By David E. Gehlke
MOONSPELL's situation is hardly unique at the moment: The veteran Portuguese metallers have a new album to promote in "Hermitage", but are unsure how they can tour behind it amidst Europe's lockdown protocols. It has almost resigned the band to having a shortened album cycle that will prevent them from showing what "Hermitage" is capable of in the live setting. In fact, frontman Fernando Ribeiro has already allowed himself to start thinking about the band's next studio album and a proposed run of 30th-anniversary dates that will chronicle their career.
However, Ribeiro has enough to keep himself busy, including his Alma Mater Records that re-releases MOONSPELL's back catalog and issues new, up-and-coming Portuguese metal bands and a side gig as an author. But MOONSPELL remains his bread-and-butter. After subtly hinting the band was on borrowed time during the "1755" album cycle, Ribeiro appears to have changed his tune after the entrance of new drummer Hugo Ribeiro (no relation),who replaced longtime member Miguel "Mike" Gaspar in 2020. The future appears to be wide open for MOONSPELL, but as he would go on to tell BLABBERMOUTH.NET, Ribeiro just wants to get out of his home country and play some gigs in Europe and abroad.
Blabbermouth: In most situations, you release an album and immediately tour behind it. How has that affected your plans for "Hermitage"?
Fernando: "Just to record the album was quite the adventure. I remember being packed to go to the U.K., then Portugal got red-listed. We unpacked and lost a bit of money on the flights. Then, we started with a bit more expensive flights with insurance because hyper-capitalism got in the way, even during the pandemic. [Laughs] Brick-by-brick, putting all things together, it was great to make the album. It was a taste of what we are, what we became, like writing songs and going on the record and defining what we do. For sure, we wanted to play this album more, go on the road and promote it properly. I think that was in every musician's mind, especially those who released albums in 2020 and 2021. But then again, I think I have this theory I kind of forced myself into, 'Yeah, things are not really going away for a long time.' It pacified me of the idea that 'Hermitage' is going to be an album that people listen to more at more, less live. With the 30 years, we're trying to book a world tour. A world tour for a band like us — it's not like DEF LEPPARD. [Laughs] It's traveling here, in the States, and then in Europe. It's not altogether in our own jet. No. I feel that 30 years are also if we can chance it right now, especially for the fans to celebrate some of the so-called 'MOONSPELL legacy' going back to the early '90s. I was speaking to Pedro [Paixão, keyboards] and Ricardo [Amorim, guitar] and explaining it to them and they were sad — they want to play 'Hermitage' in full. We did that in Lisbon and other places, but, yeah, we've all been affected. You only have two ways of dealing with it: One way, you accept it and move on, which I prefer. Or you start chewing on it and it won't bring you anything good.
"'Hermitage' was just an album done in a difficult time. I think that, obviously, the music is somewhat different. The difference is also a pattern for MOONSPELL. When people are surprised, I'm surprised about them being surprised. The engine for making music for MOONSPELL has its fuel that allows the band to make another show, another album, the next day, night, album. For us, it's always been about satisfaction. We were never a band that exudes confidence, which is something, personally, when I see — I'm not judging anyone — I see these musicians go on social media. They say or advise you to wear something or eat something or not to eat something; it takes such confidence that I don't have. When it comes to music, it's tough for me to go on interviews and say, 'This is our best album,' because it's putting the rest of the discography down. We're fooling around with so many albums before. I think the thing with 'Hermitage' is that it's an album that came with a feeling when I thought about it — I started writing the lyrics in 2017. I felt a big distancing process between people, especially because of social media. There was a lot of connectivity, but not a lot of connection. We started writing the album when I felt more disconnected from people than at any time before in my life. Then, bang comes the social distancing. It's full of the zeitgeist, the 'Hermitage' album, but at the end of the day, I'm already thinking about something else. Obviously, without the touring bit, we feel the need to make other things. We have to be realistic we will never tour properly for 'Hermitage'. Only when the album will be ten years or 20 years, but we don't know if MOONSPELL will be alive that long."
Blabbermouth: The themes on "Hermitage": Humanity, connectively and climate change. Did it come naturally to write about them?
