Interview with Fernando about duality of Alpha Noir and Omega White
The poetic yet raw and primal Moonspell have always been one of the smartest, most self-aware acts in heavy metal, a band who represent their native Portugal and yet have a creative drive that is unlimited by geographic boundaries or styles. If anything, the full massive complexity of this band with black metal and gothic roots often goes over people’s heads who are distracted by the “sensationalist” lycanthrope elements of their aesthetic. Thankfully, with two new releases “Alpha Noir” and “Omega White” (Napalm), Moonspell underscore more than ever the many shades of enlightened ritual they are capable of mastering.
Highlights of the two records are many. “Opera Carne” opens with a riff that could become Moonspell’s own “Symptom of the Universe”, just a monster intro that churns and builds before bursting upwards into a different truly uplifting melodic flight (or descent) on dark wings. “White Skies” and “Herodisiac” are both new songs that are completely bewitching, unfurling the gothic, melodic Moonspell enchantment like only this band can cast. I could go on and on.
“Alpha Noir” is like screaming at your face. It’s a solar album, an Apollonian record. The dark envelope with a white letter of motivation inside with messages of self esteem at any price and beneath any oppression. It has the spirit of its time and the reaction to its time’s shortcomings,” muses Ribeiro. “After the arena, “Omega White” is the healing room. The murmur upon the lips, the ones who left you, (physically or otherwise), the lust you will never experience, the chamber of the Queen.”
It was great to have an incredible interview with Fernando Ribeiro about metal “purity”, light and dark duality, history, literature, influences and more.
Morgan Y. Evans: Greetings today and hails. How great to speak to Moonspell again. The first question is, I thought when it came out that “Night Eternal” might be your ultimate statement. It was so fully realized and strong as an album. Even the bonus track “Age Of Mothers” was just as good as the material mainly on the album. Knowing that “Night Eternal” was such a powerful record, how did you plan to follow it up? I mean, you have had many good albums so this must often be a challenge.
Fernando Ribeiro: Indeed. It’s a challenge for everyone and as far as the band is concerned not all the time for the best reasons. Creatively, so far, we never had a problem in knowing where to go. We see the band from the inside, and a lot of times it’s hard to justify what leads you to do something else when you should just rest upon the laurels and manage the momentum the best you can. We had this dilemma since the early days of “Wolfheart” but our passion for novelty and for coming up with creative challenge always won over any other motivation or goal. This time we wanted to plant the seeds in different soils and to watch them grow. It was a creative principle that became the concept of “Alpha” and “Omega”. We wanted the album to reflect that dual nature we always had but with everything on its’ “right” place. In all the other albums, including NE, all the emotions were contained in just one record and if even a lot of people tell us now that it really works, we had a problem with the records sometimes being all over the place so we decided otherwise; to expand the concept in a double album. Alas, “Night Eternal” never got so many good comments like now and it seems every time we release a new album, that the previous one was “the shit”. At least new albums validate the old ones but sometimes I can’t help the feeling we are haunted by our past and it takes a bulletproof love for what we do not to fade away in the scene without putting up a good fight. And we believe this one will do so.
MYE: As always you have a lot of dynamics and tempo changes on your albums but it’s true that few bands can cover as much ground as you do and still it sounds “Moonspell”. What do you think it is about the relationships in the band between members that allows you to be such a tight band and also to flow with the dark creativity so sanguinely? I love that you always have really chugga chugga mid-tempo riffs ala Sepultura and big drum sounds plus dissonant guitars on your albums. It makes it so much bigger and emotional as well as dark.
FR: I don’t know the reason for this creative restlessness but when I dig into our past like “Wolfheart” or even “Under the Moonspell” I find out we were already covering a lot of ground and that we just expanded from there, winning some, losing some. Also our all time favorite influences like Bathory, Celtic Frost and Type O, were bands that were diverse, especially the first two. I find records like “Into the Pandemonium” or “Hammerheart/Twilight of the Gods” not only groundbreaking but courageous and I find that more inspiring than to be bound to an unwritten book of Underground laws to please others instead of our artistic hunger. This kind of speech…I know it’s weird these days and perhaps naively romantic but it is rooted upon nothing but honesty. I believe all of the band shares this view and even if we fine tune some opinions and thoughts between us, the direction we take is always embraced by everyone fully. We have been through a lot together and music has always found its way through the cracks and hollows and that, we believe, shows up in the songs.
