Obsidian… dark, reflective and black: it’s a pretty decent description of the music that PARADISE LOST have been making over the last 32 years, even though this most resilient of British metal bands have stoically refused to be pinned down to one easily defined formula. Powered by a lust for creativity and a stout devotion to haunting heaviness, PARADISE LOST have defied the odds by coming back stronger than ever over the past decade.
“We’re doing really well right now,” says guitarist and co-founder Greg Mackintosh. “The last few albums have gone down well and we’ve gradually moved back up the festival bills. But for me, I think about it more in terms of being relaxed and content. It’s a good time to be in PARADISE LOST.”
Formed in Halifax, West Yorkshire, in 1988, PARADISE LOST were unlikely candidates for metal glory when they slithered from the shadows and infiltrated the UK underground. But not content with spawning an entire subgenre with early death/doom masterpiece „Gothic“ nor with conquering the metal mainstream with the balls-out power of 1995’s „Draconian Times“, they have subsequently traversed multiple genre boundaries with skill and grace, evolving through the pitch-black alt-rock mastery of ‘90s classics „One Second“ and „Host“ to the muscular but ornate grandeur of 2009’s„Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us“ and „Tragic Idol“ (2012), with the nonchalant finesse of grand masters. The band’s last two albums – „The Plague Within“ (2015) and „Medusa“ (2017) – saw a much celebrated return to brutal, old school thinking, via two crushing monoliths to slow-motion death and spiritual defeat. Consistently hailed as one of metal’s most charismatic live bands, PARADISELOST arrive in this new decade as veterans, legends and revered figureheads for several generations of gloomy metalheads. In keeping with their unerring refusal to deliver the expected, 2020 brings one of the band’s most diverse and devastating creations to date.
“When we came to write this record, we just sat down, had a think about it and said ‘Let’s see what comes out!’” says Greg. “We never went through that thing of signing to big labels and being under constant pressure. The pressure always came from ourselves anyway. I just wanted it to sound a little more polished than the last one and a little less caveman-like in the rhythm section! (laughs) I suppose that was the only brief, really. On Medusa we did the whole fuzzed-out slow thing, throughout the entire record, so if it was that again it would bore me as much as anyone else. So there’s a bit more variety on this one.”
The sixteenth PARADISE LOST studio album, „Obsidian“ eschews its immediate predecessors’ gruesome, myopic approach in favour of a richer and more dynamic deluge of black shades. From the deceptive elegance and dual atmospheres of opener ‚Darker Thoughts‘ through to the crushing, baroque doom of war-torn closer ‚Ravenghast‘, „Obsidian“ reveals a band in masterful control of a broad array of vital ideas. Most noticeably, the record boasts several songs that draw heavily from the much-loved, Kohl-encrusted days of ‘80s gothic rock: in particular, newly-minted PARADISE LOSTanthems ‚Ghosts‘ is a guaranteed dancefloor-filler at any discerning goth nightclub.
“At this point there aren’t a lot of people alive that remember the ‘80s goth scene!” laughs Greg. “So hopefully it’ll sound like a fresh thing to a lot of people. But things go round in circles. There used be a goth pub or club on every corner in the late 80s, and now there’s none. It’s just something I used to like at the time but daren’t admit to! Doing this as long as we have, I don’t care anymore, you know? The first album I bought was The Kids From Fame, so fuck it. (laughs)”
“Over the last ten years Greg’s really been into the death and doom stuff,” notes frontman and co-founder Nick Holmes. “But when he does write that goth stuff he’s really good at it, so I encouraged him to do more of it! He’s got a knack
Produced by the band themselves, with the assistance of noted studio guru Jamie ‘Gomez’ Arellano,„Obsidian“ is another compelling showcase for Paradise Lost’s ever-blazing passion for forging ahead. Fans of the last two albums’ back-to-basics ferocity will be well served by the menacing, scabrous likes of ‚The Devil Embraced‘ and ‚Serenity‘, while those of a more gothic persuasion will be instantly mesmerised by ‚Ghosts‘, icy anti-ballad ‚Forsaken‘ and the gloriously morose ‚Ending Days‘. In between those extremes, PARADISE LOST continue to warp the edges of their long established musical identity, resulting in some of the boldest and most adventurous songs of their career to date. Nobly upholding his band’s mystique, Holmes remains reluctant to unpick the details of his lyrics, but „Obsidian“ is clearly an album with a lot on its troubled mind.