Fernando: "It's a natural tendency for MOONSPELL. Mankind, you can turn it inside out, you can evaluate yourself or other people, but at the end of the day, we all talk about it. We talk about the weather or Satan. It boils down to everything we have created and how we have mismanaged things. The idea of God and Satan is something I worked out a lot in the past. Until I read the right books and got the right education, it was a subject that got me a little bit colder toward it. In '1755', the album about the Portuguese earthquake was more of a historical perspective or philosophical perspective. That has to do with my experiences as a book reader as well. Obviously, we all turn into speaking about mankind at the end of the day because it's the only thing we really know. It really depends on our self-esteem, the way we appreciate our own becoming and short-comings, it's definitely the love and hate throughout the times. 'Hermitage' is an album that invites people to reflect upon that."
Blabbermouth: MOONSPELL had a stable lineup for quite some time, then Mike left the band in 2020. What kind of impact did that have on "Hermitage"?
Fernando: "Mike was definitely important for the band. I think that I was Mike's best friend for years, so it's touchy to speak about it. I thought and I was wrong that our friendship would survive a break in the band, but it hasn't. So that's the touchy part, but it wasn't my decision. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't hold a grudge, but I understand it — I'm still in the band and he's not. He's had to rebuild everything. I don't blame him for any hard feelings he may have toward MOONSPELL. At the end of the day, after that tour, we entertained the idea and even canceled some shows at the beginning of 2020 because I didn't think the band was together. We had a really big problem of miscommunicating, tiredness, egos. We weren't rowing in the same direction. It was a collision course with Mike. Obviously, this was not overnight. The problems in this band are kind of things like the sentiment at the bottom of the wine bottle. We were very exposed. We were in each other's faces. The shows were not going so well. The playing was not going so well. The chemistry was a bit lost. I think it was either we split up for good or split up with Mike. It was definitely a tough call. I have to say I considered both situations. But then, when you are in the band and I was talking about ego, you get this survival instinct that it's not really about you. You always want to open the three-door thing. You have three doors and you're surely going to open one like in the horror movies and we opened one. 'Hermitage' was one of them. Hugo, our new drummer, was there. The vibe was affected, but I think we're still in the process of healing even after two years. He wasn't just a session member.
"As you said, we had a stable lineup and all the friendship, but I think the prospect of making new music even without Mike made the core of the band — me, Pedro and Ricardo — more tight. The bottom line is that we always wrote the music. Me, the lyrics and some vocals and arrangements. And Pedro and Ricardo were always working on the music. Mike was never a big part of that process. I think on some albums, actually, there's always someone in the band who says, 'I don't like it.' But you don't have an alternative to offer. That created a lot of tension. That happens with everything. When you say you don't like the way we're going, there's always an option. But, I heard Mike got a record deal with a big label, Atomic Fire. Markus [Staiger] from Nuclear Blast started it. I wish him a lot of luck. It's needed to start from zero. Not from zero — he's not starting from zero. He has a lot of experience and connections. We've been in the scene forever. It was hard on both parties. At the end of the day, for the three of us, plus Aires [Pereira, bass] and Hugo right now and for Mike, I think, in a strange way, this split was definitely necessary so we could re-evaluate what we are as musicians, as band members. I have to say the first time I sat down, well, I was standing up [Laughs], but the first time Hugo sat down on the drums to play the old songs, for me, there was a really important moment. You never know what the vibe will be. He's such a different drummer. I knew he was a nice guy. A very good drummer where we can evolve as a band for the rhythm section and groove. Sometimes you elaborate this and sometimes it's like, 'My friend was behind the drums. We had all these tricks and rituals in the shows. This is a guy we've never played with now playing our songs.' If you overthink it, then it will be really hard. You will weave a web of problems that you can't get out of. I just tried to do what I thought, which was, 'Let's go with our gut feeling and the vibe.' It went really nicely. There's still something we need to do with Hugo to set it in stone, which is a tour. He came to the band in the weirdest of times. We played some shows and sometimes he was very excited about it. I remember the first show we played. He played really well. It was in the south of Portugal because we were confined to playing only in Portugal in 2020. Only in 2021, we did a handful of shows in Europe. I remember him — that's the 'new guy' thing. I remember him saying, 'After the show, we have pizza?' I said, 'Well, not every time. Not in the States where you have to buy it yourself. Here in Portugal, yeah.' Some stuff that we take for granted — sometimes I don't even touch the pizza after a show. [Laughs] If you see in retrospect, I told him, 'This is great, but you will see at the shows and festivals, they get bigger and bigger.' That's our thing. If you like it, it will be great for you.'
