DATE OF INTERVIEW:
23rd February 2015
For the listening masses, 'gothic metal' has become awash with self-imitative bands that have nothing but a mere semblance to the subgenre's original significance. More often than not, bands that claim goth metal affinity are only spuriously affiliated through superficial imagery and image, with music that couldn't be more disconnected and displaced from why such a subgenre was engendered in the first place. However, Portuguese band Moonspell have forever remained faithful to their dark metal underpinnings and, with the imminent release of new album 'Extinct', are set to reassert the true essence of the gothic metal tag. It's also what could be construed as the definitive Moonspell record; one where they've flourished and matured through a refined progression that sees the band not only consolidate their stylistic idioms with sonically electrifying results, but also add a few new elements to their sound. Extinction is, most definitely, a long way off for these Portuguese musicians. Ahead of the album's release, during an in-depth interview, frontman Fernando Ribeiro spoke to Metal Discovery about its central themes, working with Jens Bogren, the true essence of 'gothic metal', and reflects back on the band's debut album, 'Wolfheart', on its twentieth anniversary...
METAL DISCOVERY: Congratulations on ‘Extinct’, it’s seriously great stuff.
FERNANDO: Thank you.
(Fernando Ribeiro on latest Moonspell album, 'Extinct')
"...I think ‘Extinct’ is something I feel it should’ve come earlier, probably, but I feel it’s our maturity…"
Moonspell - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2014 Edgar Keats - www.edgarkeats.com
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: I think it kind of blends together everything that’s ever been great about Moonspell from each of your previous albums, but all on one record, almost as if it’s the definitive Moonspell album. Is that something you’d agree with?
FERNANDO: I would love to agree with that, I think that’s a great way of starting an interview!
FERNANDO: All in all, the way we were for 'Extinct' was probably with a little more modest expectations. But, after being so many years in the band, I think what people call modest expectations is something that you definitely have to look up to as a band. In a way, what I’m saying is it’s very hard, sometimes, to achieve simplicity, and our simplicity for ‘Extinct’ was to progress as musicians… not to fall into a comfort zone, in that everybody has entered the age of being the orphan of life, so to say; we are all forty and counting. So I think there’s something definitive, definitely, about this album which is about us getting a little bit closer musically, as performers, as songwriters, after all these years. Sometimes, the past repertoire is not good… you know, it captured the spirit of time, but I think ‘Extinct’ is something I feel it should’ve come earlier, probably, but I feel it’s our maturity… [Laughs]
MD: I was going to say that it sounds like a very mature record. The production, as well, is amazing and it’s the first time you’ve worked with Jens Bogren – obviously, the results speak for themselves but how was the experience of working with Jens?
FERNANDO: Well, hands-down, it was really great. Obviously, Moonspell has always very much understood the role of a producer and encouraged it. You know, it’s not like ordering a pizza or ordering food; it’s not tangible; it’s something you have to speak in metaphors or whatever. With Jens, and with every producer, we always learn that no band is an island; there’s someone to help. I really prize the independence of bands and do-it-yourself, but I think that’s not as important as the results that your music can have. Working with a producer like Jens can definitely help you to bring into light a lot of your ideas. It’s always a shot in the dark. You know, we worked and were satisfied with Tue Madsen, but I felt that the need to progress this stuff that we were mentally thinking demanded a person like Jens, who we knew had a client list that was impeccable with great successes - like Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Opeth. You know, we felt he had a flavour for different things as well - like Katatonia, for instance, or the last Rotting Christ.
But I don’t know why… I felt I would catch him, also, on a crossroad as a producer, and I think we were the right band for him to do right now. This kind of music is more goth, dark oriented metal and rock. He was actually, also, suffering from the same stuff; everything is becoming too predictable now - a band comes here and we know exactly what the results they want to have. Moonspell was more of a work in progress. You know, he came to Portugal and it was very old school. We did the pre-production and played everything together as a band. We took the whole band, paid for flights for everyone, and went straight to Sweden for 35 days. So there was not this Skype production or WeTransfer - you know, I send you a link… “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine”… [Laughs] You know, it was actually a very old school way of recording in the presence of the band.
