Despite selling well, Sin/Pecado received backlash from many fans and metal journalists. The more traditional, guitar-driven sound of the group’s first two albums had evolved into one with more atmospheric keyboards that used loops and electronics. The music was still heavy, but the sonic palette had expanded. The lineup — then featuring Ribeiro, guitarist Ricardo Amorim, keyboardist Pedro Paixao, bassist Sergio Crestana and drummer Miguel Gaspar — had gotten tighter and more sophisticated. Producer Waldemar Sorychta (Tiamat, The Gathering, Therion) aided them in their sonic journey.
Around this time, other European groups were testing out new ideas. For instance, Paradise Lost had shifted from a doomier sound to an electronic-tinged gothic metal approach on 1997’s One Second. Opeth was evolving from a progressive death metal sound with acoustic passages into the jazzier, more multiform ensemble, starting with 1999’s Still Life. As Ribeiro recalls, Tiamat started off more as a death metal band who “really embraced something [with 1994’s Wildhoney], which was death metal meets Pink Floyd.” He notes that the waters had divided, with more of progressive death and goth metal on one side and the ascension of “true black metal” on the other.
Looking back, Ribeiro muses, “There was a lot of fighting in the press — ‘Moonspell are wimps,’ ‘Moonspell are genius’ — [but] at the end of the day, it is just a waste of time because bands are just human beings. We … were always awful reacting to fan requests. We always feel like we should do the opposite. I don’t know why. We don’t want to piss them off, but also we think that if we are a band, you have to be in charge of your music. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense.”
Prior to Sin/Pecado, Moonspell released 1997’s 2econd Skin (which is included in the reissue). The EP’s version of Depeche Mode’s “Sacred” was a precursor to metal bands commonly doing covers by that pioneering electro-rock group. In Flames had covered “Everything Counts” the year before, but it was a much heavier rendition.
“We almost got burned at the stake when we did the Depeche Mode cover,” reveals Ribeiro. “Even so, we tried a cover that was really not a typical choice. For instance, Lacuna Coil had a much more typical choice with ‘Enjoy the Silence’ [in 2006]. ‘Sacred’ is a song that totally fitted all the sin/religious/South European Catholicism influence that we have on Sin.”
Religion plays a prominent role in to Sin/Pecado’s lyrics. At the time, Ribeiro was nearly finished studying for his degree in philosophy at the University of Lisbon, and he was immersed in reading about religion, philosophy and theology. “I started discovering that all these horror figures, these demons, these saints, have had only one source, which is mankind,” he says. “The Bible, the Quran and the Talmud were all created by men. I had to go to the university to learn that and make my mind clear that Satan, Lucifer, however you name it, [and other ideas] were just things that a writer, a philosopher, man or woman, had come up with to try to explain the world. It was like taking off a veil from my eyes and seeing things much more clearly.”
Given that Moonspell is from Portugal, Catholic lyrical imagery is a given. As Ribeiro points out, despite the division of church and state in his homeland, the country’s family traditions, its social landscape and its holy days are connected to Roman Catholicism. “I think that world is very, very interesting because all our history, all our minds, all our guilt is dominated much more by God than any Satan,” he explains.
The singer feels his greater understanding of that bigger picture helped him mature as a writer. He also doesn’t buy into the evil image of Satanists, considering “the most evil people in history were always repressed Catholics. I’ve moved my path into something that’s more oriented to the study of mankind, to our conceptions of good and evil.” He adds, “Being an atheist, I like to observe and to write about the effects of the so-called handmade God, as the first song on Sin says — the God that we created ourselves.”
Sin/Pecado also represented the first time that Ribeiro had written about love and relationships. One of its most personal songs is the electro-acoustic track “The Hanged Man,” which is about a stale relationship that ultimately failed — “a love song without a happy ending.” He and his bandmates were inspired the likes of Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele, who “put his heart out on a plate for their fans about his relationships,” which was not typically metal. And the societal discordance of “EuroticA” marked the band’s first political song, which irked some fans who preferred Moonspell’s previous horror-themed ruminations about vampires and werewolves. But these lyrics foreshadowed the state of the world today.
“There are all these refugees, all these people hating each other,” says Ribeiro. “There’s a rise of fascism in certain countries that we are playing. Yesterday, I went to have a coffee at an Italian restaurant, and there was a photo of [Benito] Mussolini, the fascist leader from the Second World War. So things are really complicated. I think ‘EuroticA’ was quite prophetic in a way that Europe would fail because Europe is not a brotherhood. Don’t believe the hype. Europe is only a bunch of countries competing with each other, hurting each other, and trying to mess with everybody’s minds and cultures. And even though it’s a nice place to be — there’s no war — things are definitely changing.”
Moonspell’s music has been changing, too. The more orchestral 1755 featured Ribeiro singing and growling in Portuguese, and was inspired by the Lisbon earthquake from November 1755. 2014’s Extinct siphoned the vibe from Sin/Pecado in its atmospheric gothic milieu, although with a heavier and more melodic approach. That style will influence its forthcoming studio album due in 2020.
“Even though I can consider us a metal band, we have a very, very interesting and beautiful relationship with gothic music,” says Ribeiro, “which is not only bands like Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim, but also a kind of atmosphere that you can find in books and visiting a cathedral or an exhibition. If metal provides the savage feeling, the more animal feeling, the more in-your-face feeling, I think the mixture of gothic bands such as Moonspell gives it a different vibe, an elegant vibe. I think that our new album will definitely pursue that.”
The album is the next chapter for Moonspell beyond Wolves Who Were Men. While the 450-page tome was clearly a labor of love — author Ricardo S. Amorim coincidentally has the same name as the band’s guitarist, save for the middle initial — the band didn’t want the book to glorify its career. The group just wanted to tell a candid story about a few Portuguese guys who clawed their way up through the metal underground to put Portugal on the map in the metal world.
“I think Ricardo did a great job in keeping that self-indulgent tone out,” says Ribeiro, adding that Moonspell fans are aware of everything that that band has endured. “For me, the most emblematic part of the book is always when we get in the van and pile on top of each other after signing autographs. It’s that fine line between the so-called glory and humiliation. Of course, I’m exaggerating the terms, but I think a band such as Moonspell really has these two sides, and they are very, very close together. Yesterday, I was puking because of a hurricane and [choppy] sea waves [while traveling on a boat to the band’s next concert]. And today, we are going to play for 1,200 people in Greece. I think that’s the story of Moonspell — always overcoming. One day is shitty, and another day is glorious.”