic thing about my idea of me as a musician, maybe because I never wanted to be one and I have that distance. I was quite happy studying Immanuel Kant, I would have been happy as a philosophy teacher. I always had this detachment from wanting to be a musician. I think many people that went into the underground scene just wanted to express themselves in a way and just wanted to create something. For instance, in Portugal we didn’t have occult/black metal bands. Our bands in Portugal were cloning Metallica and Pantera so it all kickstarted from there.
I am different, my voice is different. I have sideburns now, I didn’t have them when we released Wolfheart – laughs. Everything is different, the world is different. Some people are very hard on us musicians ‘yeah you guys changed!’ Look around, what hasn’t changed? These past few years, I did a very good job connecting all the dots and I say that, especially now with the anniversary shows, performing songs like ‘A Poisoned Gift’ or ‘Love Crimes’ and connecting with those songs made us feel actually good getting into the atmosphere of the shows. It’s not something that we are doing just for the fans, it’s something that we can also get into, it’s very important.
“We love playing Irreligious, we love playing Wolfheart. We will do it many, many nights up to 2017 but then we want something new and revolutionary to present to our crowd.”
This far into your career, do you trust your instinct that whatever you write is going to fit within Moonspell’s framework?
Now yes. I think, for me, the most important change ever for Moonspell was from Wolfheart to Irreligious because Under the Moonspell and Wolfheart, they are very variable albums, especially in the underground scene some people said they were groundbreaking for folk metal and gothic metal, etc. Irreligious was a success. Not that Wolfheart was forgotten but Irreligious totally surpassed the second album, it became really big in Germany. For us life went on, we were really young and we were living with our parents and Irreligious changed that so it’s very important. From that moment on I think that we knew, with better or worse results, what we wanted to do concept-wise and music-wise. For instance with Extinct, we knew very well we wanted to do something more symphonic, more epic. I don’t know, these words suck but something that can bring us out in terms of songwriting and also for the performance. The emotion of the songs is what we were looking for and everything we wrote was quite fitting there.
Now, I think the best proof is not even the past, it’s the future. When I studied philosophy, I learnt a lot about the Lisbon great earthquake in 1755 and I was always paying attention. I was always doing my own thing but I had a good radar for things that will be meaningful for after high school. So, I already have the experience of writing ‘Opium’ because I was paying attention to the teacher. She was reading Pessoa and I loved it, so when I had money I bought the book. I had that book when I was writing ‘Opium’ and it probably became the most known song of Moonspell. For me that’s down to composition and inspiration and it’s the same for the Lisbon earthquake. Fifteen years ago, I was learning about Voltaire, Spinoza, their comments on the Lisbon earthquake, what happened, why God has failed such a Catholic nation that still had the Inquisition. The earthquake came and it was a big disaster and it had a worldwide reputation – note to self, back then Europe was the world – and it changed a lot of the ways that people connected to God and religion, to providence and it allowed the minister that took over the Portuguese Kingdom at the time to escape the Inquisition. All this may sound like too much intellectual and philosophical stuff for a metal band but I think it’s perfect and I took all this knowledge from there and now we’re writing a very nice, metallic, a lot heavier album. It’s about an earthquake so we’re trying to convey the concept. It’s going to be a much more aggressive album. But the best thing is that it’s going to be sung in Portuguese because I felt that was the language I wanted to write about it.
Do you find recording in Portuguese and in Portugal challenging?
Actually we welcome it as a very good break. I have to say, I am really happy with what me and Jens did in Extinct. I think I became a better vocalist, better diction, better everything. We worked hard and I think that shows in the album but it was painstaking work, every second, every melody, every second voice, every third voice so this time I sung in Portuguese. I tried some melodic vocals and said well it sounds great but it could be someone else. I will use my screaming vocals, all the Portuguese is shouted like in some other songs of Monspell. It was quite cool, it was quite liberating for me and we recorded everything here and there because it was supposed to be an EP but we liked it so much that we convinced Napalm to release it as an album. I always regret making bonuses, well don’t regret it because the fans like them, but it’s always like ‘oh this could be something else!’ so this time we said, we’re going to have the DVD and then we make some monkey business, some documentary but let’s not mix creativity with bonuses. I think this will be really cool for Portuguese fans but also for other fans. For example, I love Sólstafir but I don’t understand shit of what they sing.