MYE: I loved the cover art for both “Alpha Noir” and “Omega White” that Seth Siro Anton created. The “Alpha Noir” cover might be his most intense piece I have seen. Can you discuss the background meaning behind the art? It really kind of shocked me due to some personal symbolism it reflected from my own life’s subconcious.
FR: Thank you. Seth really set his standards really high with “Night Eternal”. We both talked about it and that one is a one of a kind thing really, where all elements aligned. This record had a more twisted standpoint and I believe the artwork stands as one entire piece with two covers to envelope the richness of his work in the bowels of this Beast. The good thing about Seth is that he leaves many doors open for interpretation and has, definitely, a signature of his own. As we became excellent friends he always has carte blanche to come up with his vision. I follow the process and many times we discuss things in a pure artistic form like the old philosophers. If people would listen to us on the phone, they would freak out as there is nothing remotely mundane about this artwork. The only thing I can offer is my interpretation of things which justify why am I so happy regarding his work. I believe that in “Alpha Noir”, especially in the cover, he captured the essence of the album. You never know if those helmeted figures are going to attack or fall in an embrace. That’s so “Alpha”, so close to what I wrote on the album, so ferocious yet so ambiguous. For the “Omega White” artwork he went on another way and for me it recalls the saint whores of Persia or the silent figures that seal a cenotaph, inviting yet unwanted. Once again he captures the lust and death involved in the “Omega” lyrics and I can only be thankful that he lends us his vision for our records’ artworks.
MYE: “Versus” in particular shows Moonspell is always willing to push yourselves creatively. How did the idea for the energy of that song come about? I love the ambient section at the end.
FR: I remember that song to be something Pedro played here and there, bits and pieces, a shattered structure but he kept on playing the riff until he was on the verge of getting rid of it. That’s when I came with the rabid lyrics and the vocals. The words “I am thinking vultures” just formed in my mind. Maybe I was tired of people pulling my leg and trying to dismember my self-esteem and integrity. Much of “Alpha” was done on a daily context of people calling up to talk about the industry crisis disregarding the fact we were doing an album, with our heads and hearts in the clouds, trying to do what we do best which is to allow ourselves some escape from reality through our art. People think this is pretentious and they want to speak about the record industry crisis instead. Also “Versus” is a down to earth song, hatred is there, no doubt and a not so secret wish of getting face to face to face with people that hurts us personally through the cowardice of anonymous messages mostly online. The blog writers, the haters, they are all despicable just as much as a yuppie in fuckin’ Wall Street that dims my country. JUNK forgetting about centuries of History, Culture, the great geography, the great places and human beings who live here and have not borrowed money from any fuckin’ monetary fund. I think the music and the song structure just tagged along the angry tones and it fuses rock, punk, metal and goth. The last keyboard part, which I really love as well, by the way, was just like the song, one of those things the guys thought wouldn’t fit but that I stubbornly told them it would. I am glad they put up with my shit as it is a great ending for the song
MYE: What were the biggest challenges the band and Tue Madsen faced composing two different albums at once? Obviously you had a vision and he is a very skilled producer who is familiar with you. Can you describe the recording process highlights? This was a great idea to do the two records because some fans like the heavier side like “Memorial” and others prefer the morbid, sexy kind of satanic goth side like “Irreligious”, which is so classic.
