Moonspell - Interview


With the boxed set "Under The Moonspell" Portuguese dark metal legends Moonspell go back into their early years, even to the time when they were named Morbid God, and re-release their old demos and EPs. I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to talk with founder / vocalist Fernando Ribeiro about these times and the ‘not always easy to cope with' changes the band went through in their over 30-year history. I guess out came a very honest interview with a lot of interesting information and maybe the one or the other thing you weren't aware of yet. Enjoy reading!

Michael

Hi Fernando, how are you doing?

I'm doing fine. Here in Portugal we have rotten weather. It's Easter time so everything is very depressing because Portugal is super Catholic and there is a lot of going around (laughs) but apart from that everything is well, health and time-wise. We're doing a small theater tour here in Portugal which is more of an acoustic version of Moonspell, tomorrow we have another show and it's doing well. Very packed and the people will find different stuff so we're happy here.

With "Under The Moonspell" (The Early Years Collection)" you are going to release your first demos and the 1994 EP once again in a very special edition. How important are the first years in Moonspell for you still?

Well, I have to be honest, I never gave it the proper time through all the years. Moonspell has always been like a rush. Since we showed up in the scene in the early 90s, especially after Wolfheart in 95 our life completely changed. I played in a band, we toured around the world so we were trying all the time to catch up with time. I was just living in the present. But when Moonspell celebrated 30 years in 2022, we did some special shows here in Portugal. I just got this epiphany that this is my life and coming into age. We finally understood, not completely, but I got a glimpse of what we call the Moonspell legacy, all the music we made, especially different early days, newer albums, that is what we were trying to achieve and give back to our fans. That was a moment of revelation that brought me the idea that we need to do something about our back catalog and we need to treat it properly and to curate it like it was living in a museum. So we did all the Century Media years from Wolfheart to The Antidote re-release by ourselves and some in cooperation with our actual label Napalm Records. We also got the rights back for Night Eternal, Memorial and Alpha Noir and did that on Alma Mater Records, the record label that I run. And Nowadays we're a little bit caught in a time lapse because we're doing a new album, making this theater tour, we 're going to have a venue show and festivals but it was time to properly celebrate the roots of Moonspell. The very very beginning of Moonspell with Morbid God - pre-Moonspell. So I decided to do this entire collection because Under The Moonspell is turning thirty years this year, also the demos are over thirty years and they all are spread around in bootlegs from Swedish underground labels, from here and there and that's why I decided why not to be the person that has been there since the beginning with Morbid God to pick it up, go to the vaults, try to revamp it with new covers, trying to make all this conceptual collection with all the gold, Satanae here, Satanae there. It took more than one year working hard on it with designers and producers, getting stuff that I hadn't touched and that was literally and metaphorically covered with dust of time (laughs). I'm very proud of it and at least for a band like Moonspell it is composed of various, variable times – the past, the present and the future. I think those were very important times for Moonspell, for our fans and for metal. I think besides the late 70s and the 80s I think the 90s were an incredible time for underground music, extreme music because all the bands that you see headlining now, most of them were born at that time and also they were making incredible and challenging music. I think this fits as well into the spirit of that collection.

For sure! When you started you had this sinister but also strange atmosphere combining black metal tunes with some oriental sounds. This was something totally new. What was the vision back then you had with Moonspell or did you just do that for fun?

