Paradise Lost – Solidity and GraceSunday, 28th June 2020
Over the course of sixteen studio albums and thirty plus years as a band, Paradise Lost have gained appeal and support from the death/doom and gothic communities in metal due to their originality and steady output. Daring to never necessarily make the same album twice but grow from the rich experiences and opportunities at their disposal, they’ve been an integral part of setting the tone in a scene regardless of the ‘hip’ or ‘trend’ swirling about. We all have our game changers in the catalog – for this scribe Icon, Draconian Times, and the Depeche Mode-leaning One Second all brilliant – but over the past few records, the band has embraced where their hearts and minds take them. For Obsidian, that appears to be a great mix of the old and the new – as death, doom, gothic and even some electronic touches filter into these songs, resulting in a diverse, hard hitting, and dynamically pleasing effort.
We reached out to vocalist Nick Holmes – a very friendly musician who despite the numerous Skype connection breakups and call backs, handled these questions as a seasoned professional should. We talk about the new record, video making, memories in the career banks, bucket list goals, the latest book about the band – and what the future holds.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest and sixteenth Paradise Lost studio record is Obsidian. Given the fact that the band has been together for over thirty years, do you still get the same energy and thrill making a studio record these days compared to the early 90’s efforts – and where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of albums?
Nick Holmes: Yes, absolutely. The writing process, there’s nothing really different with it because when you release an album you get to see the fruits of your labor and if people like it, it’s really great. We work very meticulously on things- particularly over the last twenty years we’ve taken things far more seriously in terms of the writing process. When we were kids, the recording studio was just an excuse to get drunk, but we are far more serious about things now. It’s very serious to know what we are going to put out there and promote for the next three to four years. It’s gotta be as good as it can be. We aren’t going to tour off the back of a record that we aren’t into or is not that interesting. It’s difficult to promote a record without any kind of sincerity.
It’s still very much a challenge and it drives us on. The 2000’s era isn’t something we’ve touched upon since then, so there are a couple of songs that have a bit of flavor from those days. I think it fits in nicely with the catalog. The stuff that we did around Icon and Draconian Times, those two albums stand out a bit compared to most albums we’ve done. The upbeat tempos and the production was good for the time, they sound like 90’s albums. The last fifteen years and twenty years, I think this album fits in very well with what we’ve been doing.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the video clips for “Fall from Grace” and “Darker Thoughts” – do you enjoy the process of creating and implementing videos in this social media driven day compared to the era of MTV Headbangers’ Ball ruling the airwaves?
Holmes: We used the same video director that we’ve used for the last few videos Ash Pears – you get along with him and he gets the band. We’ve worked with video directors in the past that even though they may be highly respected, they don’t necessarily get the band, and therefore the video is not going to work. It’s not necessarily about the cost, it’s more about what the guy is doing. Our director now can do a lot with very little (money). We give him an idea and he sort of runs with it – and he definitely did that with “Fall from Grace”. Lyrically it’s about the cracks showing and seeing that perhaps you aren’t what you once were, it’s about a literal fall from grace and we sort of ran with that slightly in the video. We wanted it to look like a mini-movie, so the song is a soundtrack to the video, and treat it like a film for five or six minutes, and the music is sort of like part of the film.
That is how we used to start out with videos, making something with a story. With “Darker Thoughts”, I did a few things prior to the lockdown. We were going to have a band studio vibe with them playing in the studio, which would have been similar as the “Beneath Broken Earth” video. Obviously we went into lockdown, so we have to look at an alternative way of things to do and the director helped us. He’s been great to work with for the last few videos for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you look at your vocal delivery and elements of your melodies and voice have changed and expanded from the early days through Obsidian? Where would you say you felt like you were finally comfortable with all that you are capable of doing – or do you view this as a continual, ever-changing work in progress?
Holmes: You sort of learn, working at home with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) you can practice what you can and can’t do. Years ago when you went in the studio, you were on the clock. That is when under pressure you could find out what you could do, but it could be a painstaking thing with trial and error trying to get things right, particular around the Icon and Draconian Times days there was stuff that was definitely tougher to do. Since we started working at home with our own little portable studios, you can really find out what you can and can’t do. And that’s applied to what we write. I don’t want to do anything that I can’t do live in writing it. Everything is about playing live, so you have to think of that aspect as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the benchmark moments in the ascent of Paradise Lost – be it key decisions, albums, tours, festival appearances that you knew you were making a step up in terms of consistency and popularity?
