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27th March 2016
Hailing from a bygone era when originality in metal seemed to count for something in a creatively fertile time, it could be argued that Moonspell, along with the likes of Paradise Lost, forged the perfect union between metal and goth music, and long before the 'goth metal' tag became promoted and perpetuated as some sort of fashion brand. And, in 2016, the Portuguese dark metal force is stronger than ever, with last year's phenomenally well composed and executed album, 'Extinct'. When Moonspell hit Manchester for their first ever live show in the city, Metal Discovery met up with guitarist Ricardo Amorim to discuss their new work; recent recognition in their home country; nostalgic reflections on the twentieth anniversary of 'Irreligious'; and an appearance in the latest Portuguese edition of Playboy magazine...
METAL DISCOVERY: You headlined Doom Over London last night…
(Ricardo Amorim on how Moonspell are sometimes misconstrued as a doom band)
"Maybe music is becoming so extreme that if you play just a regular rock tempo, it’s already doom!"
Ricardo Amorim in Sound Control, Manchester, UK, 27th March 2016
Photograph copyright © 2016 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: I was kind of surprised to see Moonspell playing a doom festival. There’s plenty of darkness and melancholy in your music but there are not many moments of down-tempo doom!
RICARDO: Well, yeah, I really thought about it because we all look at doom as very slow music and we’re not that slow. For some reason, over the years, one of the many genres people attribute to us, doom comes quite often… doom, goth, Portuguese outfit… whatever. Why doom? I don’t get it. Maybe music is becoming so extreme that if you play just a regular rock tempo, it’s already doom!
MD: Exactly!
RICARDO: But it’s good; doom is cool. We always enjoy doom. I mean, back in the day, in the nineties, when there was this big goth revolution mixing with metal, especially in England, there was Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema…
MD: Yeah, and even early Katatonia.
RICARDO: Yeah, and I remember this band called Chorus of Ruin… I don’t know if they released any album afterwards or not, but I remember them flying over to Portugal. We found a lot of doom bands coming from England… mostly from England.
MD: You went down well with the doom crowd last night?
RICARDO: Yeah, it was really nice. It’s becoming good to us in London. We always have… not a huge following, but we always have people, and it’s getting better and better. So, yeah, we’re quite happy with it.
MD: This tour has been billed as the ‘Road to Extinction’ tour, also the name of last year’s documentary, which implies the end of Moonspell! Obviously it’s not, but has that confused anyone into thinking these might be your farewell shows?
RICARDO: Yes, some people thought about it, of course. People think, immediately, some sort of ending to the band, just because of this record but, no, it’s not! [Laughs]
MD: It’s just a concept for the album.
RICARDO: It’s just a concept, yes.
MD: I interviewed Fernando last year and he told me that the ‘extinction’ concept behind the new album is not only about mourning loss, but is also to do with surviving and adapting. Do you feel that Moonspell has always had to try and survive and adapt within the music industry, while not compromising what you do?
RICARDO: I could say that, yes… I mean, not compromising what we do - yeah, of course, but that thing is a very natural process. You know, some things disappear so that others can emerge, and you just have to go through it and go along with the flow. Yeah, times have changed, and so does music, so, like you said, what we are, we try to come up, always, with something new, but it’s very important that when people listen to us they recognise the band. Otherwise, it’s not Moonspell anymore, it’s something else. But it is in our very own nature to always try a different approach and go more a little bit here and there; not just the same static genre that people might get bored a bit afterwards. We always have this need to do a little bit of variation because of these artistic needs that we have.
MD: Personally, I think ‘Extinct’ encapsulates everything that’s ever been great about Moonspell but also with some noticeable progression in your sound, like you said. And I’ve heard you describe the latest album as your favourite Moonspell release so far, so what makes this one so special for you?
RICARDO: I don’t know… I think we just hit the mark when it comes to our own taste. We always try, like I said, different stuff - you know, sometimes, we go heavier and darker; other times, we go a bit more mellow and atmospheric. This time, I think we really got the balance between all the ingredients that have always been a part of Moonspell’s music. And the songwriting, I’m very, very happy with the songwriting. You have all the ups and downs, all the dynamics, all the atmospheres there, and it still sounds like a good song. The songs are so strong that, yeah, it has to be the favourite album… until the next one, of course! [Laughs]
MD: There are some fantastic Eastern flavours on the album, like in ‘Medusalem’, where you used a Turkish orchestra. Will you be looking to incorporate more Arabic-based scales in your compositions?
RICARDO: Let’s see how it goes, because we always have that element… you know, culturally and historically, we’ve been occupied by different cultures and they always left something there. Like the Moorish; they left, in Portugal, this feeling for some Arabic stuff. Fado, which is our popular, traditional music, it’s a mix, basically, of Renaissance music mixed with a bit of Arabic, and that became very unique.
MD: I guess world music, in general, you’d describe those influences in Moonspell...
RICARDO: Yeah, I’d agree.
MD: The production for your guitar on the album is wonderful - it sounds crushingly heavy, punchy, crisp and organic. Did you work closely with Jens Bogren to capture the perfect sounds?
RICARDO: Well, actually, who tracked me wasn’t Jens. It was David Castillo. He tracked Katatonia and some other good artists and good sounding artists. Jens had this studio booked to track the guitars with me working with his associate, and we did such an amazing job. I mean, we had such a chemistry that it was not very difficult to get a great guitar sound. That part of it, for as much as I like to record, I have to record hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of takes. You know, because every guitar you have to record four times and I spent the whole day just trying to make two songs, just rhythm guitar, because it was too much. And then you have to try all the sounds… I mean, there was a lot of sweat and work there, and experiments, that was also fun. But, this result, it’s a combination of different amps and finding the right space in the music to put in that sound and that type of playing.
MD: There’s some great playing on there too, of course.
RICARDO: Oh, thank you.
MD: Amon Amarth told me a couple of years ago that Jens was a little too controlling by the time they recorded their third album in a row with him, and it was like having a sixth member of the band who took charge and made decisions against the band’s wishes…
RICARDO: Being bossy…
MD: Yeah, but I gather you had a far more positive experience working with him?
RICARDO: We had some little clashes, of course, but not serious ones. There were times that Jens would say, “Ricardo, we’ve got to talk about this part”, and I would say, “okay”. So, what I did is, when I would be too stubborn about my idea, I would record his idea and my idea. And then you hear it again - sometimes, I won; some others, he won! But, you know, with total trust, we put ourselves in his hands because he also has a past with goth music and he totally understands where we’re coming from, and he also says on the documentary that he was not only producing from his head but from his heart. He said that he could look at the computer and the grid could tell him if I was playing good or not, but it doesn’t tell you how much soul you put in when you’re recording. So, sometimes, you can spend a lot of time there, just trying to find the right take for the song.
MD: And Fernando told me he’s a fan of Moonspell from back in the day, anyway, so…
RICARDO: Yes, he told me he was learning guitar licks from our third album, and I couldn’t believe it and I said, “okay, now you’re producing it!”
RICARDO: The world is amazing, sometimes! [Laughs]
MD: Is he someone you’d want to use again, in the future, for another album?
RICARDO: Well, let’s see how it goes but, the next full album, yes, I think so, we’re gonna do it again.