FR: This idea is not as consensual as you might think. We got a lot of criticism saying that we should do like we always did, and to manage a way to have both emotions contained and spread out through just one album body, being “Night Eternal” the most quoted as a good example of that. I can see people’s point but what they miss is something that the band feels heavily, which is the need for challenge and an irresistible force towards novelty. We have probably haven’t made the wisest moves in the scene and we were terrible managing the momentum we had with our very first albums, which were, by the way, already dual in their nature. But pursuing the paths with “Sin”, “Butterfly…” and eventually crystallizing our sound and style with the last “Memorial” and “Night Eternal”, hands down, the most popular albums we had in ages; I was saying, those moves came straight from the heart, caused by artistic appeal and decision above all things. So for us to plant the “Alpha” and “Omega” seeds on different soil and watch them grow was quite a stunning experience for the band and we can only hope that it translates to the fans. We know these are not the nineties and that sometimes what gets to people is not anymore that excitement of bands changing and experimenting. People have some trouble leaving their comfort zone and many of them, at least here in Europe, want their meat and potatoes, and not some exotic mix. But again the artistic project prevailed and even if sometimes the process was twice as hard I believe that everyone was touched by the idea and brought forth their own enthusiasm and ideas. That was the case with Tue. We were very picky especially with “Omega” as it was a kind of record Tue does not do everyday but I believe he did a great job in both charted and uncharted territories. He was sensitive to the nuance but allowed both records to sound strong according to their own nature and different emotional display. The record process was pleasurable all the way through. We wrote songs, arranged it with a different producer (Benny Richter), then Mike would fly to Denmark and record his drums with Tue. Then Tue would come to Portugal to help us with the setup and some of the tracking we did in our own studio, in Portugal. Then we’d go on tracking until we had everything ready for the mix, which Tue did in Antfarm, his studio in Denmark. Then, we did it all again for “Omega White”.
MYE: Being that black metal or black metal inspired heavy metal is often a form of music most about freedom for the individual (unless they really want to be in thrall of dark forces/energy, which is a separate strain of black metal all its’ own), do you think artists in this genre should be more forward thinking in how they release their albums? I mean, it isn ‘t like all metal bands in the darker corners of metal care as much about commercial success, but there is also will to power. Is it better for people to self-release records or work with a label? Does it matter?
FR: The finest line that threads through all styles of Metal born Underground is exactly how to expand in a style where everyone feels and acts like the chosen ones. We have been through that experience many times and in effect we are still faced by a lot of people as having left the dark side of the force in search of greener pastures. It’s a hard question to reply as it is an unsolvable dilemma for all of us. Staying Underground is also dilemmatic as it is somewhat against the ambitious nature of a style such as Metal, larger than life. The nineties Black Metal and Avant-garde Metal were the best examples, and in the case of the latter, this questioning almost brought the style into its knees, as many bands, ourselves included, became popular and didn’t know how to deal with it. With the Black Metal wake, many revelations were done and most of happened, especially in Norway, was nothing but the need to draw attention and to claim the Throne of Ice. Some bands that have moved far from it and invested their time more on their music and visual were bands like Dimmu or Satyricon, which every kid today points their finger at because they left the Trve zone, even if their music is now bigger and better. All in all I think the experiences we live, the country we come from, our shape as human beings, our education are decisive to lead us through this fine line, winning some, losing some, but, like I say many a times, keeping our heads above the waters. I believe there couldn’t be a Gaahl hailing from Portugal (and some have tried to no success) or a band such as Moonspell or Septic Flesh born in the North. I like both, they are more complete to the scene but people like the territorial pissing too much to be as comfortable as me on this “choice”. I believe Ethics are a different thing from Music and if you concentrate too much in the first, it will backfire and hit you in the head. Moonspell is not a Black Metal band even if we flirt with the style especially because of our heavy Bathory influence, but I feel better when more people listen to our music than less. We like to please and our music might be hatred fuel sometimes but there is always room for romance. To keep up with this we have to involve labels, agents, it’s the price we pay to have more free time to represent ourselves artistically. I am comfortable with this as I am also sure that somewhere in the world three guys have heard some rabid demo tape and felt special to be the only ones in the world doing it, even if the tape is second rate Black Metal. If it matters? Not really. Most people make up their minds about a band way before they dwell seriously in their music. I still prefer the foreplay, the magic of discovering new and old music over to have an opinion about it. I still want to live in the real world of emotions and not bitching online about what a Black Metal band should be and how they should behave.
MYE: Some bigger metal bands don’t cite their influences, but you have been cool and said that “Alpha Noir” is somewhat King Diamond and early Metallica inspired in places while “Omega White” is a tribute in some ways to Type O Negative. I know Fernando, that you loved the song “Wolf Moon” by Type O Negative. You also toured with them early on in both of your careers as mentioned in the liner notes to, I believe, “Irreligious”. Do you think bands are too slow to list their influences or heroes, whether literary or musical? I will always remember the impact King Diamond had on me when I finally got over how high his voice could go and realized that “Abigail” was the darkest record!
