MOONSPELL have never been a band that just stuck to one artistic formula – even on their twelfth album „1755“ they haven’t stopped changing their style. To fit their concept of the great earthquake of Lisbon the Portugese gothic metallers concentrated on symphonic sounds, growls and lyrics in their native language. In the following interview with singer Fernando Ribeiro you can read more about the record’s story, the history of the band itself as well as what to expect from the upcoming album.
I want to start by congratulating you: This year marked the 25th anniversary of MOONSPELL! How do you feel when you think about that?
Thank you. Obviously I have the mixed feelings I always had since the start. Was it worthy, is it worthy? 25 years seems either long or too fast, can’t really say, depend on the day, if I am on stage or cramming in a plane. It’s a life lived struggling for creativity while keeping the fan base so all I can say is that it is not boring, finished, done with but I am not the one to celebrate or feel good about anything, so I hate the thought of feeling “special” about it because I am not special. It just happened and life goes on.
A quarter of a century is quite some time. When you look back, can you think of something that you regret or that you would have rather done in a different way?
Indeed it is. Of course like any human being. musician or not, you for sure ardently desired to change things here and there or to go another way. Anyway, that would be cheating and I never overthink what we did. If it happened it was because of a good reason.
At what point did you realize that you have established yourselves as a band and that you’ll be successful in metal?
I don’t feel MOONSPELL is as established as people or fans do. I know that because I put many hours of every day in this band trying to have a plan and a strategy and on top thinking about new ways to make our band more pertinent and better in terms of song and lyric writing. I don’t take things for granted, for sure we have loyal fans but not a massive crowd like the new metal leaders from our generation like Arch Enemy, Sabaton and Nightwish. There’s good things and bad things about this but in fact we’re just MOONSPELL and in a way our story is too crazy and can’t really be compared to anyone I know as far as bands go.
It’s probably a tough choice for you, but what MOONSPELL record is your personal favorite and why?
I’d say „Irreligious“ if I had to take one to a desert island. That record had everything: inspired lyrics, good and catchy songs and the total acceptance of a crowd hungry for something truly metal and gothic without much layers in between. To reach the same wave length as the crowds is hard but we nailed it then.
For your current album „1755“ you’ve once more thought of something special. It deals with the big earthquake of Lisbon. How did you come up with the idea and why exactly at that time?
The 1st of November of 1755 was the very day that the destruction of Lisbon allowed Portugal to catch up with Europe, in terms of a more fair society and a less oppressing religion. This day was like if Portugal was grabbed violently by the quake, fires and tsunamis and thrown out of the Middle Ages and placed finally on the late 18th century. Rough but fascinating. We all learn this history of death and rebirth on the classrooms of the country and for me it always struck me as a great concept. I confess I waited for a few years but it seems that now, especially in a Portugal that was punished by violent fires and bad political decisions, everything around us brought this album together. The earthquake is ultra symbolic but the true story is nothing but Lisbon falling down and rising from the ashes through hope, effort, true faith that was once wasted in fearing God.
In which way, do you think, did the earthquake change the society of Lisbon at that time?
It changed it completely and we slowly, progressively moved on from a society where the folk didn’t matter for anything to a more “just” society considering there was still monarchy. The earthquake brought a huge death count and shook people’s faith not only in God but especially on his representatives on Earth so to speak. It was also a time where new ideas were flourishing in Portugal, trying to loose the grip of the church and the crown and the disaster was like a tragic opportunity to implement them. For instance the first sewer and drain system was built immediately after the earth quake as many people realised that besides the tremor, people lived in horrible contains and that contributed to their death as well.
Fitting with the lyrical concept, you’re exclusively singing in Portuguese for the first time. Do you think that this possibly scared away or irritated some listeners, especially the ones that didn’t know you that well before?
I didn’t care to be perfectly honest. We try to make all our important decisions in a scope that tries to underline the artistic, creative part of the band and our songs and concepts and sometimes, or most of the times you have no idea how the audience will react but for me that’s the whole excitement about making music. Walking a fine line instead of too much of a solid ground. I think that helps creativity, I know some fans get quite aggravated by this and that, but in the end of the day it’s a choice and we choose to build on a concept and „1755“ only made sense for us while sung in Portuguese.