And Jens, besides being a true professional, I found out that he was actually a Moonspell follower back with ‘Irreligious’ and ‘Sin’, which are very gothic-driven albums. And also that he has an unconditional love for The Mission, The Sisters of Mercy… you know, all these kind of Goth bands from the late-eighties and the nineties. And Jens is a producer, he has these ideas - definitely stubborn when it comes to his ideas - but I think he just hit the right notes of confidence and, also, picking up the right path, or at least having one idea on a crossroad, which I think we always look up for a producer to do. It really was great to work with him. As a singer, I never felt so at ease to do difficult stuff and to challenge myself, because I knew that Jens would be there to hold my hand. But he was definitely the right choice. I had a gut feeling about him and… with the music, he had the human factor and, also, the professional factor in order to create such a sound that I wanted. We didn’t give him that much of a direction, just the songs, and I told him, “I just want this to sound natural, like the old records would sound… just make it sound natural, like music.” I think he did it. You know, it’s crystal clear and powerful as well, without being over-layered and over-produced. It breathes really well, I think, the album.
MD: Yeah, it’s got a nice organic sound to it as well.
MD: I gather the ‘Extinct’ title, which is a central theme of the album, points towards extinction in a literal, biological sense as well as emotional loss and the mourning of that loss… can you explain what led you towards this theme?
FERNANDO: Well, I started simple. I started in order to find a word that carried a bigger concept that could describe so many times of my life and also some things I was going through - making my fortieth birthday and understanding, also, being a father - entering a different stage and process in my life. So all these events were definitely key to find out these words… you know, obviously the words of my kid, which is something made of light and happy. But also, not only that, there’s also the greater power, greater responsibility thing and, also, an aspect of extinction. Because, when I spoke with the teachers and authors about extinction – before humanity got in as a player, and as a player who doesn’t play by the rules of nature when it comes to extinction, I realised that even for these more academic people that try to deal with preserving the species and everything, there’s a lot of emotional loss and a void that can definitely be applied, also, to stuff that we lose ourselves because we have to be better caretakers for our children, for instance. And, also, for instance, the death of Peter Steele which is something that left a void that cannot be replaced, in a way.
Also, when we evolve and all the connections we can make with the biotic extinction in the sense of a personal loss, I also understand that extinction is not only about things that have become extinct but it’s also about the fight to fill that void. It’s something that, sometimes, we just want to contemplate and be poetic and just talk about the black wall in the case of extinction but, sometimes, it’s much more natural that we try to climb that wall; we try to bang our head or try to break it. And I think the album has a lot to do, also, with surviving and adapting. I think all we’ve talked about, these things are very hard… when you have an album called ‘Extinct’, it really is about everything. You know, it’s about a permanent end but it’s also about the fight to avoid it. It’s about a void but also all the little things you do to fill that void. I was born in ’74 and much of the world is extinct…
FERNANDO: I think we’ve all been through certain extinction experiences. At least, I have that feeling when I cross the place where I used to hang out – my favourite bar is now a parking lot! That’s a form of extinction as well… also of the lifestyle, and a lot of the lyrics deal about it as well.
MD: Of course, yeah, it takes many forms. I was going to say, as well, on the surface a lot of the tracks have a fairly uplifting, kind of optimistic feeling through many of the melodies, although there’s also a more subtle layer of darkness in the music. So is the overall message of the album one of hope, despite the darker themes?
FERNANDO: Well, I think there’s no other option. I think it was Churchill who said that, that there’s no other option than optimism.
FERNANDO: I find myself, very much, a person who likes to get in touch with dark and deep subjects and, also, I studied philosophy for four years at university. So, no, it’s not a bleak, misanthropic darkness as many bands put it, but it’s a more natural flow. It’s like when you take a picture with an iPhone and if there’s light and texture involved, you ‘ll never take the same picture - there’s always gradings of light; there’s always shadows. I think Moonspell works much more on that material. For instance, the black metal bands where everything is really going to hell… [Laughs] … and everything is torture. No, that’s not the kind of world we think about. It’s definitely a world… like we said in an old album of Moonspell, it’s definitely a world of darkness but also of hope, in a way, and I can’t shake the feeling, at least not from myself, that we should not go without a fight. Even the animals that are endangered, they put up a fight. Even the polar bears, they jump and it’s sad to watch that. They jump and if there is just the tiniest place of ice, they will get there and they will try to survive.
