What’s the meaning behind Alpha Noir and Omega White? Other than beginning/end and black/white or evil/good.Fernando Ribeiro: If we chose to ignore the detail who runs mankind and the world since the dawn of knowledge and conscience, birth and death, solar/lunar, dare to know/ignorance is bliss, the best thing I have to offer is that Alpha Noir is someone screaming at your face while Omega retreats into being the voice inside your head or the unsuspecting murmur in your lips. The stand for both albums is quite different and maybe I probably have watched Spartacus: Blood and Sand too many times, but I grew fond of seeing Alpha as the arena and Omega as the healing room. Somewhat the albums split in two and if even both have an intention of proximity, one goes the way of interiority, while the other, if all works, will incite you to be yourself, to love yourself as you are, to be fine without the annoying prospect of salvation. Alpha Noir is for me like a code, people would say to each other, in secret first, then out loud, as they are tired of the ways of the old world, now that they know how to put a face to the evil and fear around them. Alpha is one album that roots in what is around us today. And for a Portuguese what is around today is the fact that the already few people who knew anything at all about our country will now see us as a specie of beggars, of people who can’t handle their bills, all because a yuppie in New York woke up in the wrong side of bed and labeled us a junk, disregarding years of history and culture. Thus, people will get fired and broke being that the biggest, deepest cut is the one that makes them start to losing self-esteem and the love for their country. Even if it’s based on poetry, metaphor, after all Alpha Noir it’s a record, but not a pamphlet, it’s the only way we know how to reach the world and, hopefully, in the process agitate some minds, like ours were agitated by other bands before. All this while listening to the music, of course, that’s how ambitious we are. In Omega we deposit the broken hearts, the tribute to the dead and greatly missed friends, the erotic dreams we couldn’t fulfill, that kind of things you go through on your late thirties, with the forties like Damocles sword hanging on the back of your neck.
Why separate the more aggressive/darker songs from the more gothic/rock-oriented songs? I think that was always Moonspell’s forte, mixing black metal and gothic rock. Fernando Ribeiro: For the challenge, really. We needed, for ourselves mostly, to split Moonspell in two and to stop facing the problem we have with being sometimes too all over the place musically. We have this dilemma since Wolfheart, where you come to terms with songs like “Alma Mater”, but then also “An Erotic Alchemy”. We wanted first to take more time, and so we did. Almost four years. We wanted to do a lot of songs. We did. We wanted to head more into something that showed a solid sense of togetherness. Therefore, we set ourselves to do one Alpha album, the arena one, where the tone will be solely electric. Believe it or not, that gave us two essential things for this album: first, freedom to work really hard on a metal basis and not to face the dilemma of the atmospheric B part; the second, it made us hungry for a style like Omega White, more melodic, gothic, catchier. It’s perhaps strange to admit musicians are moody people, but in the end of day I can gold the pill, but it’s exactly on our restlessness that our strengths and weaknesses as a band dispute their ground. We wanted something fresh, that could please both hungers, we wanted the enthusiasm of Memorial, Night Eternal, Under Satanae, but we craved for Irreligious’s gothic rock atmosphere, for the Type O and Sisters of Mercy in us and we went as far as doing two albums. That’s our commitment with ourselves this time, something more personal, which will extend to all the sensibilities that are a part of the process. If two albums are needed to please our hunger, so let it be.
I definitely hear the thrash metal influence. The prominence of thrash is the result of what? Re-discovery of childhood greats, or the need to convey Moonspell aren’t a bunch of wimps? Fernando Ribeiro: It’s the result of our guitar player Ricardo hanging out with the Testament guys and seeing every show and drinking it up during the 70,000 tons of Metal. Bringing that to the band. Of course, we are not insensitive to the thrash revival, not really the newer bands, even though we hung out and loved every minute of Skeletonwitch, Bud Light on and off stage moments, but especially the opportunity for bands such as Testament, Exodus, Overkill to shine again and for us to hang out with them! We listened heavily to these [bands] in high school and when we set ourselves to write this kind of album, it was quite predictable we would base it on guitar riffs that were memorable, something like “I heard this before but in fact not, it’s newly done”. That kind of going to the book of thrash riffs but have a twist of your own, it was exactly what Ricardo and Moonspell were looking to translate in our own darkened terms. Sometimes, as a joke, we talked about dark or gothic thrash—hope it doesn’t stick! In the process, I got really excited about it and started to bring my trumps into the table; Annihilator’s Alice In Hell, old Euro thrash like Artillery’s early albums, Onslaught, even fuckin’ Protector from Germany. We spent hours listening to them, just like in high school and we found what we were looking for to spice up our world. If people think we are faking it, jumping into the bandwagon or trying to score a tour with one of the new thrash greats, I sincerely do not give a fuck. Our enthusiasm is genuine, the freshness in our sound as well, and that’s what I go to bed with, not with haters who missed the whole thing because there was no Internet before. As for as being a wimp goes, if that means wearing black eyeliner, being a red wine lover, talking a lot of uncool stuff in interviews, having a strong accent, and being a tall romantic named after an ABBA song, well, I think, at least, I really qualify as a wimp. In a metal world, where if you don’t have a big beard going on, weigh less than 100 kilos and come not from a cool metal country, you’re a wimp no matter if I go out now and burn a church; too bad they are made of stone in Portugal. We toured with the most evil band in the world once, Gorgoroth, and I remember well having to wait to take a shower because Gaahl’s boyfriend was fixing his hair. Things are not what they seem and blindness sometimes it’s just a person covering his eyes with his own hands. I am doing fine even if I don’t play as heavy as I could. I am happy with what I am, as the Romans put it so well, Aquila non capiit muscae, that is, the eagles don’t bother about the flies.
