When Moonspell emerged in 1994 with the Goat on Fire / Wolves from the Fog 7″, there was no indication they’d be killing it two decades later. Initially, their homeland (Portugal) was a strike against the Lisbon-based black metallers. The Iberian Coast wasn’t Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greece, or Great Britain; it didn’t have the Nordic cache or the south Mediterranean cool. But Moonspell—singularly—changed that.
From landmark debut, Wolfheart, to 2012’s excellent, Alpha Noir, Moonspell have held fort, expanded boundaries, shattered preconceptions, divided opinion, explored new styles, and toured the world. To wit: they’ve done what no Portuguese band has done.
New album, Extinct, is the logically successor to Alpha Noir, but between the two years, Moonspell focused, returning with its most consistent album since, well, Wolfheart (or Irreligious if you have a thing for “Opium” and “Ruin & Misery”). From ridiculous (catchy and orchestrated) opener “Until We Are No More (Breathe)” to the dark and ponderous “La Baphomette”, Extinct is a collection of Lusitanian awesome. The blend of black metal and gothic rock (think: Sisters of Mercy) is unpredecented in the way Moonspell present it. In fact, we can’t get enough of “Funeral Bloom”, “The Last of Us”, “Domina”, “The Future Is Dark”, and, of course, the title track.
Speaking of title tracks: We have the world premiere of “Extinct”. Listen not once, but thrice. Never forget the chorus either, ’cause once it penetrates it never leaves. Welcome to the Tenebrarum Oratorium!
Does Extinct feel like a different creation from Alpha Noir? Sounds like you’ve found your spark over the last two releases, if I’m being honest (and an old-time fan).
Fernando Ribeiro: One never knows when and if he really lost his mojo or not. Not that musicians like us avoid the route of self-criticism or that we turn our face not deal with our flaws and shortcomings as a band. We always try our best, but that doesn’t mean we are always at our best or that everything goes right in the end. And for that we only got ourselves to blame, no one else. Not the scene, the fans or the press. Sometimes things do just not click and take off but that’s why new albums are so important for us. When you have a bad show, there is always the next night and we always tried to overcome, not to vote ourselves into negativity. Our personal life, our coming into the autumn of our lives have not been peaceful, it’s not like walking on an open boulevard, parading and getting applause for us It’s so much harder than that. The wounds are open and they are permanent. Extinct is born under this recognition. In Alpha we were fool enough to dare to tell about warriors, larger than life, preaching stuff, playing it louder and faster. Extinct is more what we are, what I especially am, a witness to my own fading away.
What were your goals going into Extinct?
Fernando Ribeiro: Extinct came from adult pain. We don’t think that’s entertaining or smart, but at least tries to be honest. I could quote you a thousand influences and ideas we had, but I prefer to stick to what really made the album come into life: the worst and weirdest time I have ever experienced in my adult life. What is curious is that I should maybe be blossoming with joy because I am a father now, and indeed I found a love like I never felt before. All the rest is now transitory. It gets endangered and then extinct in our minds and hearts, even if the physical beings we saw disappearing still roam the same land, or live in the same house with you. With a greater love, greater pains have arrived. That whole Spider-man thing, “greater powers…greater responsibilities”. I had to crack out from my pure egoism as an individual, an egoism I didn’t even know I had inside me (with all the band and companionship for more than half of my life) and it was hard to deal with it. I am honest. It’s glorious mornings with the smile of my son; but also terrible, sleepless nights of warfare inside four walls. I just had one chance, one place where I could lay this weight and that was the album. Of course we had a musical lead to follow, ideas, a flowing that only such open, heavy emotions could grant to the nature of our music. Extinct is not going head first into a black wall of permanent oblivion. It’s about cracking the wall open with your head and still be fooled by the ascending ray of light, like a crow to all that glitters. It’s about that moment and emotion. It’s also fresh air. We have nothing to loose as a band. You know by experience we are not consensual. We don’t have the scene waiting for a new album from Moonspell. We are not players, but we do enjoy the freedom of not being players. We wanted to do songs that seduce and insinuate. This is not an in-your-face, bad-ass album. This is going around you and enter through your pores like a dark breeze, a revealing fume. Those were our goals, to move forward, to jump to the plates of ice which haven’t melt yet, to keep the head above the waters and to give some rest to a heavy heart.
Tracks like “Funeral Bloom”, “The Last of Us”, and the title track show a lot of growth in the band. There’s a bit more nuance to the songs as well as hooks. Are there tracks you feel particularly proud of?
