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MOONSPELL – A Dying Breed
Anthony Morgan
March 2015

Moonspell (l-r): Pedro Paixão, Ricardo Amorim, Fernando Ribeiro, Miguel Gaspar and Aires Pereira

March 2015 full-length Extinct – the 11th proper studio affair from Portuguese gothic metallers Moonspell – arrived somewhat out of the blue for the quintet, although it had been almost three years since the issue of April 2012 double-album platter Alpha Noir / Omega White, Moonspell’s inaugural Napalm outing.

“It wasn’t planned by the band, to embark on composing, songwriting, and recording a new album,” remembers Fernando Ribeiro, vocalist for Moonspell. “It was a record that was more of a gut feeling. I thought I had a cool concept in my mind, and I thought that I had a story to be told. I was pretty sure that the other guys were always keeping it flowing as well when it came to writing songs, so we just put together the pieces really quickly. Eventually, we started finding out the direction on the way.

“We knew we wanted to do something different, expanding a little bit on some of our characteristics. Everything in the process was really fast, and we’re quite happy and proud of the results because it sounds a little bit fresher. There’s some places we’ve just probably never been before with our songs, and so I think we did a solid album, a different album – much more melodic than our most recent stuff, but also an album that definitely has some of our personal signature, even though there’s a lot of novelties to be found on this one.”

Authoring compositions, the frontman’s goals were unequivocal. “I think at the end of the day, everybody aims for creating great songs that can definitely stand by themselves but then would also work very well on an album,” he observes. “When we were writing for this one, we really wanted to make sure that every song worked and that every song had a special mood, a special moment as well. That’s why we didn’t go into doing a really long album, and so we decided to concentrate on what we had.

“Like I was saying, we had some ideas in our mind for quite some time which was also to work on more exuberant arrangements, to make the music a little bit more killer when people listen to it, and also to work on the ability of keeping them returning to the album to find more and more about the album – about the lyrics, about what’s behind that more melodic soundtrack that Extinct definitely has. There wasn’t really a plan; we just followed the lead of the music. Even though it sounds corny and romantic, I think that’s exactly what we do. When we write our songs and start focusing on what becomes a record, we capture a little bit of the spirit of the time we are living and what we are going through personally. Twenty years has passed since we started releasing albums and making tours, and a lot of stuff has also happened to us.

“A lot of maturity came during the process as well, but I think our music just follows the kind of emotion that was set upon us more than 20 years ago. I think we try being creative, and try to also challenge our listeners into listening to something a little bit different than the gothic metal of today. I think Extinct is a really good alternative, and we worked hard on it to also distinguish ourselves among the scene – regardless of the fact that we’ve been a part of that scene for so many years in all kinds of positions.”

Extinct earnt its moniker courtesy of Fernando’s personal circumstances. “My personal circumstances – as the guy who writes the lyrics – I brought that aspect into the album,” he notes. “I called the album Extinct because of two main events, let’s put it that way. There was an event of life, which was the birth of my son three years ago. When we started composing for the new record, that was a big influence because of all the sheer joy and living experience that it is to be a father, you also go through very dark periods where you question yourself and where certain parts of yourself have to go under a process of extinction so that you become a better caretaker.

“Being a father helped me realise how anguished I was just before as well, even with all of the companionship and the commonality within the band, and everything we’ve been through together – and I have a brother and a sister. To be in control of someone’s life… I don’t mean to be in control of a fan’s life through your music, but being in control of your flesh and blood, it’s something that really involves a lot of change – it involves a lot of adaptation.

“The other event was the death of Peter Steele from Type O Negative (April 14th, 2010), which was something I could never really get across just as a physical death. Obviously, I wasn’t a part of his family, I wasn’t a friend. We toured together; in 1996 we got to tour with them a little bit in their prime, and also we got to tour with them when everything was growing into chaos in Peter’s life. When he died, the way that the scene reacted to it… I think the deaths of these kinds of people – like the last of their kind in a way – I see it as more of an extinction. Those times are not coming back; that inspiration that Type O Negative was on many lives, including mine, are not coming back. I think we are not evolving in the scene; it’s kind of a nostalgic feeling in a way with some hope for the future, with some awareness that we have to go on with things.

“Those were the two main personal events that actually ignited the writing of the lyrics for Extinct, though. There are many aspects of them in the lyrics. Obviously, I didn’t write solely about these two subjects, but the emotion in-between life and death is definitely where I wrote – the more grey, diffused area where base my lyrics upon. They’re more personal, and not so much fiction. Definitely not.”