I sense there’s a fair bit of Killing Joke in songs like “Lickanthrope”, “Versus”, and “Love is Blasphemy”. Especially in some of the arrangements and bass work. How instrumental was Killing Joke to Moonspell this time around? Fernando Ribeiro: That’s strange. I never thought of that. The only guy who actually listens to Killing Joke in the band is me and I am not so sure I ever brought this into the band. So, I am quite at loss here. For “Lickanthrope”, I would go more for dark rock bands. Satyricon, Turbonegro, even some ZZ Top… And the end for me is Brazilian death metal! “Versus” would be almost punk on our scale, while “Love is Blasphemy” I’d bring the thrash talk into the table again. But I am genuinely surprised and quite pleased as it really is a big compliment for us even if totally unexpected.
What’s “Lickanthrope” about? I guess it’s a play on the werewolf theme and… Fernando Ribeiro: It’s an adult version of Little Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf. Make no mistake, no fuckin’ Twilight intended. The small twist of the title says it all. Besides the imagery used the true meaning of the song intends to reach another shores. At least in Portugal and though Moonspell is successful here, a lot of people still have a hard time in considering what we do and like as something like any other fondness. We do love horror movies, traditional Portuguese werewolves included, we love our Baudelaire, our red wine, the headbanging, the Suicide Girls. Possessed by that notion, people offer us salvation at all times. Three years ago, I did a project with other musicians from Portugal, to recreate some of the original Fado songs (Fado is our traditional music just like Tango in Argentina) from our greatest interpreter Amalia Rodrigues (our Edith Piaf or our Ella Fitzgerald, but with Fado). It was 10 years since her death and the project took off and sold 70,000 records, which is, imagine, triple platinum in Portugal. I had to deal with a lot of mainstream , as we were the flavor of the day, that means not only Industry people, TV stars, bank presidents, etc. and while they were very serious about the ass-licking and money throwing, they were quite puzzled that we couldn’t play more shows with the project because I was touring with Moonspell abroad. Almost unanimously they were giving me the talk, why get back to the van, when you can eat from the silver plate in a 5-star hotel? Beside my back proudly turned, what they and many people, even inside the scene, fail to understand is that we quite love all those cliché things, they are our culture, and my music, my undying passion, and enthusiasm. And in the end of the day, that’s it, double album or not. So, coming back to “Lickanthrope”, nobody really wants to be saved, even if they are having a great time in pitch darkness.
“Lickanthrope” turned out to be our first video and it was filmed old-school, on film, with a real set, extras and actors, where I get to play the werewolf. It will be our best video I am sure for it is so cliché or classic, as I prefer. Our director Filipe Melo paid a just tribute to the movies he loves, and if you are into Hammer movies, but also can identify scenes in our video from the Deer Hunter, or El Topo, then go online and look for it, mid-April. Sorry about the not-so-discreet promotion.
