We just had the amazing opportunity to have a chat with Nick Holmes, co-founder and vocalist of the formidable pillars of gothic-doom metal Paradise Lost, on the way to the release of Obsidian via Nuclear Blast on May 15. Let’s take a look behind the scenes, and discover more about the band and other things as well.
It’s frankly great to see a band with such a long career as Paradise Lost still managing to release solid albums such as Obsidian, especially thinking that you pretty much managed to keep the core line-up of the band stable. What’s it like to be a part of this journey?
It is a strange feeling to have been doing this for thirty-odd years, the only reference we have to getting older is looking at our children or when we see ourselves in the mirror. Beyond that, we still feel like we’re 18 years old really, it’s a strange thing and time seems to accelerate the older we get, it’s kind of scary. The funny thing is your children remind you of how old you’re getting, I mean two of us even have grandchildren now, it definitely feels like it’s accelerating, which is kind of scary, but we’re getting the most of it.
Obsidian is your second record on Nuclear Blast, and I am guessing that it was quite difficult to decide and and release it in May as originally intended, given the whole COVID-19 situation. What was the process that brought the band and label to this decision?
People can listen to music anywhere really, so whatever is going in the world, as long as you have electricity, you can listen to music. We thought it doesn’t really matter, although there are lots of people who are delaying their releases banking on the fact that they will be able to tour when the album comes out, but no one really knows that. Also, if everyone releases at the same time it might feel like a bit of overkill. There’s no map for this, that’s the problem, we’re all creating the blueprint. Nobody knows, it could be the best decision ever, or the worst decision, we really don’t know. But I think that if people are at home and they haven’t a great deal to do if they’re not working, why not release the album?
And talking about the pandemic, you were not touring at the time of the outbreak, but what impact did it have on Paradise Lost in this sense?
We haven’t toured for quite a while, we did festival shows which are pretty much nil all year round now. Luckily we didn’t have to break off anything. The time it happened, for us as a band, it could have been worse, because we had just finished the shooting and the album was finished. Unlike a lot of my friends of bands who had to cancel their tours, which is a different thing altogether. It hasn’t been as bad as it could have been.
This record marks a bit of a departure from your latest effort Medusa, including more variety with melodies, cleaner vocals, you even got a little bit of Sisters Of Mercy in there. How did you come up with this?
The last one was a very specific album, a very doom-death album, which was the intention, and it gave us a benchmark for this one. After the first couple of songs, you start to get a feel of how it’s going. We kind of start each album with a blank canvas, we don’t try to think about past glories or past failures or anything like that, I don’t think that’s productive to do that for anything you do. It’s about what it feels right, you’ve got to write from the heart and this album is no exception to anything else we’ve done really. I try out different vocal styles on every single song, so a song that’s got clean singing I’ve probably tried gruff singing as well and it didn’t work, so that’s why it is clean. It’s whatever sounds right, it’s trial and error. The advantage of being able to write songs in a digital format is that we can just try stuff until it works, it’s not like sitting in the rehearsal room when we were kids. It’s more convenient to write songs with the digital process now I guess.
Let’s talk about visuals and concept, would you like to tell us something more about the album title, the choice of the artwork and who made it, and things that you as a band felt had to be included in the video of “Fall From Grace”?
I’d seen the word quite a lot and just liked the word. Obviously, it is an earthstone, people can use it as a talisman or wear it to ward off evil spirits so I kind of liked the symbolism behind it. I’ve always been fascinated by the symbolism and icons, people that put faith in specific objects. The artwork of the album just explores this concept more, the artist was a guy called Adrian Baxter, he lives in Yorkshire where we are, and I think it was the easiest artwork we’ve ever had to do. Our work is very subjective and specific, it’s so difficult to make everyone agree on artworks, but this time it worked really really well. As for the video, Ash Pears, who had done a few of our videos, took the song “Fall From Grace” which is about perhaps delusions of grandeur, feeling that you are something that you’re not, or something that you were and you’re not anymore. He ran with that high concept, and the video is about a guy who’s actually dead but thinks he’s not, and then at the end it’s clear that he is, it is kind of an extreme version of what the song is about. I think if you’re dealing with artists or video directors, they’re quite artistic people anyway, so unless you’ve got something incredibly specific in mind, you can just give them an idea and they can roll with that.
Aside from musical influences and your own experiences as musicians, were there any extra-musical influences that inspired your recent work? Literature, cinema, anything in particular?
I can’t speak for Greg, but I watch a tremendous amount of movies, I watch hundreds of films a year. I watched a film the other night that I didn’t realize that I had already seen until the last ten minutes. I watch so many films that sometimes when things happen in real life I kind of mistake them for a film. I listen to a lot of audiobooks as well, I don’t read too much but I listen to lots of audiobooks. Nothing specifically jumps out.
So not consciously.
Definitely not, I mean, we’ve been doing the band for 32 years, so when it comes to writing it’s just a case of doing it, we don’t really analyse it. When you start out as a new band, you always have influences, bands you want to emulate, now it is not like that anymore.