FR: We never had problems with quoting our influences. Also there are a lot of younger kids who started listening to us but missed our influences like I did when I was their age listening to Metal bands and go myself as far back as to listen to Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. I don’t have a problem with the fact that Moonspell didn’t materialize in the scene as a full original thing but rather as a cross of our own influences to which we learnt how to, hopefully, apply our own twist. In when it comes to quote not only musical but also literary influences, I even believe that those quotes are one of the best things to share with the fans and that, in a way, you keep a virtuous cycle going on, initiated by bands such as Maiden, when they used the Coleridge poem on “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”; or Celtic Frost when they used Baudelaire for “Sorrows of the Moon”, on “Powerslave” and “Into the Pandemonium”, respectively. I believe in tradition and looking up to other artists as a way of finding our own niche, so I don’t have a problem with my influences or the bands’ influence. Our very first effort “Wolfheart”, one can sit down and pick up the parts which remind them of something else. And that album is far of being perceived as a rip off of Bathory or Type O but is regarded really highly on the European Metal scene as one of its classics, and I am not the one who stated it so. By the way, “Abigail” is an incredible album, with vocal and musical storytelling, in my opinion, undisputed in Metal! This record should be turned into a movie picture!!!
MYE: Agreed! What were some lyrical topics you knew would make it onto these new records and how is it a reflection of your life recently? ‘Love Is Blasphemy” is particularly intense.
FR: My life is pretty intense, and without going into private detail, a lot has happened in the past four years since “Night Eternal”, both good and bad. Some of it has changed me but my concerns as a lyrics writer are endless and will not fade. To say my subject is mankind, it would sound like poor, arrogant philosophy, an educated donkey looking up to the stars, is still a donkey. But all my research and heart is put into the way we feel, we transform, we destroy or help build everything around us, both dark and white matter, human or inhuman, after all our imagination bears fruit of many a specie. So it’s in the limbo between what I experience and the stubborn way we have to mystify the world that my lyrics are born. “Alpha Noir” is like screaming at your face. It’s a solar album, an Apollonian record. The dark envelope with a white letter of motivation inside with messages of self esteem at any price and beneath any oppression. It has the spirit of its time and the reaction to its time’s shortcomings. After the arena, “Omega White” is the healing room. The murmur upon the lips, the ones who left you (physically or otherwise), the lust you will never experience, the chamber of the Queen. Funny when you pick up that title as it could be in any side of the frontier between these records. Love is a blasphemy upon yourself and that’s what’s fascinating and powerful about it, that we can shed the skin of our own birthright selfishness and live in favor of the ones you love, disregarding your wish, the beast inside, the comfort zone. If hate is powerful, love comes to terms with your most intimate and delicate givings. On “Alpha” I used an image from the Bible, when Jesus enters Jerusalem on ass back to spread a new order, based on love and ends up destroying the World as it was known. Was that love or a blasphemy?
MYE:Have you ever read “The Dogs” by Rebecca Brown? It is a sort of modern bestiary. There is a very interesting chapter where the narrator is kind of freaking out saying that even if an angel came down and explained why everything can be so horrible sometimes and promised to make it end some day that the narrator would be ok with that more than nothing. Does this reflect the human condition or only people who need an answer?
FR: We came from the Illuministic “Dare to Know” to the pragmatic and modern “Ignorance is Bliss”. We travelled a long way backwards and religion and the media helped to weave the veil into a thicker one. People are most likely afraid of the answer and that is the human condition these days, to roam the fields on an empty stomach and mind, texting on our iPhones, leaving the great teachings and concern for the dust of oblivion. I still regard highly, with an undying optimism, the advances we make as a species yet there are too much doing these days and too little thinking. Politics are the first example, how could greed overcome the basic humanist principles behind these organization of cities and countries the Greek left us before the rating agencies transformed them into a joke yuppies tell by brunch? The human condition is self-explanatory, to think of oneself should be like breeding or learning how to read. We hold the answers but fear froze us into iPad applications contentment and a never ending role-playing in our jobs, families and passions.
MYE:This many albums into a glowing career, what goals remain for Moonspell?
FR: To survive within our own terms in a business where respect towards artistry is mostly gone and a certain herd mentality took over. We have to put the bread upon the table yet we try our best for it to have the taste of not only hardness but of the sweetness that there is in living our dreams. Thanks for a great interview, see you overseas!