Well, I mean we did it for fun even though we took it very seriously (laughs). We didn't understand the fun part of music, for us it was more an achievement or a mission. I think the first thing that came into our heads was that we were heavily into investing our time and our money into the underground scene, into tape-trading. We became really enthusiasts and amateur journalists. We had a fan-zine called "Darkness Theme" and we scored many interviews. At that time we didn't have Zoom, we just had to write letters and there were always delays but we had interviews with our favorite bands like Bathory, Paradise Lost, Sarcofago from Brazil, lots of upcoming extreme black and death. In the back of our mind we didn't have a black metal tradition in Portugal. Portuguese bands at that time always wanted to be the Portuguese version of Sepultura, Metallica or Megadeth and we didn't want that. We wanted a band that was evil, that was a cult, that was black metal and our goal was nothing else than to have a tape of that band to send to our contacts everywhere in the world to match up what we were getting from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Germany et cetera. We couldn't find a band so we made that band by ourselves (laughs). Morbid God started with "Serpent Angel" back then and we had a really cool response from our friends that we created something sinister and evil. Though we decided to change the name into Moonspell and recorded Anno Satanae and Under The Moonspell and then Wolfheart and the rest is history most people already know. Back in the 90s, people probably don't remember this, there was a huge and forceful domination of Norwegian black metal. They were the king of black metal and didn't allow anyone else to make black metal. For me it was just a weird and sad time because we wanted to make southern black metal, not Norwegian because they already had the best bands. Our influences were probably the same: Bathory, Celtic Frost, especially for the oriental stuff where we got it more from "Into The Pandemonium" and "To Mega Therion" but as we are from Portugal we always had big contact with folk music, music from Africa and the Middle-East and we decided to introduce that in our music. People were very surprised about it. We also decided to go back to our history roots with the Lusitanian thing, the pagan people in Portugal. But people weren't happy it went towards black metal after 94/95. We were constantly getting death threats from Norwegian band members with whom we sometimes already had been on the road (laughs).

So you really got some?

Yeah, we got some problematic stuff. We got letters like "go to Africa", calling us N***** or black people because we were so close to Africa. But this is our country and geography (laughs) so I think it doesn't matter anyway. They tried everything to boycott us and to stop us. We were surprised about it because when we all started, we were all pen friends. I remember receiving the first advance of Burzums' first album by Count Grishnackh himself. We were all metal-loving dudes and then things just went really bad. Some people like me decided that I don't want to be connected with black metal at all. Nowadays it's different but it became about the violence, racism, the fascism and I never was in a band with those values.

So that was the reason why you evolved with "Wolfheart" and later "Irreligious" more into some dark metal than staying in the black metal scene because you were fed up with all that shit?

One of the reasons, I have to confess, yes. The other reason is what happens to musicians when they are going on the road. They start meeting different people and start listening to different music. Back in 94 I contacted for the first time Type O Negative, a band that completely changed my life. It was romantic, it was dark and gothic, it had influences that I already heard like Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim or The Cure. I decided to incorporate that as well in our music and to be honest, I was always curious if we were going to be a really cool black metal band because a lot of the values I didn't share and even didn't want to go there. My mind was full of gothic imagery and love, full-moons and rituals, more than the likes of Cradle Of Filth and Type O Negative. Personally I couldn't stand that pagan. I've been in Norway for the first time in 1994 with Wolfheart. When we played there you could hear water drops falling (laughs) because you could feel the hate in the air and when we did Irreligious in '96 we went there and it was sold-out and everybody was already a little bit away from that black metal stigma and people were just having fun. These days it is incredible to play there but those were very complicated times for extreme metal and for a band from Portugal. Adding that to the fact that we listened to other music and that we wanted already with Wolfheart to touch other subjects and other musical dimensions rather than just the black metal, that was also one of the reasons that we slowly and definitely with Irreligious parted from black metal not just for us.

I remember that you were in 95 together on tour with Immortal and Morbid Angel…

Yes, I was stuck with Abbath on stage and David Vincent was very impressed about all the black metal. They had all the black metal shirts and the truck but it was one of the wildest shows I've ever seen. I mean Moonspell had a reaction and Abbath was very nervous because they come from Bergen and not from Oslo and there was this rivalry which I think was very childish. The guys from Bergen were true or not true as the bands from Oslo, it was as tough as nails…so they went on stage and said "we have "Battles In The North" which is a true Norwegian black metal album". So they had a little bit better reaction than we had but not to the point they had earned as representatives of that style of metal on tour. Morbid Angel were playing a fantastic album with "Domination" and the reaction was so-so. We heard the stories, there was no internet, but a few weeks before that show Paradise Lost played there at the same venue and their tour bus was full of stones, they broke the windows. Well, now finally all is peace and love but those times were a real adventure (laughs).