“There’s no grand theme. It’s just about how I feel at the time,” Nick explains. “If there is an idea or a concept behind it, it’s the idea that certain decisions can affect you and your life much further down the line, like the Butterfly Effect. I love that concept, that you might do something today that could affect something much later. It’s very much like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, when Larry David says something to someone earlier in the show and you know that he’s going to need that guy’s help later on, but he’s already fucked him over! (laughs)”
Fans of PARADISE LOST‘s crushing doom phase have no reason to fear Obsidian’s diverse approach. Providing thrilling contrast with the snappy, pulsing grooves of ‚Ghosts‘ and its gothic counterparts, album closer ‚Ravenghast‘ plainly ranks as one of the darkest and heaviest things the band have ever recorded.
“Greg came up with that title,” Nick explains. “I kept it because I like it, the feel of that word. That song’s about a battle, how do they know who’s won when it’s over? You see these great battles and then at the end, people are still fighting and getting killed, even though it’s technically over. When does someone say, ‘Hang on a minute, we’ve won!’ It’s such a shit death, to get killed in the last throes of a battle. It’s a little bit Monty Python, I suppose! Also, that song is a raging, riding-a-horse sort of song. You couldn’t really go down any other route.”
Blessed with some of his band’s strongest material yet, Nick Holmes has conjured an absorbing array of lyrical conceits and mysterious proclamations for „Obsidian“. As far as Greg Mackintosh is concerned, retaining that air of mystery is a fundamental part of PARADISE LOST‘s identity.
“Nick sometimes tries to explain what the lyrics are about, but I’d rather try to figure it out for myself,”says the guitarist. “He has this cryptic way of writing lyrics and I prefer it like that. It’s an important part of what we do.”
As they march through their fourth decade as a band, PARADISE LOST have never sounded more potent or unified in their determination to bring the darkness to life. „Obsidian“ is yet another glowering career peak, not just matching the imperious form of „The Plague Within“ and “Medusa“, but artfully outstripping it with greater depth, colour and emotional power. While many bands of their vintage have embraced the nostalgia business, PARADISE LOST remain a vibrant, vital and endlessly classy force for creative metallic good. 2020 will see the band hit the festival circuit with a vengeance, before touring„Obsidian“ in earnest next year. Like the man said, this is a good time to be in PARADISE LOST
“I remember an interview with Tom Angelripper from Sodom a long time ago, and he was talking about the cycle of doing albums and touring. He said that you never really seem to stop and then suddenly you’re a fucking old man!” Nick laughs. “It is pretty weird! But you never really get off the horse. We’ve done it for so long it would be strange to stop doing it. This is what we love doing and we’re all really happy with the new album… even if it doesn’t sound like it (laughs).”
Sheldon Ang Interviews Nick Holmes
Gutturally evil as it is saintly heartfelt, hair raising as it is cathartic…
The sixteenth studio album “Obsidian” from the godfather of goth metal Paradise Lost transcends conformity, while spewing blood from an eclectic mix of dread, domination, dying, death, devil, and detestation fused in metaphors and ambiguity with all the dirty deeds from the dreamy realm of darkness.
The men from Halifax, England defy music mortality as they keep plummeting mainstream expectations and eschewing lyrical social grace over the last three decades, yet sonically the sweet sounds of their goth symphonies lie comfortably with most music lovers. They may be pioneers of the death doom saga, but their music keeps evolving since their inception, from the dark and twisted tracks in the late 80’s to the electronic pop in parts of their second decade and back to an eclectic mix of metal recently.
Even for a person who grew up listening to their New Romantics UK counterparts, I find their latest album palatable and pleasing thanks to their eclectic styles, with some of their tracks spurting a dash of orchestral moments, blending a sorrowful touch of Good and the seductive growls of Evil through discernible tones, belted by the vocal powerhouse of Nick Holmes. The 9-track album enshrines the roots of Paradise Lost with a modern twist including a dance killer. In all, the album flows mellifluously from the previous albums, although a touch or two softer than their last album “Medusa”.
