Interview with Fernando Ribeiro
Night Eternal features quite a bit of female singing, and in certain passages, it feels like an ode to Woman. Have you been inspired by other elements that would allow similar parallels?
Most definitely. There was, all the time, a certain female background considered to the whole of the lyrics, image and sound, and I am glad it came across without using too many obvious resources; I mean, the female presence is all around, from the cover – firstly, inspired in the mother of Earth, Marian – to orthodox icons, to the Walter Pater’s sentence, to the formation of the Crystal Mountain singers’ choir, so all is a part of celebrating more than the Woman herself – rather, Womanhood as a fascinating instinct and concept (historically, visually and poetically).
On musical levels, the contrast between the more soothing and heavy parts is quite prominent. Did that come from a conscious intent or, rather, from an inner, natural development?
I guess that contrast has already been a part of Moonspell’s sound. Also, it was born from a positive tension between me, who usually handles the spirit of the band, and the other guys, which are more physical and down to the music. Instead of being anal about it, we just took both visions to the studio and dealt with them there – which resulted in the likes of Dreamless, but also in the title track. Music can be intense in many forms, and Moonspell has always sought intensity on contrast. As a listener, I can feel power in both Morbid Angel or Anathema, and we do try to have two universes working most of the times.
Were there any albums where you sort of pre-planned either the lyrical or musical criteria, or have they all been a fruit of your own instinct?
There is no formula or timing, we just go in the path we know best and then we bring it to the group. Of course that for a singer and a lyricist, ideas and concepts are always popping up and I can say that, even without listening to any note, I pretty much have already found a way for the next album’s concept and, why not, direction. But with Moonspell the group factor is what counts, as well as our differences and likenesses, in order to positively contaminate each other with our instincts and method.
Under Satanae was released last Halloween, featuring the rerecording of your debut mini-album, demo and promo-track. Have you intended to pursuit this project before or was it something that came up on the spot?
We were never satisfied with the relation between the musical skills, production and the potential of those early songs. If we had the chance, we would have rerecorded them on the spot. Obviously, as an underground freak, I understand the magic of rawness and mistakes, but a lot of reasons – ranging from opportunity to public demand – guided us to the final decision: that instead of remastering the original tapes, do it all over, adding experience and some ideas we couldn’t possibly have had or played in the early 90s.
On those early works, you drew inspiration from Middle-Eastern music and there were also some Moroccan atmospheres popping up on occasion. What inspired you to use those rather atypical influences in the sound?
Other musicians, mostly. We still love the likes of Dead can Dance, Los Trobadores, Loreena McKenitt, some Death in June, Peter Murphy’s Dust and some traditional Mediterranean and Portuguese music. We never thought they were atypical for Metal – well, at least, not the Metal we liked – and Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium was a gem and a high point on that fusion of styles. Today Folk Metal is a dominant style, but I dread most of the bands, as they go the easy way and just play electric what once was acoustic.
Moonspell has always given a fair share of importance to aesthetics. In the beginning, what moved you to portray yourselves in such archetypal fashions that, gradually, would evolve into what they are today?
Nothing special, really, just a sense of image and a love for plastic expression. I am always surprised when people underline this in us because I see it in many bands, and in Metal in general – this strong link between Art and Literature and our Metal scene. Maybe it’s true that most Metal is shallow and circumstantial, but our roots were always deeply rooted in bands like Bathory and Celtic Frost, who used famous painters for their artwork, up to Maiden, whose lyrical and cover approach is exemplar of intelligence and culture. Moonspell came into life to be visual but not to be on-stage in shorts; there is a place for that, but it doesn’t strike me, personally, as I always preferred Bathory over Anthrax.
You once wrote that “emotion is a certain form of intelligence” and that “intelligence isn’t only rational thought”. Were you implying that this can only happen after one comes to terms with inner complexes or prejudices, so to allow genuine behaviour to take over?
No, I apply to Nature, fauna intellect and flora organisation. I don’t believe that everything is a work of God, but rather that there is an intelligence rooted in Nature itself. I have a problem with the division of rational and irrational distinction. Call me crazy, I don’t care, but like Bram Stoker says in Dracula, “we have much to learn from beasts.”
More often than not, the media tends to expose certain subject matters you write about as directly linked to Satanism, when in fact you are depicting characters like Lucifer, Prometheus or Dr. Faust (like in Mephisto), even if they are always adversaries in their own right. What is it that fascinates you in them? And where did the inspiration to write about a poem from Álvaro de Campos come from?
Adversaries of whom? For me, all these characters have a life, story and legend of their own, which are far more representative of mankind than the story and the attributes of the Holy and of Gods, so I tend to lean to that side of things simply out of identification. For me they are what we should do: to seek and find.
Opium is a different story and subject, since Portuguese literature and poetry are simply wonderful and, for me, our most precious cultural treasure, as it influences me to the point of creating my own visions on top of those. The use – or, rather, “imagined” use – of opium on Pessoa’s poem just sums up a lot from the Decadent movement, which I admire very much (poetically), but it’s also a way for foreign fans to tap into the Portuguese culture, and that can only be a great thing.
Recently, you translated Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend for the Portuguese market. How long did it take for you to do it and what was the reason to choose this work in particular? Are you considering to do something similar in the future?
