Portugal’s Gothic metal pioneers Moonspell are closing in on their 30 year anniversary, with no signs in slowing down on both output and inner-fire.
Rising from music fans to unlikely flag-bearers to their home-country’s often under-appreciated metal climate, Moonspell dropped their 12th studio album Hermitage this past February through Napalm Records, and have been actively rewarding their diehard fan base through early era re-issues and collector’s must-haves.
Frontman Fernando Ribeiro caught up with Metal Injection for a deep dive into their first album in four years, his obsession with vinyl and giving back to fans, the exit of Mike Gaspar on drums, the bands’ love/hate reception in their home country, fanzine and Morbid God days and much more!
On New Album Hermitage
The original plan was to pick up from where Extinct left musically. 1755 was supposed to be an EP, then it became an album, then became an album sung in Portuguese. So I wouldn’t say it’s a one off experience because I think a window of opportunity was opened there. Yeah, I really dig that style even though it has nothing to do with a Hermitage or even Extinct. I like the fact of a more urgent, solid and more boosted album like 1755.
Whenever I pick up a conversation with Pedro and Ricardo, who are the songwriters in Moonspell, before anything is on the table, before we change any files or whatever, I always try to tell them, alright so Extinct is not going to be about an animal or human extinction. It has that feeling, but it also has the feeling of the things we liked that are coming back no more. 1755, simply, is about the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon. We all learn (about it) in school, so just pick up the school books and read about it. For Hermitage I told them straight, it’s going to be about the authenticity of connectivity versus real connections. About people going to the desert and taking a break, checking that perspective.
For Moonspell it’s quite different if I arrive at the songwriters and say OK, it’s going to be about red wine or pirates or landing on Mars. I think that changes the atmosphere and the mood of music. Even stuff they have written before, it becomes something different. It’s like when you have a kid and you’re going to call him Charles or you’re going to call her Liza. They become that name. I think that’s what happens with our music as well. The songs that were probably just a bunch of loose ends, riffs and ideas, they become Hermitage. But I think that we didn’t follow through our own blend. I think some of Extinct can be found in the continuation of Hermitage. But in good Moonspell fashion, like in 1755, we got carried away and we kind of drifted a little bit. But what was really, really important was to have a no strings attached album.
It’s probably a little bit harder on the fans, but it’s also more pleasant because a new album of Moonspell involves, really, novelty. It’s not something that we’re going to rewash or reheat some old ideas and we kind of stay true to that. I wanted to take off the rock and roll and the oriental feeling of Extinct a little bit. I wanted to concentrate more on songs like “Breathe (Until We Are No More)” or “The Future is Dark”. And then all of the sudden some of it can be found there. But I think Hermitage fortunately gained its own identity in the discography of Moonspell.
On the Exit of Mike Gaspar, Entrance of Hugo Ribeiro on Drums
Mike’s leaving and also the lawyering up that he had, not allowing us to talk about the problems specifically, for me was really sad. You know, I thought Moonspell was a family. And then I found out the wrong way that we also are people that cannot solve our own problems. That was what happened with Mike. So I saw the whole thing as a big failure for everyone. It kind of broke my heart. So that’s why I was a little bit away from deciding who would be the new Moonspell drummer. So I kind of waited. Then this pandemic came and we couldn’t really tour and bond with anyone. So I was probably more curious than anyone else to see how he would fit, being that I had such a close relationship with Mike and that kind of was heavy for me.
I thought Hugo was a really cool guy. Like a simple guy, down to earth guy. He was not too impressed about being in Moonspell, but he also was definitely giving a shit. He knew our repertoire very well. So I kind of liked that … I think we have to credit Hugo for his strong adaptation. He’s kind of an easy going guy, and he’s a great drummer, but also his personality fits. It’s not too little and not too much, if you know what I mean.
And then the moment of truth was more in rehearsal. We kind of threw him some harder songs to play and he just played it with ease. It was like the songs were really easy and some songs we were really struggling with in the final times that Mike was in the band. Then Pedro had all these drum programs to show to him and he kind of was like yeah, that’s cool, but I can do it on my own. And it was very fast. He’s a drummer with taste as well. So I think he did a great job on Hermitage and a great job all together. Obviously we still need time to bond and we definitely need the tour, not only because of the money and the lifestyle, but tours bind people or tear them apart as well. I think that’s what we need.
On Vinyl Love & Giving Back to Fans
Obviously for the romantic part of it, I think it’s awesome that it’s still one of the last of the musical styles that we kind of have an attachment to the physical object. I think that’s pretty cool. It makes metal a little bit get the status of something artistic. We just don’t want the commodity of music in digital, even though we all use it. I mean, I’m not going to be like old school and say I hate digital. I hate the way that they distribute the money. I think it’s bad for any content creator.
I want to do something different, you know? And especially with The Butterfly Effect reissue, we got so lucky. People loved it so much. We did remixes and all the revamped artwork and all the different steps we took on that particular record. I mean, we sold it out. And it was an album that back in the day I remember being very polemic because of these industrial metal approaches, all the chaos and all the loops and all the confusion about the lyrics and the beatnik culture, et cetera. It was a big melting pot of 1999.
For a guy like me, 1999 to 2000, growing up in a Catholic country was something big. We all got taught in Sunday school, et cetera, that the world will end in 2000. You never know. But I think it’s great because you get to cater to the special community out there. The newer fans that weren’t there in the 90s can get the records as well. Even our own Alma Mater Records, we try to make really cool stuff and invest in that. I don’t want to restock. I want to do collectibles. And then I want to do something that people can afford too.