Unsurprisingly, Paradise Lost shuns the industry’s trend with the release of Obsidian on May 15th, a welcoming and a logical move for music fans during a pandemic period when time has ceased to exist.
I spoke with the charismatic and unassuming vocalist Nick Holmes on Obsidian, life, music, mortality and UK politics!
Sheldon: How are you keeping yourself during this virus…and are you still living in Halifax?
Nick: No, I don’t live in Halifax anymore. I live about thirty miles from Halifax…nobody in the band has lived in Halifax for a long time as we all kinda live all over now. We are in a lock down now and it could be a lot worst. Nobody is going out now…
Sheldon: It’s really bad in England, even the prime minister is not impervious to the pandemic.
Nick: Yeah, I think he’s on the mend now and he has come through the worst of it. It’s such a weird feeling, I mean, everyone was talking about Brexit three weeks ago, and now no one cares about Brexit (chuckles).
On Paradise Lost
Sheldon: That’s so true. Before we talk about Obsidian, let’s talk about the band. Firstly, congratulations on the band’s 16th album, it’s truly one hell of an epic album…and a bigger milestone is the fact that the line-up has remained relatively stable over the last 32 years. How did the band manage that?
Nick: We started the band as friends through the mutual love of the music that we were in to, from a humble beginning…and we started the band for the right reasons. We had a good laugh and we had a good fun doing it. It’s strange how fast time has gone. It really emphasis how short life really is (chuckles), and we can’t believe it has been this long. I don’t feel any different to when I was eighteen years old…although I look different now (chuckles).
Sheldon: (chuckles) So do you still have your hair, mate?
Nick: No man it’s gone…and not by choice either (chuckles).
Sheldon: (Chuckles) All good Nick. Paradise Lost is known for its diverse styles, even flirting with electro pop synth for the album Host and One Second. Do the members discuss on the subgenres and the general sonics of the overall album before commencing on the first track, or does the band improvise as they go?
Nick: We pretty much improvise as we go along, and I think the band is very lucky, as we do have a very specific sound no matter what we do. You kinda tell it’s Paradise Lost…Greg’s guitar playing is very specific, he’s quite a unique player – as soon as you hear the first few notes (you know it’s him playing). And as far as writing this album, we used the last album “Medusa” as the benchmark, and the first song we wrote for this album is called Fall from grace…which probably could have been on the last album which has the similar feel to it, and after a few songs you get a feel of where the album is going. But “Medusa” is a very specific album. With this one we really wanted to break it up a bit more with more variation and the styles, and the way the vocals is presented, with heavier songs, faster songs and slower songs. We want a bit more of an eclectic on this album.
Sheldon: Yeah, I reckon it does have the eclectic styles too. So do the record labels dictate on the styles?
Nick: No, we’ve been really lucky with record labels, and we’ve pretty much left to do our own thing. We never felt and pressure to live up to a certain niche, and we just do what we do. And hopefully so far they’ve been happy.
Sheldon: Sure, although I heard Greg (Mackintosh, lead guitar and keyboards) wasn’t too happy with the album “Believe in Nothing”, as he felt the album wasn’t his style.
Nick: I don’t know, it wasn’t so much about the album as everything around the album. It was a bit a strange of the time and weird time for the band. And it was after doing the Album “Host” – which wasn’t greatly received, although I think it’s still one of the best songs we’ve recorded. It was a bit of a weird time, as we were kind of a limbo in many ways, and it was not so much of the album, but it was around the album, as everything just felt flat on the album at that time, and in hindsight it was a pretty good album…so it was a bit of a weird time for the band.
Sheldon: I think so too, it’s a well-produced album. I find the sounds of Paradise Lost gutturally evil as it is saintly heartfelt, and hair raising as it is cathartic. And I grew up with ballads music. Why is that the case? Is it due to the diverse sounds produced over the last three decades?