I think, sometimes, it’s too easy, you know, when we are in the comfort of our homes declaring nihilism, misanthropy and black metal anarchy… I definitely like the Moonspell lyrics and the music to be a little bit more hopeful than that, because that’s more human. I don’t want to speak just about the lunar side, even though the band is called Moonspell! It’s the contrast that really fascinates me as a writer. I would never write a book about a monster that wouldn’t have these human things to make me think about it. You know, it’s like reading ‘Frankenstein’ or Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and you do not understand what lies beneath the brutality.
MD: Absolutely. Good words!
MD: You have some world music flavours in some of the songs, like the very eastern sounding melodies and instrumentations in ‘Medusalem’ - I gather you had a Turkish orchestra perform on that one?
FERNANDO: Yeah, we did. It was a big challenge – not musically, it was like a John le Carré spy book because I had to contact them in Turkey and I don’t speak Turkish and they don’t speak English, so we had a fan in-between. But I think that definitely added a different flavour into our songs. I mean, even for Portuguese traditional music, we are always very influenced by these Arabic scales. And I think that even though there’s a lot of orchestral, symphonic metal around, people just turn themselves always to the West; you know, like these big staccato strings. And I think that really didn’t have a lot to do with these kind of songs, especially ‘Medusalem’ which was already an ethnic song to start with. So we decided to expand on it and have real musicians from Turkey to play and I think they just nailed it. It was really an addition that, as a musician, you can’t stop wondering like, well, we wrote this in Portugal back in our small studio, then there are some other guys in Turkey and in Tel Aviv - because they share duties between Turkey and Israel with that orchestra - playing this stuff, and then put it all together and it’s great. It really expanded that feeling, that orchestra feeling. And I’m glad we did it with a Turkish orchestra because the way they play, the way they approach their instruments, the way they do everything, just fit so well.
MD: Yeah, it sounds very authentic and blends perfectly. There’s quite a prominent Sisters of Mercy vibe that shines through in some of the tracks. I gather that band’s always been an influence on your music, so do they remain an important band for you today?
FERNANDO: I think so. We are big fans and they’ll never die!
FERNANDO: And I think Sisters of Mercy were a one-of-a-kind band. They’re still around but it’s a different thing. As a musician, I understand why they are still around but, as a fan, I look back to those times when they were a band that were dark; they were definitely a band that sung about adult stuff. And, when it came to mixing darkness and rock, nobody really did it as good as Sisters of Mercy did. So we are huge fans and it’s an everlasting influence that we don’t mind, at all, to have in our songs. Sometimes, we go to a Goth festival that we’re headlining or we’re playing and there’s a gothic rock band, they’re all electronic, and sometimes people don’t know who the hell are The Sisters of Mercy, and I’m personally offended, in a way! [Laughs]
MD: It’s like being into metal and not knowing who Black Sabbath are.
FERNANDO: Oh yeah, yeah. You know, it’s the bible. The three bands people should know are The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and Bauhaus. There are many good bands and many historical bands but, when it comes to gothic and where it went – punkier, rockier, more mystical – I think these are the three household names that are definitely a huge influence on Moonspell. It sounds so great, but you try not to rip them off! [Laughs]
MD: I wouldn’t say you sound like The Sisters of Mercy, but it’s more of a Sisters vibe that shines through sometimes.
FERNANDO: Yeah, that’s the vibe we wanted. Even when you listen to ‘My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend’ of Type O Negative, it’s such an original band and such an influence for us, as well, but you can sing ‘Black Planet’ on the same intro there! [Laughs] But, yeah, it’s a tremendous influence in Moonspell. It’s one of those bands, for us, that will always endure the test of time, definitely.