I would describe your over 30-year-career as a trip through a huge labyrinth you still are searching for an exit. You have changed your music so often, would you agree to this image?

Yeah, I agree. I never thought that it would be a band with a formula. Don't get me wrong – I don't think that a band with a formula is definitely bad. There are great bands that have made kind of the same albums with variations and kind of a musical structure that I really like. But there were two factors happening in Moonspell that are very heavy on us, probably more than our wise, or unwise, musical decisions. One is that we are never satisfied with what we do. People come to us and say that Wolfheart is a masterpiece. But I can't help myself thinking about the better things that could have happened with Wolfheart like some songs, the atmosphere. I have this critical view about Moonspell. Also we have this unexpected Moonspell story. It's a band from Portugal that got signed from a label in Germany and then we got signed from one of the biggest labels exposing a Portuguese band to the market. We have a hard time coming to terms with ourselves. We are definitely a Zeitgeist band. For instance, we are writing a new album – the world has gone to shit from my feeling. As a writer I have to talk about this but I don't wanna talk about this because everybody is doing so and people will probably like something more fantastic. So I try to find myself for the new album to write something more fantasy-like like Wolfheart or Irreligious, more European culture and literature. That's why we have albums such as Butterfly Effect or Darkness And Hope because we're always a victim of the Zeitgeist. The sign of times, the atmosphere, the music, everything from the spirits of time is very influential on us. We started so well and when we did Sin /Pecado people were like it is a water divider. It was like we cut a hole in the press and in the hearts of our fans. But nowadays Sin is already more heard and understood. People love it and they're always asking us to play songs from Sin and Butterfly Effect which we do as well. Some people even go to the point of saying "I'm done with the Wolfheart songs, I can't stand listening to ‘Vampiria' or ‘Alma Mater' anymore". We cut off ‘Vampiria' sometimes, we let it rest. I don't know about the other bands. Sometimes I read that it seems like a straight line, for us it's definitely a labyrinth. That has to do with our personality as a band and the question people ask we ask ourselves. Should we keep the thing while we are winning? Should we have done Irreligious and that was it and we would have been remembered as one of the best shooting-stars ever? But then again when I listen to Hermitage, Extinct, 1755 or Night Eternal, just to name a few, I think that it was great that we endured the pains of growing and the fan division that came to stay. Our albums, when they came out, never were so constant, even albums that have been so successful like Extinct or Antidote for instance. So yeah, it's some kind of a crazy ride but I think we are free and freedom comes from the core. I don't want to say anything bad about these bands, I really love them, but sometimes I wonder what goes on in the heads of Amon Amarth or Powerwolf that they have to come up with. The Viking civilization is not so huge, it's not like other civilizations. Or Sabaton about the war which I think is a subject that as a musician I don't want to touch. I just watched a documentary about the Cold War and it's fucked up. War is not good, especially these days but it's just my thought. Okay, we are on a record label called Napalm Records (laughs) and before Nuclear Blast, sometimes it's just over the top. I'm not woke or whatever, metal has this aggressive style and I kinda like it but sometimes we also have responsibility. Sometimes we turn the blind eye onto things like the problems with black metal et cetera. I am very aware of this because I've been there and sometimes I have to deal with situations that I didn't expect in an almost hippie community that is the metal scene, even the extreme scene. When I see Isahn from the Emperor, he is the sweetest guy ever or my friend Alan from Primordial – he is angrier than me because he is from Ireland and I'm from Portugal – I think these people aged well. There is this loose hand in the meal scene. Sometimes we want to do our music, sometimes we want to get away from that and embrace other stuff. This is pretty right for us and for our fans which are very patient people I have to say (laughs). 