Fernando Ribeiro

When such seminal musical figures like Peter Steele pass away, this creates an inevitable void. The likes of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden typically headline metal festivals, causing one to wonder as to the possible health of the metal scene in roughly 20 years time when such bands have called time on their respective careers. “It’s curious that you mention that, because especially Black Sabbath with their last album (13, June 2013), they showed the scene – the crowd – a lot of vitality,” the mainman reckons. “It was a great album with great music; even though they don’t have anything to prove any more, they felt they could expand on their sound. I think that definitely is a lesson, even though we’re not a household name – we’ll never have even half of the recognition of Black Sabbath. Being from Portugal, we have our own history, but it really inspired me because I can relate to that while probably a younger kid can’t. Sometimes people just overlook the work and importance of such bands, but I think that times are changing.

“I think with the internet and with all of these bands popping up, people are getting tired of amateurs and really want to follow bands who know what they’re doing. I think there’s a chance for bands like us, especially in our genre and with this kind of album, because it’s really an alternative to what’s going on in our own scene. That scene is gothic metal, which is more dominated by the logic of soprano singers, mid-growlers. Sometimes all of the rock and the dark parts go away into too much of a sugar-like song, and stuff like that. I think it’s really important that good albums are produced by any band, but if older bands can still have a word to say, I think that that’s a thing that I’m definitely up for myself. In a way, how the scene evolves and what it’s going to be in 20 years is something that we can start now. I think the metal scene is going through a little bit of a crisis, a creative crisis.

“I think it’s only great when bands like Black Sabbath come up with such surprising albums. Also, the new Accept (Blind Rage, August 2014), the new Judas Priest (Redeemer Of Souls, July 2014), they’re all very, very good albums. I think that just the kings of metal – the top of the chain bands – are showing how things are done, and I think that that’s a great thing happening these days.”

Although the Black Sabbaths, Accepts and Judas Priests of the metal world ‘are showing how things are done’, one has to wonder whom is taking up the mantle among the more recent crop of metal acts. “I don’t know,” Fernando muses. “I don’t know really how to see that far. What I know is nowadays, it seems that people… I’ve always seen music as something that grows with you. Sometimes I feel that, especially with people who listen to music right now, they’re much more interested in some sort of entertainment. I think for me, the future of metal has to go through some change as well. I think that sometimes the fans really have to choose between probably a more difficult record, and a record that doesn’t give them instant gratification but more insights into the future.

“I think that’s a very critical phase right now as we’re in 2015, where metal has probably reached its limit with all of the festivals that we’ve played and all of the bands have played, for 70-100,000 fans. If bands stop being creative and if they start making records where it’s business as usual, to meet an agenda, like ‘Let’s make a record for the summer festival season… Let’s milk the brand,’ then I think we all will have a problem. With all of these times where things are a little bigger, I think it’s always a great time to start doing different music in a way, and that’s what we are trying in our genre as well.”

Irrespective of whom eventually fills the inevitable void in the general metal scene, as far as the gothic metal scene is specifically concerned, a void was created as a result of Peter Steele’s passing. Nevertheless, the man’s influence can be heard in the singer’s vocal contributions towards Extinct. “I have to say that for me, that’s a big compliment,” he appreciates. “I think that not only as a singer with his deep bass baritone – because he had a deeper vocal than what I have – he’s definitely a person that really stood up as someone that also really read very well into his own lyrics and his own universe, and he was much more complete than just a singer. He also played the bass.

“I’m heavily inspired by many, many singers, and I think that Peter Steele is probably at the top of the list, and so is Type O as a band for Moonspell. Even though we try to keep our music as unique and as original as possible – as a lot of bands try to, in a way – I think that we always nod to our influences. There are a lot of vocal influences that I have, and definitely Peter Steele. When I first heard Type O Negative – especially with Bloody Kisses (August 1993) – we were doing our first album Wolfheart (April 1995) at the time, and immediately I said ‘Well…’

“I was more inspired by a kind of black metal vocal, like Bathory and also some other stuff and some other singers. When I listened to Bloody Kisses though, I was really definitely very inspired by the romantic, dark, vampiric touch that Peter Steele had. Of course, you always like to emulate in a way your idols, but there are great singers around. I love (Carl) McCoy from Fields Of The Nephilim. He’s one of a kind; a great singer, a great performer, and great visually as well. I used to love Andrew Eldritch (The Sisters Of Mercy); I think for the 80s and early 90s, he was just the most awesome guy around on the gothic scene. Obviously Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) as well, and many, many other singers.