You’ve also changed musically. „1755“ is much more symphonic and apart from the choirs there are almost no clean vocals. Of course, the former fits the apocalyptical theme of the album, but why did you choose to have more growls again?
As a singer I tried very much to get in the mood of that horrible day. Like a vocal actor dubbing a movie or telling a story. I thought people there, in the chaos, had mostly dialogues with God, between themselves and a lot of screaming and desertions going around. Thus we created this vocal tessiture to give room to the thoughts of the living, that were violent and panicked so I stayed away from singing and did more rhythmical screaming parts for this one.
The opening track is a symphonic version of „Em Nome Do Medo“. Why did you choose this specific track to reinterpret it and start the record with it?
I always believed that this song from „Alpha Noir“ could bring MOONSPELL a certain approach we haven’t tried before, harder metal with Portuguese lyrics. So when I thought of „1755“ I always believed „Em Nome Do Medo“ to be a perfect bridge between something we did before but that could have a new face while introducing the new album. We didn’t want to repeat it so we hired master Jon Phipps, orchestrator, and he came up with this amazing version which totally sets the mood for what’s next.
On „In Tremor Dei“ Paulo Bragança makes an appearance as guest singer. Why didn’t you just do the clean vocals yourself and how did it come to your cooperation?
We felt we needed the presence of Fado on this story. A pungent, hardcore, painful Fado not the one that tourists now listen to in the streets of Lisbon now. We met Paulo on his heyday when he was the leading Fadista in Portugal. We always admired him for his courage to change Fado, while making it more pure and less commercial. He fell from grace and out of the eyesight for 11 years but I heard his voice in my head when we wrote „In Tremor Dei“ and I set to find him and I did. He was living in Dublin. He knew MOONSPELL and indeed he loves dark, metal and gothic which by knowing him now comes as no surprise. Working with him was a big success for us and he added something indeed particular and special to the song we did together.
The closing track is also quite special: a cover version of „Laterna Dos Afogados“ by the Brazilian alternative rock group Os Paralamas Do Sucesso. Why did you decide to make this cover version and in which way does it fit the overall theme of the album?
„Lanterna Dos Afogados“ is an original from a huge Brazilian band Os Paralamas Do Sucesso. A lot of people didn’t see the connection but that’s what we’re here for. To make those connections and to see with other eyes and listen with other ears before presenting things to the fans. This song was made popular in Portugal by a soap opera and many people were too quick in discarding it as such. But, in fact, the song has an amazing sad note and lyrics that could be Portuguese. It talks about the villagers, the fishermen’s wives who stay waiting by the light to see if they come home from sea. Honestly, I couldn’t have found a more perfect key to lock the album.
Which track on „1755“ is your personal favorite and why?
„Todos Os Santos“. I like the drive of it, the rhythmical harsh vocals and the fact that those lyrics who in practise speak about who the saviours don’t save at all, can still be read at the light of many actual events.
You already tried a lot of different things, musically and lyrically. Is there still something specific that you would like to one day realize on an album and that you haven’t done before?
I sure hope so and we’re working on it. I am very productive with lyrics and music since it’s what I like to do best from all things I do for the band. So 2019 will for sure bring a new album and it’s going to be really different from „1755“, less aggressive and theatrical, much more moody and melodic.
What are your next plans for MOONSPELL?
We have a DVD out on the 17th of August, a really cool Napalm Records edition from a big show we did in Lisbon where we played „Wolfheart“, „Irreligious“ and „Extinct“ alongside many other great footage on and off stage and we are also working on some back repertoire editions, there’s a „Wolfheart“ LP with the original cover coming out also in August. We play here and there some feasts and Portuguese dates and then go on tour in North America with Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity and Omnium Gatherum.
We are now reaching the end of our interview. Let’s now go through our traditional Metal1.info-Brainstorming:
Favoriten band from Portugal: BIZARRA LOCOMOTIVA
Catalonia: You better ask Madrid what the hell is going on.
Environmental protection: Two sides of the human coin, perpetrator and saviour.
Black metal: In the nineties, yes.
MOONSPELL in ten years: Fishing and reading or playing festival afternoons?
Thank you once more for your answers. The final words are yours:
Thank you for the interview, catch us live anywhere and stay under the spell!