Nick: Yeah, we also take inputs from many different genres, we may listen to the songs by “The Eyes” (British psychedelic rock band) back catalogue, and they may do one song that we think is amazing…and we don’t restrict ourselves to metal music. Generally speaking, if we have a party we will play and listen to metal music, as it’s our first love. And we listen to different styles and we don’t limit ourselves. There are brilliant bands which has nothing to do with metal music. When we were teenagers, all we cared about was metal and we’d never played anything else. But after being in a band for few years, we started to broaden our horizons musically, and nothing is off the table; if it’s a good song or well written, we can take them as influence from it, albeit subconsciously, and not necessarily trying to sound like this band or that band.
Sheldon: So does that mean you listen to the likes of Celine Dion, then?
Nick: (chuckles) And the Stuart Little song is never off my turn table (chuckles)
Sheldon: (chuckles) No? Oh damn, my first concert was Celine Dion, by the way.
Nick: Well the Titanic song is pretty good (chuckles).
Sheldon: (chuckles) Is it easier to write lyrics for deep growls or for cleaner passages?
Nick: Writing lyrics for the growls voice is a lot easier. You can write lyrics (for growls) with a lot of syllables, and with cleaner vocals you need to find lyrics that rhyme, but with growls you don’t need to rhyme…and when it is clean it sounds wrong if you don’t rhyme…and even when you’re rhyming it is restricted sometimes…and it is annoying to find words that rhyme (chuckles), because sometimes even past and current tenses can sometimes be a bit of a thing. But you can get really long words in the growls, like really long words which doesn’t always work with clean vocals (chuckles)
Sheldon: How about singing wise?
Nick: I’m fine with both really, as I’ve been doing both for a while, whatever ticks the box, and whatever is right for the part. We try doing growling vocals on a clean guitar, but clean vocal on the heavy guitar doesn’t sound so powerful as a growling voice; it is about getting the atmosphere right for whatever is required.
Sheldon: Cool, I see what you mean. So let’s talk about Obsidian. Nick, on behalf of music fans from all over the world, thank you for releasing Obsidian during the Corona pandemic while most bands have chosen to delay the release of their albums. So why not delay for Obsidian?
Nick: I just didn’t see the point in delaying it, and people can get into the music now. A lot of the time the release is based around the tour or live show, and we don’t know when we are going to play live. We’ve booked concerts and we don’t know, and when that’s going to happen. One thing for sure the album is recorded and it’s ready to go. People can play it at home and if people are locked down, they can still play as many times – and as long as they got electricity, it’s game on. But as far as playing live, I don’t see anyone is making concrete plans (chuckles). It is very optimistic to say ‘OK September let’s do it’, and it’s better to be pessimistic and say ‘OK I’ll never play live anymore’ (therefore we might as well release when it’s ready).
Sheldon: Perhaps it may even be due to commercial reasons for others not to release?
Nick: I don’t know. Also, if everyone has been given the green light then everyone is going to release the album at the same time, and it will be awash. So I don’t see any point in waiting. Personally, I’d rather get it out there. I’m sure others have their reasons. Personally it’s ready and ready to be out.
Sheldon: I agree. There have been several style shifts in the last 30 years. The band started with the deep dark gothic sounds, followed by quieter passages and the softening of the vocals in the 90’s and 00’s such as the albums “Host” and “One Second”, and back to being more of the death metal for the latter part of 2000’s culminating onto “Medusa” in 2017 as the heaviest album. From your perspective, where does Obsidian sit within the sonic spectrum of Paradise Lost?
Nick: I think it fits very nicely in the last 3 or 4 albums. It’s very much in that kind of theme. We kind of tapped in some of the song writing styles of the album we did around the 2004 or 2005 – of the period where we haven’t explored anything (since) from that time…as there’re some song from this album that is very reminiscent from those albums. We tend to look forward. We don’t really think of what we did in 94 and 97, and we can’t really think like that. Each album is a representation of what we do in that time, or where we were at that time. I don’t really regret of anything we’ve ever done, as that was what it was at that time. I just don’t understand bands that looked back and cringed, ‘oh my god’. And at that time, it makes sense to you, so just let it go. There are high points and low points (chuckles) like anything in life.