"The Early Years Collection" is coming out on your own label Alma Mater Records and is strictly limited to 500 pieces with a lot of extras. Why did you decide only to release it as this strictly limited edition and not as a regular CD, too?

Well, for me, Alma Mater Records is like a daydream of the underground days. These days were about making the best tape, the best-looking vinyl or CD. If you go to Discogs, even the shitty ones they get great values (laughs). I'm an amateur collector myself. I bought all the boxes from Celtic Frost, Root, Bathory and I think that the back catalog of Moonspell, that legacy that came across after thirty years, was in a very bad shape. It was a release there, some bootlegs there so I decided why not to guide that has been there to give it the right direction and the right feeling. I know the box is expensive but it's for collectors. It's also a patrimony, an investment of your collection. But then again we have to be fair to people who cannot buy the box. We have all the vinyls outside the box and we have the CDs as well as jewel case CD. I always thought about this as a collection. From the design, the liner notes to the small fanzine that we have in the box up to the ritual mask. I have always been for conceptual things. Everything about Moonspell has to be conceptual, otherwise it doesn't make sense. I'm incapable of doing something just for the sake of it. It has to have a story, a concept. This is the early days stuff like a regain of a legacy that for me comes with a proper edition, the collector box but also the vinyl with highlighting the roots of Moonspell and going as far as Morbid God. For me it was almost like a curating job like if it was a museum of Moonspell and our stuff is lyrics, music and images and then we take it to the audition and then, and I will do this because I am a stubborn guys, we will go on tour with Dark Tranquillity and we gonna play some songs of the early days. I don't know if people know about them but I'm very sensitive to it. When I go to a show, I like to be surprised. On the tour we will do in October and November I think we have a really cool advantage because we don't have to go and promote any new album, we can play whatever we want. I can go to Leipzig and play the whole Wolfheart if I want to. I think it's gonna be interesting for people and I think contacting with your past allows you to have a better relationship with who you are and what might come next. And what might come next can be smaller than the past – I'm not gonna be Moonspell for another thirty years, I don't know if I will be alive for another thirty years (laughs). I can see the band to 2030 but not more than that. A band has to have resources and some of the best resources are the past and the back catalog and that was one of the main reasons why I formed Alma Mater Records, to take care of it properly and not to be spread around by other people. They're fans and I respect the other labels but this is our band and this is what we've been doing since those Morbid God days so we better have some kind of control which is probably the hardest thing to get. All great musicians, I'm not including myself (laughs), wanted their rights and their music back and it's a great feeling to have that.

Apart from this, you have a small but very selected roster on your label, mostly from Portugal. Are there any upcoming releases one should keep in mind for the next few months?

The label was founded in 2016 and has three main goals. We wanted to do our distribution here in Portugal, so from 1755 on we did that and it's great. We also wanted to distribute and handle the back catalog of Moonspell, on mail-order, too and to be the exclusive producer of all that comes from Moonspell and then I also started something that is called "Underground Majesty" where we buy here and there the licenses from albums that are very inspirational to us. So we did "Clouds" by Tiamat which was a huge success and is an amazing album and there hasn't been a vinyl edition since the 90s so we did that. We also did the recent Borknagar album "True North", we did the Paradise Lost demos but I wasn't totally happy so we decided to bring something to the metal scene. Something that we ourselves only can give to people. We started to sign Portuguese and Brazilian metal bands. We started with Portuguese metal bands like Okkultist, Inhuman, Dawnrider, Desire, Ironsword and we're going to have Sinistro now, we have some black and thrash metal. I decided to use my contacts and my experience in order to be more on the radar of magazines et cetera and then we also started to release The Troops Of Doom from Brazil because I am a collector of old Brazilian death metal like old Sepultura, Sarcofago. The Troops Of Doom have  Jairo "Tormentor" Guedz who is one of the most respected people in the Brazilian metal scene and he was on "Bestial Devastation / Morbid Visions" (by Sepultura; M.) then he got out and Andreas Kisser came in. I mean, it's a lot of work and investment but I feel very cool at night when I go to bed. I'm not just sucking off metal, I'm giving back something to metal. I ́m not buying a new car, I'm paying for a mastering and mixing at Morrissound Studio where all the great death metal was produced. It's my way of being and everything that Moonspell, Alma Mater Records makes is an extension of the way I am inside the metal scene.