Let’s talk about your recent work with Bloodbath. Do you think that had any impact on your creation as part of Paradise Lost?
Perhaps roughly. Well, what I do in Bloodbath is very different from Paradise Lost, it’s a lot faster. The timing is absolutely critical with Bloodbath, while with Paradise Lost you can hear the time changes coming. In that case everything is so fast and so precise, it’s totally different, but I guess maybe the voice. It’s the same kind of singing, but a different technique, it’s kind of like rapping with Bloodbath, “death metal rapping” I used to call it [laughs]. I guess it helps, it’s a bit of a workout, a death metal workout.
On a similar note, apart from Bloodbath with the guys from Katatonia and the others, were you guys thinking of any sort of collaboration with them or even My Dying Bride, or whoever, this time in the gothic/doom realm? Is that something you guys have ever discussed?
Not really, I mean you might talk about it at the pub when you’re drunk, but it never really happens. Musically, between Bloodbath and Paradise Lost, I’m really happy with it. Sometimes I think “it would be great to do an acoustic album, or an orchestrated album”, it probably never happens, but I don’t think it’s good to spread yourself too thin. Sometimes people kind of do loads of projects, but none of them are brilliant, a jack of all trades but master of none, that’s the English phrase [laughs]. Al Jourgensen did a similar thing, Ministry was always the best thing he did, and then he kind of did loads of other things and I didn’t think any of it was good apart from his main thing, Ministry.
I love how, after a whole album imbued with gothic rock influences, at the end of Obsidian a pounding doom song like “Ravenghast” comes out of nowhere and crushes the listener. Where did that come from?
If you do every song the same as the following one, it has less impact, it’s about placement, putting the right song at the right time. “Forsaken” is a very different song from “Ravenghast”, so this one sounds more powerful as a result of that. One thing about Medusa, because it was all specific doom-death, is that there was no kind of let-up, it was relentless. I think this album should have been about peaks and drops, like life itself, and I think when you experience music you should get that: sad parts, aggressive parts, everything should be covered. Obviously the window is not large with Paradise Lost, we are under a certain umbrella and we don’t want to wander off into flamenco or jazz music, but it’s still about wandering off as far as we can within the boundaries we made for ourselves.
Going back to touring or lack thereof. We at Aristocrazia Webzine remember you playing at Brutal Assault a few years ago, and it seems that this year most open air festivals won’t be happening. Over the last few weeks, some bands have started doing these live-streamed performances, such as Enslaved and a few others. Are you guys thinking of similar alternatives?
We live hundreds of miles away from each other, our drummer lives in Helsinki, so he can’t even fly. I’ve looked at if he took a boat, and it would be a nightmare for him [laughs], it would just be insane. The logistics are not great, if in the future the lockdown goes down a bit — I fucking hope — and that’s the only way for us to put out our music, then we’re going to have to do it. I think Finland is probably similar to the UK with the lockdown, while Sweden is definitely more relaxed, so I guess there you could go to the recording studio and mess around together, but right now there’s no way we could do that.
At this point in your career, you’ve done pretty much everything and played everywhere, and having for example performed live with an orchestra a few years ago, is there anything completely new that you would still like to achieve?
I just like to go to new countries, I like to play in new places. I mean, traveling can be really tiring, and because of budget you can travel at hideous times with horrible red-eye flights and things like that, that’s the nature of the business these days. It would be nice to play in South Africa, we’ve never been there as a band, or China, New Zealand, I’d love to play in these places. I travel a lot in my personal life, but it’s always nice to take the band to new places.
Apart from Vallenfyre, which of course you know pretty well, were there any interesting new bands in the British scene of the last decade that you would like to recommend or that impressed you?
I’d say Memoriam, but I’m kind of biased ‘cause they’re my friends anyway, and I guess Godthrymm, Hamish’s [Hamilton Glencross] band who was with Greg in Vallenfyre. Most bands it’s just based purely on my personal relationships, outside of my peers and friends in bands I can’t really think of that many to be honest. I like to keep my ear to the ground, I like to know what’s going on, but with music I’m really picky. I don’t care what the trend is, I just like what I like, I could listen to a hundred bands and only like one, and even then I would have to be in the right mood. I’m a really difficult playlist guy, if I write a playlist, it’s usually from thirty years ago, I’m so old school!
I guess that’s one of the reasons why you ended up in Bloodbath as well?
Yes! I must admit it. And the guys listen to death metal that is a little bit newer than that I used to, although only a couple of years, like Deicide came in a little bit late for me, even though it was ‘91 or something. That was still later for me. They play all that death metal backstage before the show, and it’s like a timewarp, I absolutely love it, it really takes me back listening to Autopsy and all the stuff that we grew up with as kids. Joining Bloodbath really revitalized my interest in the old scene.
Thank you very much for being with us, I am sure that our community will give Obsidian quite a few listens.
Paradise Lost‘s Obsidian will be out on May 15th via Nuclear Blast Records.