"Obviously, 'Hermitage' was already written. [Producer] Jaime [Gomez Arellano] loved to work with Hugo. The only complaint he had was that Hugo was a little too enthusiastic. I said, 'Yeah, this is the first album with MOONSPELL.' He's probably going to overplay sometimes. He has to keep him in control. I remember one of the shows we played last year in Finland. We had a very early call at four a.m. in the hotel. I was still in the process of getting the coffee machine to work. After sleeping for two hours, Hugo comes up screaming, 'Good morning!' I said, 'You have to go down a notch.' He's ten years younger than us. He loves the music. But in the end, in retrospect, we did what we had to do. Time will tell if we were right or wrong. Even though 'Hermitage' was already written, I'm already thinking of not one but two new albums from MOONSPELL. We are writing all the time. I don't know about the other bands, but we like that. We like to go and write. We always take time between tours, or even on tour, we get together and pick up an acoustic guitar and keyboard or a computer. But, I want the next album to explore Hugo more as a drummer. He can be really fast and powerful. Maybe my mid-life crisis since I was 40, so for seven years now, it will end when I'm 50 when we do an in-face album with our punchy drummer since he's excellent."
Blabbermouth: You mentioned throughout the "1755" album cycle that you were unsure how much longer MOONSPELL was going to last. Has that at all changed?
Fernando: "I have to say, first, 'everything dies,' quoting TYPE O NEGATIVE. When you think your band will last forever, I never had that impression about MOONSPELL. When we joined together with the drummer before Mike for MORBID GOD and played SARCÓFAGO's 'Nightmare'. I thought, 'This band won't last a half-an-hour. It sucks.' We had no idea what we were doing, even the primitive black metal from the Brazilian scene we were trying to emulate or BEHERIT. We couldn't even do that. But we started doing stuff. When I look back, it's long, but sometimes it feels like it was 30 minutes since 1992. I think musicians because we tour so much and we are always confronted with our own history — we have to talk about ourselves whether we like it or not. I say jokingly, 'For being a musician, you are in the Oscar Wilde book, 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray'. He only sees his portrait in the end. And we see our portrait every day. It wears you out in a way. When I say this, I try to be very crystal-clear. I'm not the kind of person that is over-enthusiastic about my own band. The musicians I learned from were all tormented souls, broken-hearted people who used music as an escape. They weren't sure about their value and future. Besides the music, that influenced me, too. You are important and matter for some people, but the world doesn't revolve around you being together in the band or splitting up. Also, I have a strong connection — I might be wrong, but bands like us aren't going to survive some kind of test of time like JUDAS PRIEST or BLACK SABBATH. These bands came at a time when they could still write history. If we did something, we wrote a little Portuguese chapter."
Blabbermouth: Well, you are the most popular Portuguese metal band.
Fernando: "When I think about it, I always think hard about things. That's what keeps me sharp and motivated. I always think there's great value here in Portugal. Even with my record label, Alma Mater Records, one of our goals is to release Portuguese talent. We've already released death metal bands like OKKULTIST and IRONSWORD, who are like MANILLA ROAD. There are other bands like DAWNRIDER, who are more doom. I really like the Portuguese scene and I really like Portuguese metal. Portugal is a small country. It's like a village. Sometimes the guy who wins the race in the village is the guy who gets in the eye of people and people will appreciate him or backstab him. Portugal has been a little like this for us. Obviously, some newer bands find us, 'They are like the Portuguese METALLICA.' Sometimes we are the authority. I don't want to be like that. I want to be underground. I also want to make 'Opium' and 'Luna' and show our softer side. It's a strange dynamic to be called the biggest band in a country with a lot of talent but hasn't contributed enough to the wider scope of things. Greece is a country that is very similar to ours. I've toured with ROTTING CHRIST and we were touring and I went on stage to sing 'Among Two Storms'. I told Sakis [Tolis], one of our best friends in the scene, I said, 'These people really respect you. Here, you are like this Metal Aristotle or a metal titan. I can feel the respect.' In Portugal, we are a country that is a bit weird. I think, 'What does it mean to be the number one Portuguese metal band?' Is it the case in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king? Or if I go to someone at a dinner party and jokingly say, 'I'm the singer in the number one metal band in Portugal.' They'll say, 'Where is Portugal? We take it with a pinch of salt. Maybe we are a band people connect with Portugal. Maybe we were the foot in the door with 'Wolfheart' and Century Media. Only now are Portuguese bands getting their shit together. It's still hard. It's something I don't know how to define."