“I think you always have to learn from the best. I always try to work out and improve on my vocals, my accent, because I’m from Portugal (laughs). Sometimes I sound a little bit like Count Dracula (laughs). People always tease me, because Portuguese is a very hard-shaped language. When you listen to it, it always sounds a little bit like Slavic, like Russian, a kind of accent where sometimes people think we’re from the east.

“They pick on us, but it’s hard, and I think it’s worse when I start taking on an American accent or a UK accent (laughs). I find it very funny when people whose native language isn’t English speak, because they try to adopt this accent. They just sound like they’re out of a Second World War comedy movie, and obviously I have to look up to all of these artists that especially are not only great singers, but write really great lyrics as well, and can express them and bring them to life as all of these singers I’ve referenced can do.”

Moonspell (l-r): Aires Pereira, Pedro Paixão, Fernando Ribeiro, Ricardo Amorim
and Miguel Gaspar

Many different accents exist across the depth and breadth of the United Kingdom. “Yeah, that’s true,” Fernando agrees. “We once had a tour bus from the UK, and both of the drivers were from Newcastle. We’ve been there on tour in the UK as well, and sometimes we had to be really focused because it’s an accent that’s sometimes so thick. They don’t sound like the English we talk with each other and with other bands, and also the English we see in American series’ and films sometimes (laughs). Imagine, though. Even in a country like Portugal which is so small, and even the couple of islands we have with the Azores, the accent is really, really different from even a hundred kilometres away. It’s just very different.”

The aforementioned Wolfheart – Moonspell’s debut proper – celebrates its 20th anniversary in April 2015. “That’s what really pops in my head, because I remember very vividly Wolfheart and all the things that happened with Wolfheart,” the lyricist begins. “Our transformation from a Portuguese band that was trying hard to get some recognition – especially outside Portugal – and then all of the process that happened to get Waldemar (Sorychta, producer), to get the album released, to get Century Media supporting it, and the big surprise that it was for everyone that it turned out to be. I think up to today, it’s the biggest selling release from a Century Media band from Portugal, so there are a lot of great memories.

“I think my best memory is when we flew back from Germany, where we recorded back in 1995. I had a Walkman with a tape of Wolfheart – back in the day, there was nothing else (laughs). I had a Walkman, and I listened to it. It was the first time I could listen to our music well-produced, with our ideas being perfectly placed and played much better than if we had gotten stuck in Portugal and worked with a local producer. It was the first time that I felt Moonspell was something that probably wouldn’t just stay for a first album, that we would probably evolve and progress, and make the dream come true.

“Of course, it came with a lot of pain (laughs). All the band knows that it’s not a walk on an open boulevard full of light, and people applauding. It was great, hard work to get Wolfheart to people the old school way by touring a lot, but the way it has spread… Not only to the countries that normally buy metal records, but also to countries that I could never imagine an album such as Wolfheart… We arrive, and all the respect we get from all other bands. There are Wolfheart fans who come out specifically to hear those songs. We never expected the album to get this status, the status of an album that is also seen as part of a movement, like the more avant-garde metal, black metal, dark metal that Century Media was releasing back in the 90s. We were totally fans, and longed to write a little bit of that history, and add a Portuguese chapter to that. Of course, we’re really proud of it.

“We don’t have time with all of the tours coming, but we would like to do a Wolfheart show in some cities around Europe. If we don’t have the time with the touring for the new album though, then maybe for some dates we’ll just play the whole of Wolfheart and then the whole of Extinct. Let’s see. It’s 20 years of Wolfheart, so everything’s possible. We all know the songs by heart, so it won’t be a problem to play them.”

Should Moonspell perform Wolfheart live in its entirety to mark its 20th anniversary, hopefully the concert (s) in question will be visually recorded. “We’ve done it a couple of times,” Fernando cites. “We did it on a Halloween show here in Portugal, to just have a Night Of The Wolf. Not too many times, like two or three times, and always with a guest singer for the female vocals. We did it once at Inferno festival in Norway, and it was great. It was really like time travel, and people were really excited listening I wouldn’t even say towards the likes of ‘Alma Mater’, which is a regular thing in our setlist, but songs like ‘An Erotic Alchemy’, ‘… Of Dream And Drama’. The folk songs of that period of Moonspell. I never really get tired of listening to Wolfheart, and the praise, and people looking forward to it, because this album brought us a lot as well. We’re extremely grateful.

