After an incredible 32 years and fifteen albums, legendary purveyors of doom, Paradise Lost have relinquished none of their creative energy. Sixteenth studio album Obsidian (due out on May 15th via Nuclear Blast Records – read our review here) is a stunning addition to their catalogue, encapsulating the band’s trademark heaviness, elegance and foreboding while continuing to push forward the boundaries of their sound. Covid-19 may have shelved Paradise Lost’s summer concert dates, but there was no question for the band of delaying the album release. Frontman Nick Holmes chatted with us from his north of England home about the creative process behind Obsidian, and much more.
Thank you for talking to V13! How’s lockdown going so far? I see from Twitter that you’ve been learning about vegetables and watching vintage horror films…
Nick Holmes: “(laughs) It’s not actually that different for me. The strangest thing is actually going out, because people are all on edge, and the supermarket experience is a bit weird, it’s like being in an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. But aside from that, when I’m not touring I’m at home a lot anyway, so that aspect is not much different for me.”
But you haven’t been tempted to make a celebrity motivational video or do a live broadcast from your garden?
“No, I’m a little bit tired of seeing dancing videos, to be honest. It’s a bit like going back to the 1980s with the GMTV home fitness videos, Mr Motivator and the Green Goddess are back!”
New album Obsidian is out on 15th May. Every Paradise Lost album is a surprise and you never know exactly what to expect, but this one seems to reference all the different eras of your career. Did you have a conceptual goal in mind when you started writing?
“Not really. We tend to use the last album as the benchmark. The first song we wrote was ‘Fall From Grace,’ and that could have been on the last album; it has a similar feel because it was the first one we did. We tend to write songs in a similar vein to the album before, and then after a few songs, things start to change. But there’s no grand scheme really; we’re obviously very aware of what we’ve done in the past, but as I said, the last album is usually the biggest deciding factor. As opposed to thinking ‘well let’s repeat something we did thirty years ago.’ It’s pretty much a blank canvas; we don’t want to get too bogged down in what we’ve done, because you start repeating yourself if you do that.”
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
“Probably the first song, ‘Darker Thoughts.’ It was the quickest song to write, and originally it was just an intro. Greg was going to do an acoustic intro before the first song, but I came up with a melody line through it, then Greg wrote a heavy part, and it came together incredibly fast. It has a sort of spontaneous feel to it. It takes us a long time to write our songs, so for me, it’s quite special in that respect because it was so quick. But it’s like choosing your children!”
Second single “Ghosts” has a sort of goth disco feel to it…
“Yeah, it’s reminiscent of what we were listening to growing up in the early ‘80s, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Sisters Of Mercy obviously… We grew up listening to that stuff, and no one really does it now, you don’t hear it much. It never really reached mainstream adoption anyway, that kind of stuff was always very underground and has always kind of stayed that way. So we got that vibe, just with a more modern sound.”
How does the creative process work between yourself and Greg and the rest of the band? Does a song tend to start with a melody, or a riff, or a lyric?
“Greg usually sends me about 30 seconds of music, and it could be just one riff, or a couple of riffs, and I record six or seven different passages to that. It might be melodies, growled voice, cleaned voice, in-between voice… I’ll sing whatever I can over what he’s sent, then he goes away and writes a song around the parts I’ve just done. So when I hear it back it’s like me singing to a new song I haven’t heard before. And for the heavier songs especially, that really works well.
‘Darker Thoughts’ was written in a more standard way in that I just sang along to the music that was there, that’s a more traditional way of writing. But with the heavier songs when there’s riffs as well it’s quite interesting, because in that respect I’m singing lines to riffs that I haven’t even heard before. We’ve done it a lot on the past few albums. But there are no rules. Whatever works to get it done. Especially after 32 years and sixteen albums. We’re always looking at new ways of working. Greg thinks of it like a jigsaw.”
At this stage in your career, do you still read the reviews or care what the music press think?
“Yeah, of course, I read everything. Absolutely everything. But it’s the old thing, you can read 80 positives but if there’s one negative, that’s the one you remember. If it’s constructive criticism, fine, if people just don’t like it, fine. But when it’s personal attacks… fortunately, though we don’t get too much of that.”
You are also the vocalist in Bloodbath, and Greg (Mackintosh) has had Vallenfyre, and both those things coincided with Paradise Lost returning to a heavier sound. Do your other projects influence Paradise Lost?
“Greg got really back into death metal music about ten years ago. It’s almost like full circle now. You think about when you were happiest in life, and it was probably when we were young kids listening to death metal so it comes round again and you have a nostalgic thing, it’s almost like a midlife maybe! I’m sure that Vallenfyre did influence what Greg does. And with Bloodbath, it’s totally different to PL, even though it’s growling, it’s still a very different sort of thing. But it’s definitely got me back into the old school death metal stuff. The music you listened to as a kid stays with you for life I think, and you might shelve it for a little bit but you’ll probably return to it at some point and I think Bloodbath definitely helped me to get back into it.”