It’s such a pleasure because I think when you really give attention to music is when you sit down to listen to a vinyl. That’s something you really have. It’s not a lot of work. I did it countless times, but it’s something that people are not used to anymore. Just shuffle, just play. It’s still an old school thing about metal. And I have a lot of metal records. I have a lot of styles. My records, some of them are worn so thin. I’m glad that people just reissue them. My original Candlemass Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, it’s like totally not mint at all. It’s far from mint (laughs).
When I look at Hermitage, I just love it. It’s not only about the music. It’s also about the feel. I think it’s beautiful. I think the records still sum-up so many forms of art, like music, songwriting, production, but also painting or whatever technique they use to make the record covers. Hopefully some poetry or literature if the lyrics are good and serious. I really like to hold a record. I think these days it’s almost an object of desire.
On the Early Portuguese Metal Scene & Fanzine Era
When I started to listen to metal you actually looked for national bands, especially because of cheaper tickets. You could still see metal and buy the demos, et cetera. So we kind of had the scene. I think that in the end of my answer you will figure out better what I’m going to say now, but it always was split in two. The two halves that were split couldn’t accommodate Moonspell.
There was traditional heavy metal, cool bands like Tarantula, The Coven. There were more bands from the late and the early 80s and also there were these kind of underground bands and this underground scene coming up with bands like Tormentor. Every country had a Tormentor. They were pretty good, like a death metal thing. Massacre. Again, just the cliched names here and there. But what I felt is that in between, the Portuguese bands did not pursue their own identity. A lot of bands wanted to be and have the success of the Portuguese Sepultura, the Portuguese Metallica, the Portuguese Iron Maiden. And they were quite content with that.
When we showed up in the scene, we didn’t show up as a band. We showed up as journalists, so to speak. We had a fanzine and we were heavy tape traders and there were a bunch of people like us in Portugal. It was more traditional. The really early underground boom was something that was not really taking flight in Portugal. So we did the fanzine.
We didn’t really care about the genre, but we scored a lot of extreme metal interviews; grindcore, black metal. And eventually we got so many tapes from so many cool bands that we thought, well, there’s nothing really from Portugal that we can tape and send. There were a couple of bands that we actually enjoyed, but we said well, there’s nothing really black or dark or even a little bit like Gothic. There’s bits and pieces. So I think that’s how Morbid God was born, and then translated into Moonspell.
We created the band that we thought was cool enough to send our tape trading friends and community. There was not a band like this. We kind of just rolled up our sleeves. We were very influenced by the Brazilian brutal black metal and death metal. I think the first song we played together was not even an original song. We played “Nightmare” by Sarcófago. One thing led to the other and we went on a double LP called The Birth of a Tragedy that had many cool, upcoming and established bands … Against all expectations it was the band that people, not that they loved it, but people really looked up to as something completely new. And then we teamed up with another band called Decayed. They had an amazing album called The Conjuration of the Southern Circle back then. We did Under The Moonspell and did Wolfheart and that really took flight and separated us from all the other metal bands in Portugal.
On Moonspell’s Love/Hate Relationship with Portuguese Metallers
Instead of following the footsteps of when Wolfheart was in the door of the European metal scene, many bands just see the Portuguese thing and start really backstabbing us and people stopped speaking with us. And we really wanted a scene. We didn’t want to be just like you say, the forerunners or carrying the flag. We wanted a scene.
And nowadays even though we have the love of the crowds and the respect of some of our peers, it’s still divided into half. There’s still a lot of people that love Moonspell, and there’s a lot of people who fucking hate Moonspell, and especially bands and people in bands. And I think that I can live with that. That’s not a problem. It’s also a small country, so it’s not like people are trying to assassinate me on the streets. Sometimes it’s tough. They even made a mock-page when my kid was born, these old Portuguese fans, you know, internet shit. But we also, many years after, are also the authority, the figure that they want to deny. It’s still pretty much split.
On Nearing Moonspell’s 30th Anniversary
Yeah, we kind of didn’t see it coming, really. Even though we are in contact with our past, present and hopefully future, being in Moonspell is a big fucking surprise for everyone. We’ve never expected it, even in the early days to establish Wolfheart and Irreligious. We had the problem of credibility because of the fact that we were from Portugal. So having said that, everything comes as a big surprise. And even with a time management issue, it’s like sometimes for me it went down really fast and I didn’t see it coming. Some other times were really very painfully slow. And sometimes we didn’t move as much up as we thought we would until we understood that for Moonspell it’s not that up and down thing or a linear thing. It’s more of a curve.
I think the fact that we never thought deeply about it, that we just went year by year, almost on a daily, weekly basis, making stuff with the band, trying to improve musically, vocally, lyrically, also to try to improve our independence as a band.
I think all these works in progress, let’s call it this way, really makes the longevity of Moonspell special, something that’s not like a totally frozen in the past band just playing best-of’s and doing tribute tours. Having a new album on the verge of celebrating 30 years, I think that’s important for us. I think it’s always important to know that everything is temporary, and even Moonspell one day or another will not be able to record a new album or that we may not be inspired or not want to be together anymore.
Sometimes I really feel the desperation of fellow musicians, musicians I love and I grew up with that just started living destructive lifestyles. It doesn’t matter if the band is big or small, it really matters the way that you feel about the band. If the band is everything for you and that everything for you is kind of lacking something in there, your expectation is not fulfilled, which is very hard in music. If you are on top, you really want even more. So I think that’s the secret of Moonspell. It’s not to take everything for granted and to have the feeling that it’s not a feeling, it’s the reality that we have to struggle. We have to deliver. And I think that when you have something to prove that kind of puts you in check and kind of leaves you probably more tired, but stronger in a way.