Sheldon: Yeah so true, just like the album “Host” as it reminds me of the revitalised version of Duran Duran album…and I love Duran Duran by the way.
Nick: Yeah, I like Duran Duran too (chuckles), and we just want to do that at time…as far as it goes, I think it (Host) held itself very well…certainly not a metal and a lot of people freaked out. It certainly not a metal album
Sheldon: It’s a creative album for sure. So that brings me to the creative ideas of Obsidian. Are they from personal experiences translated into metaphors…or are they metaphors of the way the band sees the way society operates?
Nick: As soon as you start saying, ‘this is about this’, you can get pinned down really quickly, and sometimes your opinions change. I don’t like to be opinionated, and I change my mind on things all the time. Obviously, these things aren’t right or wrong, or that’s a definite ‘yes’, and there are other things like ‘oh I’ve read this and agree on this’. Life is not black and white, and I don’t think lyrics should be either. I find far more interesting reading lyrics that I don’t understand, or I have to read ten times before I could even grasp what they are trying to say. For someone who loves lyrics, I prefer ambiguity in lyrics, and I like to make my own mind, and I like to be pleasantly surprised if it’s not what I thought it was. So that way metaphors are quite good for that (in lyrics).
Sheldon: Yeah, that’s a lot of metaphors and ambiguity in Obsidian for sure. So we all know that every great artist or band has been influenced by another, yet still sounding fresh and original. So how does a 32-year old band managed to keep up to its originality and still sounding fresh as Obsidian?
Nick: With the influence when we started the band, we still like the same thing. The influence in the late 80s and early 90s are still there. We do know who’s doing well and we’re all aware of this. But it doesn’t mean we are fans of their music. We need to be aware of who’s out there. It doesn’t have to be direct influence as music changes all the tim. Even metal music has changed so much over the last 30 years, and many ups and down. The new metal is the most significant change to metal music and a lot of bands based on the back of those bands would have sounded different if they had not existed. Ultimately, we are old guys and we still like the old stuff (chuckles).
Sheldon: So your band wouldn’t be evolving to a Justin Bieber kind of songs anytime soon?
Nick: No (chuckles), even if we did you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s on Justin Bieber because we’d change it so much that you wouldn’t recognise it (chuckles).
Sheldon: I’m curious on the album’s name. Obsidian is a strong protective stone forming a shield against negativity from the environment. What’s the connection between the metaphysical properties of Obsidian and the album’s title?
Nick: I initially liked the title, but I like how it’s actually an earth stone and used often as a good luck charm, which sort of ties with symbolism, also carried through with the artwork on the album with objects representing belief or superstition.
Sheldon: Let’s talk about the first single release from Obsidian, Fall from Grace – it’s about struggling through difficult times, and the refusal to accept defeat. It just happens that we are experiencing an epidemic beyond imagination. Is that the reason this song was the first single to be released?
Nick: No, and we don’t write singles anyway. We’ve stopped thinking like this many years ago. We write the entire album and see the general consensus and decide which is going to be the first single to be released and it just happened to be Fall From Grace. And the ambiguity is there, and you can relate a lot of Paradise Lost song to what is going on right now. We did a song called “Isolate” and that was written 20 odd years ago (chuckles). A lot of metal songs you can relate to it as well. And the ambiguity is there, and a lot of people said about this song (that it was released to reflect mood of Covid19’s) when it was chosen as the first single. Like I said earlier, we were all talking about Brexit three weeks ago and no one cares about it in a blink of an eye, and everyone’s priorities have completely changed. It’s kind of scary how things have changed so quickly.
Sheldon: And suddenly PM Boris Johnson is quite a popular figure now.
Nick: Yeah, people love or people hate him. But there’s no doubt that he’s charismatic…and you can find as many people whinge about him as many people like him (chuckles).
Sheldon: Do you think Fall from Grace is a good indicator on the styles for the rest of the album? Does this song epitomise the album?