I think the album has some of your best material in a long while on it. But that being saidMoonspell’s been on an uptick—aesthetically and musically—since Memorial. Is the songwriting process different now than before or are you, as they say, becoming better with age? Fernando Ribeiro: We are more at ease with ourselves as we think we truly found a way of composing. Thus, releasing songs which are stronger, more focused. To reach to a point, or that uptick you mention there are a shitload of factors, mostly missed by people who listen to you or follow your band in a heavier or more relaxed manner, which is basically everything you do, everything you stop yourself from doing, the ideas you had to leave behind or something you tried out but didn’t work. These things do not go away, they come back for your despair or many times to reclaim attention and help you to guide them into a superior form. I think understanding that is essential for a band. To be in a band you have to know how to manage between the essential and the peripheral. We love to have fans and recognition. Who the fuck doesn’t? We are not a troubled band on an underground label thinking themselves as genius people don’t understand. I hate people with no ambition. That is why I hate when people leave their destiny in the hands of shame, faith or sheer luck. That is not what I raised myself for. But you have to distinguish recognition and intrusion and that’s why while we were composing and recording Alpha/Omega, there was very little info on Twitter, FB. I don’t want to be writing with a camera on and some presence lurking over my shoulder. That is distracting and kills the sole remainants of magick which can still exist while making an album and thus communicating it. I don’t know how people skip this chronology so light heartedly… I don’t know if we became better with age. I know that we love what we are and do more than ever and probably this confidence shows in our most recent albums. But we can’t forget the trial and error, the glory and humiliation, the comparison to bands who are more successful than us but that simply do not have an artistic strength like we do. It’s not on a first album you attain this conscience, that’s nostalgia speaking and a true band has to know how to deal with all seasons, the past, the present, the future, they ride together and they form what you are so to know how to juggle them. It’s always a learning process and, at this moment, we can graduate.
At this point, what is Moonspell trying to communicate? Fernando Ribeiro: A certain way of being into music that has to do with our generation. A time where avant-garde metal was possible, was big, was natural and not only because a band would want to go further and deeper but also because there was a welcoming crowd, that wanted not only the metal in the bands but also the progressive, the atmospheric, the gothic. Alpha Noir and Omega White are, hands down, statements and testaments. We want to have it really clear [that] then when people call me, when the pros call me up, and warn me that this is the sound byte era, that people don’t have the time, the concentration, the energy to sit down and listen to a full album, but just a couple of songs and some fillers, [so] when this happens, we will work and release a double album. In a time that every special edition has you playing in a festival or being funny to the camera crew, we want our bonus to be a dark, catchy album that brings it all to a solid 80-minutes of music. I am tired of theories, of opportunities, of being at the right place at the right time. Sometimes it’s good to stay on the shore, while people have fun in the sea. Our conviction might be right now as important as our music, our confidence can’t be broken by haters or newcomers who are loud and have muddy feet when they enter our homes. This album, albums, are for people who have time to listen to music, who have time to go to shops and hold the record in their hands and bring it home, with a little spark kicking the heart, to feel anxiety again, to be able to give something of yourself to a record is a beautiful thing and that commitment is what we want. If in the process people read the lyrics, see the art, that’s how the album was conceived with our minds, away from Internet judges, people with no time for us. Being complicated or changing brings great benefits.
Have you become more firm on your spiritual stance as you’ve aged? Or more lax, as things seem to go with most people. I remember, you’ve always been critical of the church, its teachings, and mass religion. Fernando Ribeiro: I am going to be a father for the first time in April. It’s a time where you unavoidably reflect upon things. Some people mellow out, inspired by all the nice smells, the necessary tranquility, the little clothes, the natural high. I have gone through all of this proudly, but the fact is that I deposit a lot of hope in my child to be. That I couldn’t avoid. And that hope is not only moved by love but also by a sense of humanity that I really feel is missing in the world. I am not talking only about religion; that is just one of the spiritual aspects man has abused in order to get power, money, sex, war. The same for politics, finances, etc. All this is devoid of humanity and even the most respected intellectual, politician, philosopher or priest won’t hesitate in choosing his own gratification over anything else. The other day, I was watching TV and speaking to my wife about the state of the world and while she is more inclined to give reason to a certain fatality in the world, my focus is more in the human factor as it decides everything: the killing of someone, of many, breaking down a forest, melting an iceberg. If you follow the crumbs you will arrive to the gates of a big mansion and someone from the Bilderberg group will be living inside. As Leonard Cohen states, “the rich have their chambers in the bedrooms of the poor.” That’s why I believe that individual, smaller actions can fight against the exploitation of the world as most of its evils are based upon also individual interest and greed. Monsters are humans inside. One should not forget that at any time. Being spiritual is not going to yoga or Pilates classes, but rather to strengthen the conscience that you can change the world through individual actions, something that even sometimes you don’t attach importance to. The world is more connected than ever and awareness and information is now the true zeitgeist. My spirituality is fed by the landscape of my balcony in the morning, by the soft belly of my 8-months pregnant wife, but my soul will always crave for bleak poetry, apocalypse stories, the notion mankind is rotten and that we have finally all cards on the table and it’s time we join the game now and not later.