Fernando Ribeiro: We tried hard to step up in the quality of our songs for this one. When I say this, it’s never my intention to put shit on the past repertoire. It has served us good but it carried just the emotions of the time of its making. Some might endure the test of time. Others will not. What I am trying to say is that we always find room to evolve, that’s important for us. We started as a band with outstanding ideas, perhaps, but with poor musicianship and we always wanted to deal with that. We improved but with Extinct we let loose and I believe everyone’s performed their best this time. The mood got into them, the urgency as well and it helped that I was stubborn enough to ask the whole band to be on the studio for the entirety of the process. This album deserved that, deserved much more than us trying to be modern, spend time with our families while the other guys recorded, check things up on Skype, change Wetransfer links. I admire independent bands, of course I do, the DIY spirit et al., but I also know that no man is an island and that we can look and find the right people to tap into your vibe and bring it into light. That happened with Jens, our producer. That happened with the Turkisk String Orchestra that played on “Breathe” and “Medusalem”. They were all possessed by the spirit of such and other songs. And it does feel great to hear your music better played, better recorded, with enough layers to make it exuberant but not over the top. I am particularily proud of “The Future is Dark”. That song process symbolizes for me much of Extinct. I had a terrible night and I went straight to the studio after my kid’s babysitter arrived. The other guys were there and they knew I was in a bad place. I asked Pedro, “Can you please open a session just for vocals?” and without questioning he did so I sang most of “The Future is Dark”, just vocals and went as far as making a little vocal structure for it, similar to what it is now. Turns out Pedro had the perfect song for it so we took it from there. Every time we listened to it while it progressed, we got deeper and deeper into it. We never even talked about it, the message is crystal clear. Fast forward a month, I am doing vocals for this one, with dimmed lights and all, when I feel a presence behind me. It was Jens and he scared the shit out of me as he is never in the vocal booth, but in the master room and we communicate through the headphones and microphones. I thought, well I must be singing shit, but he started talking and saying that this song is so intense, that it was the best that a goth song could be and that he just needed a break for a minute because it was too much emotion… That made me proud. To make a restless man, that never gave us a day-off, that didn’t stop until the idea was perfect and the word properly said, he needed a break because of that song, of that emotion. It had never happened to me before.
You worked with Jens Bogren this time around. How did that change the sound dynamic for Moonspell?
Fernando Ribeiro: Like I said Jens was a key element to the whole process and not only the final result. When I wrote him, it seemed that some dark stars have aligned for us, because he was dead serious in making an album with such characteristics, as it was way closer to his heart as a music fan. Come on, his studio is called Fascination Street. So when he heard the demos, the things in the rough, he jumped head first into the project. We were looking for someone who had a strong personality (we did a little checking with our pals in Amon Amarth and Kreator), that he was intense with his ideas and defending them and I started liking him already, because I know my band and I know myself and we do need the right dose of discipline and criticism to make it work. Jens had that but he also knew how to show confidence in the right moments. That human factor was pretty important and decisive in many crossroads. Other than that, him and his team (David Castillo was tracking guitars and bass) are true pros and actually enjoyed the surprise of dealing with a band and an album that was more particular and with people that were more open about expressing their feelings on the album. He was ta rue producer, getting involved to a depth that no one did before him and he was a generous guy with his time, ideas, even putting up with the whole gang living in the studio, cooking, sweating, being in the way. He knew that we didn’t want to sound like a Swedish Death Metal machine. He knew we wanted to be powerful in a romantic way, so to say. And he hit bull’s-eye, we really did get what we were looking for and our music has never sounded more honest, more alive.
What’s happening on the cover? Pretty striking, if confusing image.
Fernando Ribeiro:Seth Siro Anton is the artist behind it. I always pass him on the concept, music and lyrics and he takes it from there. He’s got carte blanche to do whatever he wants to do. I know he tried a different approach, something more subtle like the album songs, but he gave up and went the other way because I really think he saw the deep and the dirt behind all the album dreamlike soundtrack. So he came up with this mutilated, bizarre, raped figure which is for sure disturbing. As disturbing as the album other story, the biotic extinction, the death dealing darkness, the permanent away. I see what he did. He made people react to it and maybe find solace in the album that tells the story. He is an intelligent man and made our fans leave their comfort zone and just mixed up the pieces so nobody really knows what’s coming there. I believe that our picture on the cover, or the Moonspell logo wouldn’t reach that effect. Seth is great. I love the way he combines horror with beauty. He does not sugar up his covers, actually he is as extreme as Francis Bacon or Witkin both artists we share a passion for. I can see the meaning of the absence of limbs. The amputees still feel their limbs many years after. Maybe the Earth feels the same for the species, small or great, that go away forever. Maybe sometimes I feel that pain as well. That corruption.
Any plans to hit the states this year or next in support of Extinct?
Yeah, and you know it first. We are just putting some final touches into the Conquerors of the World tour, a Rock the Nation US production and idea, and we will be joining forces again with our Greek brothers Septic Flesh and there might be a third band in the package. We will be co-headlining this one and we are happy and lucky for it. This will happen in late April and through May, coast to coast, we will announce it properly soon. We’re never a big thing for most of the American crowd but we do have some really supportive fans who love us to death and beyond. I hope they will enjoy Extinct as much as there is to be enjoyed and hope they come out at night to see us at a show. Misery loves company.
** Moonspell’s new album, Extinct, is out March 17th on Napalm Records. The group’s new album is available in several variations, including a limited edition wooden boxset. Click HERE.