Nick: I’m not sure really, there’re some people who are quite surprised as there’re certainly more of the very old school goth songs…and I mean 80’s goth songs, and I don’t mean like the Evanescence kind of song. So they are like the old school stuff when we were like teenagers. Some of the songs are from the old days like Siouxsie and the Banshees (a British rock band) from when we used to go to the goth clubs. So we sort of tapped into those. It is kind of goth style we used to grow up with, the kind of stuff we don’t really hear about it anymore as no one really does it anymore these days. It has that cult music style. But they are also in very modern context and are very typical Paradise songs. There’s always the kind of goth, that we were really interested in.
Sheldon: Let’s talk about one of my favourite tracks in Obsidian, “The Devil Embraced”. I love the standoff between the brutal growls and the clear passages, and the distinctive tones between the two – as if there are two vocalists. It does feel a bit like when the dying and desperate Anikin Skywalker offering his soul to the Sith Lord in return to be saved. So to be a good singer, must you also be a good actor to ooze those emotion?
Nick: It’s a very dramatic music. It’s very pompous, and I like very pompous and dramatic movies, and I guess it is the same with music. And when you do the vocal takes you got to really get into it, and swing arms around (chuckles), and yeah I think it’s important, with the growling voice you got to put it some weight being it, and you can’t do it half-assed…and you got to say it like you mean it (chuckles).
Sheldon: Speaking of good versus evil, did the band receive its name from “Paradise Lost” the epic poem by the 17thcentury English poet John Milton (about the fall of man and the temptation of Adam and Eve by the Fallen angel Satan)?
Nick: Yeah, when I was growing up as a teenager, I found the book and it’s a very old book, like a really old fashion book in a very old fashion binder like you’d see in a horror film…and they don’t even have much literature from that house – which is very bizarre, and I had no idea how the book even got there either. So I flicked through it and I saw it was about the garden of Eden, and the good and evil, and I just flicked through it. And I thought it’s heavy going and I thought it would make a good name for a band. But I never read it (chuckles) and I only flicked through it, as I don’t have the attention span to read the whole book (chuckles).
Sheldon: Spooky indeed. And people have the perception that those who sing these types of songs are atheist or even the worshippers of the dark side…is that the case?
Nick: I don’t believe in anything outside that I can’t see, touch or smell, and I need to see what’s in front of me. But I don’t have problems with people who believe in it. I got friends who are Christians, and if it makes them happy and if it doesn’t affect others and they don’t make money out of others or if there’s no exploitation, then that’s a nice thing. Believe in what you want. And anything that’s organised to make money upon, then I’m frowned upon that…like anything else if there’s no exploitation. I don’t have religious beliefs, but I do find religion fascinating and on what people decide to put their faith in it as well.
Sheldon: Yeah, that’s an interesting thought. Paradise Lost’s last trip to Perth was in 2017, and before that it was six years prior…does that mean we’ll see the band in 2023, 2024?
Nick: I don’t know, it depends. We came to Australia many times of late and there have been huge gaps in the past. It’d be nice to make it to Australia every time we tour as part of the jarring cycle…whether it is next year, and if not maybe 2022. We need to get the machine going for everyone, and when the opportunity arises, we’d definitely be coming over again.
Sheldon: Speaking of diverse sounds, can I suggest something mate?
Nick: Yeah you’re welcome to!
Sheldon: How about Paradise Lost jamming with the London Symphony Orchestra?
Nick: Well it would be lovely to organise it, but I’d imagine it’d be probably rather expensive to organise it. And we have some backing (chuckles)…
Sheldon: Ah c’mon Nick, you guys are rockstars…don’t you have money flying all over?
Nick: (Chuckles) yeah, we probably be looking at perhaps a three piece as oppose to a thirty piece…and not necessarily the London one either. We did something similar in Plovdiv Bulgaria, where we played live and there’s a live album out…which is fun to do it. And the orchestra musicians are very very different to heavy metal musicians. But who knows what’s around the corner – we can never say never!
Sheldon: I’d look forward to that. Nick, it is a pleasure speaking with you, mate. You’re such a humble rocker, and I really hope to see you live again. Catch you later, mate.
Nick: Thanks a lot, all the best mate. Bye
Interviewer: By Sheldon B. Ang, for Around the Sound