Your stage set-up is quite stripped back and lets the music speak for itself. Have you ever considered doing something theatrical like Ghost or Iron Maiden and go all out with costumes and props?
“To do that this late on in our career, it would be almost like last chance saloon kind of thing. I just think if we suddenly started doing that people would be like ‘why are they doing this?’ (laughs) When we started touring with Bloodbath, right from the word go we decided to ham up the theatrics – it was all about making it fun, with the blood and so on. PL has never done that. If we did after all these years I think people would be suspicious, that we were trying to jump on a bandwagon or copy someone else. I’m slightly cynical about it but I don’t necessarily think it would be a good move!”
In your explanation to the song “Darker Thoughts,” you mentioned the fear of one careless remark on social media ruining someone’s life. On Twitter, you’re very funny and dry and you always seem to get the tone right. Do you enjoy social media or is it something you just have to do?
“I enjoy it but I am terrified of saying something stupid. I read a tweet by someone really famous recently and they said they often type something into Twitter and then pause for ages before pressing send, because they’re so afraid of the response they might get. And I must admit I’ve done that myself. I just tend to talk absolute nonsense on social media, I just like to have a laugh. I think I’ve been on there about ten or eleven years which is insane. I must have done some bloopers at some point… but for me it’s just about having fun. Anything I do online I want to have fun with it, I don’t want to get bogged down in debates or arguments. When I talk to my friends online we have fun, we don’t have heavy conversations online, I’ll have a heavy conversation when I see them. For me it’s about keeping it light, and most of the time I do that quite well. Arguing, trolling, that’s not my world really.”
There’s a new book out about Paradise Lost, No Celebration: The Official Story. What’s it like reading about your life like that?
“David (David E. Gehlke) researched it incredibly well, he spoke to each of us individually for more than 20 hours, so by the end of it he was more knowledgeable about the band than any of us. He knows so much about us; he did painstaking research and he also spoke to many other people from the past about the old days and the stories. When I read the book I read it incredibly quickly because every single event I recognized immediately, yes that happened and that happened… It’s very concise and very accurate about the band’s career. We didn’t go for crazy stories and making up bullshit like a lot of these bands do. We stuck to the facts – the facts are there – and so everything you read is going to be about 99 percent true.
We could sit around and think about things we could make up that sound crazy to impress people, but I know a lot of bands and I know what bands get up to. I mean, they were definitely different, that was a different time. But the last 20 years, since social media started, and people have got phone cameras, things are kind of sterile backstage. You don’t see too much craziness backstage nowadays.”
It’s difficult to ask you about your plans for the rest of the year because obviously so much has been cancelled or is hanging up in the air. How do you think the music industry, and in particular Paradise Lost, is going to be able to adapt to this new reality?
“I don’t know. As far as releasing albums, it’s ok, people can still listen to things anywhere, anytime, so I don’t think delaying albums is a good thing to do really. But for shows… even two weeks ago we were thinking ‘maybe August’ and now it’s more like September… the way it’s going, 2020 is going to be written off isn’t it? This is going to stop, but the question is when. It’s like asking how long is a piece of string at the moment.
And it’s not like it’s just the music industry, or just the UK, it’s everywhere. It’s not like we’re going to lose ground because we can’t catch up with everyone else, everyone’s in the same situation. When the pause button has been hit and we’re back in go mode I think the live circuit is going to be crazy. I think people are going to be creating concerts. Everyone’s going to be playing everywhere… it’s just a case of when it starts again.”
What’s your lockdown music of choice? What have you been streaming to get you through this?
“I haven’t been listening to any music! I haven’t played any music for months! As in specifically sitting down and listening. I just listen to LBC (British radio station) and the news at the moment. So I can’t think of anything. I might put something on in the background but nothing of significance that springs to mind.”
When you’re in a writing phase do you tend to listen to music similar to what you’re writing?
“No, I just focus on what I’m writing. I don’t listen to any other bands at all when I’m writing. Music is a pleasurable thing and if I’m feeling worried or stressed or down I can’t listen to music, I don’t take anything from it. I know people do, but for me, I associate music with having fun and if I’m not feeling in a fun mood I can’t listen to it. I know a lot of people take comfort from it but I never have done.”
Final question, when you are performing live? I know from attending PL concerts everyone has hopes about what the setlist is going to be, and everyone has their favourite songs that they hope you will be perform. Do you have a favourite song to perform live?
“I tend to like performing ‘No Hope In Sight,’ I always think of it as a new song; although it’s not anymore, it is compared to the others. And it always goes down incredibly well, almost the best song of the night. And bearing in mind I think of it as a new song, I think that’s great that we can do newer songs that still go down as well as the stuff we did on Icon and Draconian Times.
The songs you’ve done in the last few years, when they get the same crowd response as the songs you did 20 or 30 years ago, that’s a really nice feeling because it means you don’t have to rely on doing a sort of legacy set. You can do newer stuff and people still appreciate it. ‘No Hope In Sight’ is a good song to get everyone going.”