“Just to say that it was a good thing but now it’s in the past, and now we have a brand new album sounding super? No. I think we have to live in harmony with what we did, especially when what you did was so surprisingly positive in our lives and other people’s lives. I could never have imagined all of the doors that Wolfheart opened for us, which were unbelievable, almost unreal for a Portuguese band. We’ll gladly do it, definitely, if people are up for it. To feel a little bit of the Wolfheart spirit again, going back to 1995 and all of those influences, it has been tested and everybody was really into it.”

From 1995 through to 2015, Moonspell have evolved both as a group as well as individuals. “I think we have changed a lot, especially in terms of what needed to be changed,” the performer ponders. “We were a band from Portugal, and so we were very naive. There wasn’t anyone really who were doing the same stuff as we were back then, to get some feedback and live advice from. We kind of learnt about everything ourselves, and then there were all the other problems. In Portugal, sometimes it’s hard. It’s not like being a German band or a Scandinavian band. It’s sometimes more problematic for us travelling around, and to be able to live from music. The key elements of Moonspell are still there. I think we have a fantastic relationship between the members. Obviously, we’ve had our shitstorms over the years (laughs).

“It’s more than a family, I would say. It’s people that I’ve chosen. I’ve been in Moonspell for 23 years. For instance, I’ve turned more of my own apartment into Moonspell’s studio in the last few years, so it’s kind of a very constant thing in our lives and in the lives of the many, many people who work with us, or listen to our music. It’s kind of something that went I wouldn’t say well financially or whatever, but when it comes to connecting people and when it comes to relationships, it’s something that has brought a lot. Much more than we ever expected, in a way. Obviously, we have changed. I can say that I’m the same like I was 20 years. Of course, a part of me wishes to be the same, to have all of that youth and probably really, really less cynical about the world (laughs). On the other hand though, I think we always made the right choices.

“We always changed what had to be changed while keeping the key elements of Moonspell, which are incredible friendships. Also, we like to work, and we like to be challenged. We have a very strong commitment to the band, because this is one shot in a lifetime for a Portuguese band. We always work hard because in a way, we feel privileged. We’ve worked for it definitely, but also I had other bands in Portugal and they couldn’t reach where we reached. We always wanted to reach further, and always expand with our band. It’s always in our plan.”

The greatest difference between 1995 and 2015 is that Fernando is experiencing fatherhood. Certain quarters mainly describe becoming a parent as being a joyous thing, although Fernando has referenced the darker aspects associated with it. “People sometimes jump to conclusions,” he cautions. “Of course, being a father is something totally special in your life; it’s something totally joyous, and it’s made of glorious moments like walking in the park with your kids, and their first word, and when they walk for the first time, and when they crack a joke for the first time. I think that perceptions about most parents and most literature about parents is as though everyone lives on a fantasy island (laughs), where everything is perfect and everything goes alright.

“What I see is that many parents are unaware of the struggle between yourself as a father or as a mother, and sometimes I see a lot of friends and a lot of people just totally neglecting themselves in order to take care of their kids, which is a very noble thing to do. Also though, when their kids get to grow up, they will have much more boring and normal fathers and mothers that probably expect their lives wouldn’t be so rich without their kids.

“Me and my wife, who is also a musician and a singer but in a pop band, we always understood this kind of fight. We always understood that we would go to dark moments. We always understood that it would cause problems with our lifestyle, which is late hours and being away. There’s a lot of chaos. Obviously we’ve found our harmony, but for me it is important and a tradition as a lyricist that I tell about the places that probably every father has been. It’s probably too shameful for other fathers to talk about, though. Moonspell music is also where I lay my weight; when I came back from Sweden, I was much more relaxed in a way (laughs), and was definitely much more up to facing real life again.

“I think people, especially when you read about kids… It’s not an exact science at all. In my opinion, they paint it a little bit too much with gold so to speak. My wife did an interview here in Portugal, and the interviewer said ‘Would you like to get pregnant again?’ She said about how we have a one-child policy and that we like that, and how it’s also a question of love, and about how we don’t want any more kids, and about how it feels awful when you’re pregnant. Everybody criticised her, because everybody was saying ‘Oh, it was the most beautiful experience in my life.’

“My thing is that with real love comes a greater pain. Also, it’s like the Spiderman metaphor, that with greater powers comes greater responsibilities. If everybody deals with that in a joyous way then I’m a bit jealous of these people (laughs), because there’s definitely dark stuff that you have to go through as a father and as a person. It’s not a situation where everybody’s playing around and having picnics.”

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