Not as long as I should have dedicated to it, but the result was good enough for me to let it go into print. I work with literature as often as I can but, despite the fact that Moonspell takes me a lot of time, it is – no doubt about it – my main passion and activity all the same; but I never cut with it, as I have done other translation jobs for authors like H.P. Lovecraft. Other than that, I keep two blogs in Portuguese: one about poetry, and the other as a virtual continuation of the articles I write for the Portuguese Metal magazine, Loud!. Currently, I am translating my three poetry books into English and some other stuff I am working on this year.
You also collaborated with Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto on The Antidote. How did that come about?
Nothing but a mutual admiration, and a like-mindedness about words and music, motivated by a great friendship. Our music has always had a literary feel about it and to work with José Luís Peixoto was just the pinnacle of it all – words coming from our music and energy, which was quite an honour for us.
How was it like working with Waldemar Sorychta, Andy Reilly, Hilii Hilesmaa and Tue Madsen? In overall terms, what tells them apart?
All of them are different and have different ways of being into music and production, and they see/perceive Moonspell on their own different way as well.
Starting by Andy, he was more of an experience for us, but he left his mark in the craziest recording time we’ve ever had (i.e. The Butterfly Effect).
Double H, or Hilii, had more of a Rock feeling and wasn’t only a great guy to work with, but someone who brought a special touch into the band – our “Finnish” albums sounded great and original, also thanks to his vision.
Finally, the first and the last: Waldemar is for us, many times, like a fifth member and someone we allow to go deep into our music, touch it and change it, and Tue is the guy who made us sound at our best so far.
You were part of an ensemble cast in a stage production called Saga – Ópera Extravagante. The liner notes depicted it as a mix between Folk, Pop Music and Heavy Rock, but, essentially, what was it about? Did you have to take any prior singing lessons?
Bottom line, it was a musical, but firmly rooted in Theatre, since it was mainly conceived by a street theatre company, so the dramaturgy and the story (a rebel daughter that wants to be a marine-captain against her father and against fate) was the colour for everything. Then the music – a 60-piece Navy band, and a collection of singers from different areas, made it extravagant. I was playing the Pirate God, an ironic observer from the human tragedy below, and a ship armour (stepfather of the rebel) and, mostly, I used my hard vocals – that was why I was enlisted. In the end it turned out to be a great show – intense and different – and it was attended by many people; also, it has just won the Critics’ Award in Portugal.
As for singing lessons, I had classical training for a while and then learned the basics, but I was not into it that much – most of it was not practical for me. With whom I have learnt most was with Birgit Zacher – she sings in Moonspell and Tiamat’s albums and was a superb vocal coach. Also, I will be resuming vocal lessons shortly – to solve the problems I still have as a singer – with an opera colleague of mine that teaches at Lisbon’s School of Arts. In the meantime, I use Melissa Cross’ DVD for warm-ups and exercises, as I think she did a great work and added a value to the extreme singers.
What are your thoughts on the following titles: Bathory: Under the Sign of the Black Mark, Celtic Frost: Into the Pandemonium, Decayed: The Conjuration of the Southern Circle, Filii Nigrantium Infernalium: Fellatrix Dischordia Pantocrator, Emperor: In the Nightside Eclipse, Cradle of Filth: The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, Samael: Ceremony of Opposites Tiamat: Wildhoney, The Gathering: Mandylion and Venom: Black Metal?
All of them were quite revolutionary and marked the beginning of a movement – or at least a deep variation inside a style.
With Bathory and Celtic Frost, I have learnt the value of innovation. While Bathory, with Under the Sign of the Black Mark, brought cold, evil and ceremonial elements to a never before reached depth, Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium was something unique in its exuberance (Tristesses de la Lune is a jewel).
Decayed and Filii Nigrantium Infernalium were the other vortexes of a small triarchy of Portuguese Black Metal and it’s too bad Decayed didn’t pursue that album’s impact, which is still for me their best and their foot on the door in the world’s Metal scene. Filii Nigrantium Infernalium are just incomparable and Belathauzer is much more than your average metaller, since there’s a brain, a heart and a strong libido that goes along; he has the soul and the perversion of an artist.
Emperor is like riding a winged horse to Hell and back. I always felt like this while listening to those keyboard lines and cold steel vocals but, for me, Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas is the matrix of Norwegian Black Metal.
I am highly attached to Cradle of Filth’s breakthrough record, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, as I was witnessing its rise almost on location. Turn it as many times as you want, Cradle of Filth is a force of their own in Black Metal and one of the most original bands ever – and it all started here!
Samael and Tiamat – and those albums – were the reasons we dreamt about belonging to Century Media, as they’re undisputed records: intelligent, avant-garde and, for me the best period ever for Metal music, because I was there living it!
Mandylion is the first album where Metal and Rock went really feminine, as Anneke brought a true female touch and charm into the scene; I mean, there were others before them, but sometimes they were women in a men’s world, while Anneke brought her own world along. It was an honour having her as a guest on a song and on-stage.
Venom… well, they were more responsible for creating the term than the whole concept of Black Metal, since Bathory and Hellhammer were as influential (if not more). But Venom was Motörhead’s fucking incubus and I love that uncompromising Punk Rock feeling about them (not a lot comes so powerfully as that).