You’re now on Napalm. What precipitated the move? Business, necessity, greener pastures, or a combination of the three? Fernando Ribeiro: We have been released and distributed by several companies since 1995. It’s a stretch of 17 years of dealing with different countries, different mentalities, with great people and others who are not that great. The band is 20 years [old]. We formed as Morbid God in 1989 and then changed our name to Moonspell in September 1992, when Mike Gaspar our drummer joined the band. I transited from Morbid God. In all these years, one doesn’t learn anything it’s hard to conceive. When we joined Century Media at the time there was a musical context about this label which reminded me of the great labels like 4AD. Actually, many times Century Media was ‘labeled’ as the 4AD of metal because they focused on avant-garde bands, coming, sometimes, from countries with no metal reputation like Portugal, Greece, Ireland. Those times are over and Century Media had to adapt to the industry and so they did, with success, but Moonspell wasn’t to be a part of it. Even if Century Media was always interested in us when we moved to SPV, for example, with two solid selling records (Memorial, Night Eternal) and now again when we signed with Napalm, they had their second chance, but it seems they do not want it strongly enough, at least not for us. Napalm is an example of an underground black metal label tiptoeing their way into something else, thinking bigger, having something to prove in the scene and our history is a match to theirs. Sometimes it’s not only the advance or the points. It’s also the enthusiasm and we search for that in anyone who wants to work with us, that’s a feature we can not dispense and I guess it’s obvious that to work with a band such as Moonspell one has to be motivated, as it is a hard and unpredictable thing. If it works right, it’s even more pleasurable, if not, it hurts deeper. The European A&R guy Thomas [Caser] wrote me a mail saying that before we dwell into work and trade —only professional e-mails—he would like to let me know he thought both albums to be a masterpiece and that Napalm has really proud of having us and our album in their ranks. The same happened with Seth [Anton Siro], the designer, with Benny [Richter] and Tue [Madsen], the producers, with our agent. And I guess that doesn’t happen all the time and with all people who make business with you. They were true about it. There is not enough ego on us that prompts ass-licking. We’re not a band with that status yet.
So, for us, it was a combination of enthusiasm, fair conditions and especially the ability of editing this album configuration and concept. And with all the difficulties they will have to market it properly and wisely. While SPV Europe was doing a great job, SPV US were sleeping on their shift and even though we toured the Blackest of the Black or on smaller headliner tours, their absence was something we could count on… I am sure Napalm US will not commit the same mistakes and if it for us feels we are all the time starting over again in the US, regardless we toured with Danzig, Dimmu, Opeth, Type O and Cradle. We are virtually unknown up there.
The press release states Alpha Noir was arranged by Benny Richter. Who’s Benny Richter and what’s his relationship to Moonspell? Fernando Ribeiro: We met Benny via management and I am glad for that moment. Benny Richter is one the finest combinations coming from the new school. He is classically trained which is something always vital to help out the arrangements, the tonal technicalities that can open a song to fuckin’ glory or leave it hanging in the dust. He is also involved somehow with metalcore, which we kind dread, but once we met him he could understand and translate the Moonspell language, so to speak, in a fresh way that influenced heavily our mood for, especially, Alpha Noir. The simple fact that he is 10 years younger than us allowed us to go his crazier route and that ended up on “Lickanthrope”—the fast, last part, which for me like I say Brazilian death metal and for him might be something I never heard about. Benny was great, like the younger kid playing with your toys, making the cars go faster and the Playmobils go wilder!
What do you hope to do with Alpha Noir and Moonspell in 2012/2013? Any stateside visits forthcoming? Fernando Ribeiro: We are booking solid in Europe. We will do a big release party here in Lisbon, Portugal in a 5,000-person arena. The show will quite special, with both albums being played, while the stage changes as well. We like to think it’s our little version of The Wall, redux to Moonspell’s limits and resources which are, unfortunately, not the same as Roger’s both artistically and financially. Then we will go on a small festival tour and play Wacken and Brutal Assault and Metalfest.EU. After that we will concentrate on club, headliner shows and we’re off to Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey in September and then tour again Europe in November, club shows as a co-headliner to a TBA band. We are like always finding out if there is a good tour we can join in North America, but for the best and for the worst we’d like to go stateside for some club shows as we still have a lot to give when it comes to playing and gaining more fans in the states and Canada. We will tie it with Latin America, where we can headline and lick some wounds from the tours in the states, which is sometimes the lack of…people. But seriously we can’t wait to play this live, in Aruba or in Wichita, the pack is gathering and we really want to bring this to the fans. We want to be bulletproof live and I think we did the right album for it!
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** Moonspell's new album(s), Alpha Noir/Omega White, is available May 8th on Napalm Records. It's available HERE, or find yourself camping on Danzig's coccyx.