“Something I don’t want to do is to drag, honestly to drag the band out. Maybe we will do a worse album, a better album but in between we will have our own thing and that’s what keeps us alive.”
At this point in your career, you have a wide mix of fans: people who have followed you from the beginning, younger fans who caught up halfway and even people who have only just discovered you. Are these anniversary shows a way to initiate the younger generations into the band’s legacy?
Younger fans should experience this, that’s important. I have to say that about the anniversary we did the right thing. We did Extinct in 2016 and last year it was the 20th anniversary of Wolfheart and people asked us so we did a couple of shows playing Wolfheart. We then knew that it was going to be the 20th anniversary of Irreligious, we took a step back and waited for the invitation and that came from Century Media who wanted to re-release it and everything went alright. It was a good thing for us and the promoters and the fans wanted us to do it.
I think we have to manage these waters well, I think we are at crossroads of waters. I think the waters from the past unavoidably are in a way catching us up, mixing with the waters of the future. I think that for sure we have a repertoire and legacy and from the older to the younger generations, people want to listen to it. Even in the old times, when we didn’t have time to play the full album so in that aspect, to have that experience to understand each song’s different sensibility, it’s great because the atmosphere is really good. It’s not cheesy, it works. But then, especially in one year from now, when we are done with the 25th anniversary of the band which is next year, I don’t want it to be a calendar thing or just continue the celebrations. We are going to attack with the Portuguese album which is completely different. Obviously the celebrations are really important for us and for our fans but I think nobody minds if we think a little bit forward because that’s also the way of Moonspell. We love playing Irreligious, we love playing Wolfheart. We will do it many, many nights up to 2017 but then we want something new and revolutionary to present to our crowd.
Is there any challenge you have not tried yet with Moonspell?
Some, when you are 25 years into a band and obviously Moonspell has always had a very solid career… We were never Amon Amarth but we never went as down as many bands who used to be very famous. I think we are truly an underground band, people say: ‘ah, you guys are mainstream and you play for thousands of people in Portugal or here and there!’ Yes, but that’s something exceptional, our career is made in clubs everywhere in the world. I think that built a certain characteristic around Moonspell. All and all we’ve always been here. Obviously, our expectations and goals are different these days, we would love to think that it might happen like with Metallica or Ghost, especially with the new album, because these bands are too great but I know also that our reality is that we’ll probably do another club show next year with another album. So what we take as the big plans is definitely much more musical, and whenever we have a chance to do a big show like the one in Portugal where we had everything, we do it. It’s not bragging about it, it’s just because we had everything then and the big challenge is to adapt and make this work every time. For a Portuguese band having people who are interested in us after 25 years, it’s scary! It’s an impossibility made true in a way. Challenges? There’s still a lot of stuff that I want to do, especially musically, I wanted to cover ‘Who by Fire’ by Cohen. I wanted to cover Swans’ ‘Miracle of Love’. Sometimes my goals are just to do cover songs – laughs.
25th anniversary is coming up, what’s the next chapter? Have you even thought about the final chapter?
The next chapter is the Portuguese album. The final chapter is called ‘Life ambition’. You travel so much, I think this is a privilege and that’s what I’d like to state first and foremost. We have to understand that we have to keep the band strong and connected and sometimes our rhythm is heavier than other bands, it’s also where we come from, the status of the band and everything else.
The creative part, I don’t think that’s a problem at all for Moonspell and I’m not bragging, we just have an open mind. We search and when you search you write an album. We don’t have an agenda so we don’t have to write an album about pirates for next year’s Wacken compilation CD so that’s cool. Our main goal is independence and I think we got it. We still work with many people but the decisions are completely ours. The final chapter will be me surrounded by books, near the sea in Portugal. Just there, with a beard and maybe with hair – if it hasn’t fallen out! To sum it up, after this crazy life of 25 years or plus and it will be plus because I think we have a lifetime of 25 years already next year and the next five years will be busy anyway. Something I don’t want to do is to drag, honestly to drag the band out. Maybe we will do a worse album, a better album but in between we will have our own thing and that’s what keeps us alive.