You also worked as a poet / story writer a couple of years ago and wrote three books with poems and one novel, if I am right. 

Yes, it's three books of poetry and I translated it into English and sold all my books to people who are interested in this aspect of my creativity. Here in Portugal I already wrote two novels. I am working on the third one and it keeps my head busy and it's my happy place to read. People ask me what I want to do and I say that I want to sit down, drink a fine 18-year-old single malt whiskey, and read and write. That's my goal in life. So I'm in the book business as well, here in Portugal. My novels went really well, a lot of Moonspell fans embraced it but a lot of readers, too. So I already made book tours, signing autographs. I made one in 2023 and I made another one at book fairs here in Portugal.

Do you have any plans to release new stuff or maybe re-release your works (in other languages than Portuguese?)?

In our Moonspell shop we still have "Purgatorial" which is my poetry in English but then it's hard. I am signed by Penguin Books here in Portugal and they're very strict with getting the rights for translation. I would love to have everything translated, that's one of my dreams – from German to Spanish to English – but it's really hard. It's something that I am trying to do but maybe when music is over I can do this with more calmness to make my books available to more people not just in Portugal or Brazil.

So can we expect a new Moonspell album in '24 or '25?

Nah, in '25 or '26. Now we have this acoustic tour, we record it live and put it on DVD and on streaming, we have the symphonic show which is going to be in this big arena here in Lisbon (Altice Arena on 10/26; M.) where we also make a DVD and an audio and then we will see. Of course we try out new ideas and for the band it is interesting to write new music. But sometimes I think I don't want to make an album, even if our label and agent aren't happy about this (laughs), to go on tour. That's not my thing anymore. I'm almost 50 so I want to make an album that counts musically. After the pandemic the things changed a lot. We already talked with Napalm and with Decibel Touring, we are going to take our time. New albums are sometimes just a caprice from the offers and something that people are dying to listen to when they have so much Moonspell music available as well. We have to hit the right notes so I think we have two more albums on us, at least that's what I feel, one is going to be an English album, a regular but good Moonspell album. For a good and representative album we need time. And the other album I want to make in Portuguese like 1755 which was about the earthquake. I am studying and looking for the right subject and mood. So we have to keep active with the theater and the regular tour but we do music but have to tread very lightly and carefully.

Entered: 5/23/2024 9:07:21 AM

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Discography


Hermitage Hermitage
Full-Length (2021)
1755 1755
Full-Length (2017)
Extinct Extinct
Full-Length (2015)
Alpha Noir Alpha Noir
Full-Length (2012)
Lusitanian Metal Lusitanian Metal
DVD (2008)
Night Eternal Night Eternal
Full-Length (2008)
Lusitanian Metal Lusitanian Metal
Live (2008)
Under Satanae Under Satanae
Full-Length (2007)
The Great Silver Eye The Great Silver Eye
Compilation (2007)
Memorial Memorial
Full-Length (2006)
The Antidote The Antidote
Full-Length (2003)
Everything Invaded Everything Invaded
Single (2003)
Darkness And Hope Darkness And Hope
Full-Length (2001)
Nocturna Nocturna
Single (2001)
The Butterfly Effect The Butterfly Effect
Full-Length (1999)
Sin/Pecado Sin/Pecado
Full-Length (1998)
2econd Skin 2econd Skin
EP (1997)
Sin / Pecado Sin / Pecado
Single (1997)
Opium Opium
Single (1996)
Irreligious Irreligious
Full-Length (1996)
Wolfheart Wolfheart
Full-Length (1995)

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