Moonspell's Fernando Ribeiro Explains New Album "Alpha Noir" Ands Talks '90s Metal Bands
The Portuguese Gothic metal masters in Moonspell have now released their latest opus "Alpha Noir" (reviewed here), which was conceived as a double album alongside the companion piece "Omega White."
Just prior to the album's release, I got in contact with front man Fernando Ribeiro and we had a candid chat about the change in direction on "Alpha Noir" from previous album "Night Eternal," as well as the four year gap between the releases. Discussing how fans have reacted to the band's music and why the group changes sound over time, Ribeiro commented, "With a band, the past is just one of your influences, and the spectrum is actually way broader. Moonspell is always provoking people to say what we did in the past was the best and that’s something we have to live with... The crowd sees from the outside and we’re seeing it from the inside, so I think we always try for every album to have a quality concept and a vision of a story to tell, and 'Alpha Noir' is another page in the book. This is a chapter in the book where the action goes a little faster and it goes to a different place, and that’s the way I see Moonspell."
Below you can find Fernando's thoughts on how European metal bands from the '90s tend to have a different outlook on music, working with new label Napalm Records, and creating the "Lickanthrope" music video.
xFiruath: Let’s start off with the band signing to Napalm Records late last year. How are things going so far and how did you get hooked up with them?
Fernando: I think it was quite a blessing for us. Our former record label SPV went bankrupt but we didn’t stop ourselves from doing anything. Moonspell has always tried to be an independent band so we tried to go on with our recording schedule and we experienced again what it was to be an unsigned band, so that sort of motivated us. We had the album almost finished and some labels came into the picture. We were really into the vibrant enthusiasm that Napalm showed in the signing. Napalm is part of a common story with Moonspell, they started off as an underground black metal label, and they are really trying to make a name on the scene and prove themselves to the bigger labels. I think this is the right place we want to be at right now. I think this was a great choice and we are in contact with them on a daily basis on ideas and they love what we’re doing right now with “Alpha Noir” and “Omega White.” It has quite a ring to it when I tell my friends we’re on a label called “Napalm.” I believe particularly in the U.S. they will do a way better job than SPV.
xFiruath: It’s been about four years between the release of “Night Eternal” and now “Alpha Noir.” What’s been going on with the band in that time and what goes into that many years between releases?
Fernando: First off, “Memorial” and “Night Eternal,” the albums through SPV, did us a lot of good things. We were on the road and touring a lot, doing the festival season in Europe and we went into the U.S. for a few tours. It was basically four years of very intense touring. Year after year, even though we didn’t have a new album, we had invitations from promoters that came up and we wanted to keep up the interest because that doesn’t happen all the time for bands from the ‘90s. So the idea was to keep our heads above the water and get more fans worldwide. On the other hand we knew we wanted to return to the band and make new songs. We wanted to perfect songs, play them different ways, and work with a producer. So basically whenever we’re off the road we’re in the studio working on “Alpha” and “Omega.” So a lot of the four years while we weren’t touring, we were song writing. Time was definitely of the essence here for the making of “Alpha Noir” and “Omega White.” We weren’t having vacations or taking personal time at all, we were always touring and working on the album. I think the first three songs we came up with, “Lickanthrope,” “Love is Blasphemy” and “White Omega” are already almost four years old.
xFiruath: You mentioned how Moonspell has been around since the ‘90s, and I’m wondering how your attitude and musical style has changed since those early days.
Fernando: I think to understand what I’m saying, I’m not putting down all the scene from today, there are great bands from every generation, but I think you really had to live through the ‘90s to understand something that is born with these bands, the evolution of avant-gardism and wanting to explore different styles within your own roots. It was a very exciting time for European metal. I think all the great bands that are still around like Opeth, they had a more progressive way they were going, because they were born with an open mind. That was important for the ‘90s bands and it’s still the same for Moonspell. Some experiences with our music have the favor of the fans, and others don’t. You have to live with that when you are a musician. I think these bands have a certain kind of artistic flair that’s different from bands nowadays.
The scene was different, the crowds were different. For instance, Tiamat announced they would mix the death metal with Pink Floyd, and people were excited about it. Nowadays it’s not the same I would say. When you announce something like that you’re afraid people won’t like it or it will be too much trouble to understand. I think our musical progression has already been driven by the spirit of that time in the ‘90s and everything we have learned so far as a band. When we started off we were heavily influenced by Bathory and Celtic Frost, then we discovered Type O Negative and that was kind of a click for us to go more Goth. I think the albums we are releasing now are a complete picture of this conviction that Moonspell and the other bands from the ‘90s have that belongs to our generation.
xFiruath: I’m a big fan of your last album “Night Eternal” and I’ve noticed the themes this time around in “Alpha Noir” seem to be going a very different direction. What did you guys do differently this time and how has your music changed from the last release?
Fernando: Well I think the fact that we took more time allowed us to do a lot of different stuff. Obviously we will never do a “Night Eternal” sequel. Even though that album was very well received, we wanted to try something different. We wanted the music to be more vibrant and with more attitude in a way, and we wanted things to be a little simpler in a way to bring more live. When you look up the special edition with both albums, “Alpha Noir” and “Omega White,” I think the main difference is in the method we used to compose. On the last albums, we tried to have an album within an album, the atmospheric part, the hard part, the death metal-ish thing. With this other album we wanted to seed each in its own ground. So there’s an album that’s quite atmospheric Goth, that’s “Omega White,” and the other album “Alpha Noir” is more powerful and thrashy and more alive.
With a band, the past is just one of your influences, and the spectrum is actually way broader. Moonspell is always provoking people to say what we did in the past was the best and that’s something we have to live with. I think that’s a sign that we are always doing albums that divide people but other times unite them. When we set out to do a new album for Moonspell, novelty is important. Other bands may play it safe in terms of what’s successful. People sometimes find it strange that we change up the game again, but it’s not something we can help, it’s something that has to do with our artistic influence and gut feeling, which is something that’s probably not the same as the crowd’s. The crowd sees from the outside and we’re seeing it from the inside, so I think we always try for every album to have a quality concept and a vision of a story to tell, and “Alpha Noir” is another page in the book. This is a chapter in the book where the action goes a little faster and it goes to a different place, and that’s the way I see Moonspell.
xFiruath: You just released a music video for “Lickanthrope.” Tell me a bit about what’s going on there and how the recording went.
Fernando: We recorded this time around in Portugal. With the last ones we did a lot of CGI, so this time around we wanted to have more of the human factor. We had to choose songs, and that’s always hard, so we picked up “Lickanthrope” because it already had a visual meaning with the lyrics and we had some kind of morals we wanted to express to people. So we called up a friend of mine who has worked with us and I wanted something like a masquerade with all the things I speak about in the lyrics like little Red Riding Hood, the big bad wolf, and other characters from literature. It just went up a notch with everything. He said he wanted to transform me into a werewolf, and I thought we couldn’t afford to make it really work, but he said “trust me.”
We came up with all these cinematic references, like the “From Dusk till Dawn” kind of a place where people are celebrating in a way with the message of the song with people out there who don’t want to be saved, which is what we come across in portions of the more conservative countries, and even sometimes in the metal scene people say “why aren’t you like this other band?” And we say, you forget something really important and we have passion for what we do and the way we are. We always have self-criticism and restlessness coming up to make better music, but at the end of the day we don’t want to play safe. So this was really translated into the video, and I think this was one of the greatest videos we have because it’s also a tribute to the cinema of horror like the Hammer movies. The werewolf is not Hollywood like that fucking Twilight saga.
Everything was real on the set, even the suffering, for us in Moonspell it was 20 hours of shooting, for other people it was 30 hours, we did everything in one day for budget reasons. I had to go through a lot of prosthetics and facial hair, so it was painful, but I feel like it was our little “Thriller,” like what John Landis did for Michael Jackson. Of course we can’t compare ourselves to Michael Jackson, but John Landis is one our favorite directors as well. We are also making a new video for an “Omega White” song that is totally different. It’s more of a rock video. I think the “Lickanthrope” video will be quite memorable for our fans for years, especially here in Portugal, where there aren’t a lot of supernatural horror movies like you guys have in the States, so we have to make our own. In four minutes it pays tribute to the cinema, it translates the visuals of the song, and it still tells a story, so I couldn’t ask for much more really.
xFiruath: You have some tour dates lined up already to support the album. What’s your set list going to look like this time around?
Fernando: During these last four years something we did was learn almost every Moonspell song. We are ready to play whatever we want. We did a couple of shows with just “Wolfheart” songs for instance. We have to of course concentrate on the new album’s songs, and we have some stuff that’s really powerful live, but also we have to look to our past repertoire and find what fits with “Alpha” and “Omega.” This double album is a big picture of everything we are as musicians, so we can easily find songs that match them. We hope to go overseas at the end of the year and we’re going to the Barge to Hell, which should be amazing. The 70,000 Tons of Metal was a great experience, it was like a show that was also a paid vacation because we got to hang out with fans and watch Marduk live and all that. We want to book shows in the U.S. because I feel we have to grow there, but probably not before December because we’ll be busy touring Europe up until then.
xFiruath: Moonspell is one my favorite ‘90s bands and you’ve mentioned some others I really love, like Tiamat and Opeth. For you personally what would be your perfect ‘90s tour package?
Fernando: Well we already did it when we supported Type O Negative here in Europe, that was really big. That was the dream tour at the time, because Type O Negative was at their prime with “October Rust.” In ’96 we toured with Samael and Rotting Christ and we are really good friends with all those bands. I think Tiamat has played with us already for a couple of legs, so there’s a lot to choose from. In that era of Katatonia, Opeth, Dark Tranquillity, Tiamat, Rotting Christ, I think that would be a great tour with a European metal package. I’ve never seen so much interest drawn from the U.S. crowd into the European scene like it is today. That’s the sort of tour we’re looking for in the States, some kind of conceptual tour that doesn’t have a weird band that doesn’t fit. I think it’s very important the partners we choose this time around to go on tour with.
xFiruath: What else would you like to say?
Fernando: I’m really glad Napalm is trying to support our album heavily overseas. I hope to share our enthusiasm with these albums on “Alpha Noir” and “Omega White,” which I think is coming out on the 8th in the states. I’ve never understood personally why it comes out later in the States, it’s something that’s puzzled me for ages. I hope we go out strong in the West and our fans deserve the best. I think this album will take us new places because we have put so much of ourselves into it and we went a little bit outside the box for the Moonspell discography.
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