Holmes: We always joke about where you are on the posters when it comes to the billing. We’ve been three-quarters of the way up, and that’s a good spot to be. There’s only one way to go when you headline, and that’s on the way down. We’ve been in the bottom quarter, the middle, and now the top quarter. When you are Metallica, you can stay at the top- but there are very few bands that are able to do that. We’ve been around so long, I’ve seen us on every single spot on a festival poster. Things go around, fashion goes around, and fashion in metal music changes, and it comes back around again. The older bands can come around again in favor when the younger fans become middle age fans. They like listening to Slayer again because they remember Slayer being their favorite band when they were 21. It happens to me, I suddenly get massively into stuff that I loved when I was younger.
Recently I dug out albums that I loved when I was 18-21, it still is a really nice, nostalgic feeling. It forms you as a person, the soundtrack of your life, the songs that you listen to when you are younger. If anyone discovered PL when they were in their late teens, they may want to come out now and see the Draconian Times songs again.
Dead Rhetoric: As you add more songs to the catalog, I’d imagine firing up an ideal setlist even in a headlining situation can be tedious. How do you end up hammering out something that’s satisfying to the fans but also to the musicians within the band as well?
Holmes: We tend to base things off three or four songs off the album that we are promoting at the time. Sometimes, you think we’ll do this song and you realize it doesn’t work as well as you had originally hoped. Most of the set is tried and tested for decades, so we know which songs are going to go down and guess the popular live songs. There is always someone that’s going to want a song that you don’t normally play, and the artist may not think it works well. We’ve tailored it… we have 150 songs now, we are thinking of songs to do. Let’s pretend it’s about the new album and then we just slot the other songs. We’ve done a lot of these songs for many, many years. Stuff like “Embers Fire” and “Say Just Words”, they are popular songs and they have to be in there.
Dead Rhetoric: What song(s) fire you up live in the setlists?
Holmes: It depends. I particularly like the new songs. If people like the new songs, it fires you up. “No Hope in Sight” is probably one of my favorite, contemporary songs by the band even though it’s quite old now. It’s nice to be able to play new songs and old songs and have people still like both. It’s not like people are just there waiting to hear stuff from the first three or four albums. It’s a cross section of new and old songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it feel incredible to you to have a cross-generational appeal due to being together for over thirty years?
Holmes: Yes, it’s really nice. There are people that are coming to shows with their children that grew up listening to Paradise Lost. I see that at Iron Maiden concerts, you see three generations that go to their shows. It’s great, if you stay around long enough you are going to see that happen. It’s really great and we see full families, grandmother and grandfather as well, you know? (laughs)
Dead Rhetoric: You recently had a book released No Celebration about the complete history of Paradise Lost. What are your thoughts on the book, and what do you think you learned more about specific albums or bandmates through this retrospective process?
Holmes: I think the book’s really good. It definitely mirrors the band and how we are well. It’s based on fact, as you know David painstakingly researched it and he talked to us all. I didn’t learn anything about anyone else, it’s so on point. It’s not like we were going for a sensationalized angle. It does what it says, it’s more like reading a diary. Everything that was in there, it suddenly came back to me as I was reading it.
Dead Rhetoric: Between the side work that you do with Bloodbath and Gregor in Vallenfyre, do you believe these extra outlets provide even more of a defined focus on what is best for Paradise Lost to deliver at this point in your career?
Holmes: I don’t know really. Anything you do is going to factor into what you do, somewhere. Doing work with Bloodbath and those guys got me back into the death metal way of thinking. It’s going to revitalize an interest in the old school bands and what was so great about them – which was on the shelf for me for so many years. And very much the same with Gregor – he got more into death metal at the time. Coming from that realm, it’s helped to have that blueprint, it makes the songs better as well because we come from that world.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the chance to look at a failure that happened in the career of Paradise Lost, which one do you believe was necessary to set you up for a better, more promising outcome in the long run?
Holmes: That’s hard to answer. You just don’t know, so much depends on luck. We’ve seen some fantastic bands do some great albums and they just didn’t do anything. A lot of the time it’s luck. Around the Believe in Nothing time, that was a strange time for us as individuals on a personal level. The music we were making was around the time nu-metal hit the scene, all those bands were dominating rock and metal music. A lot of bands from our era fell by the wayside during that time. Same could be said for the grunge thing, but it didn’t affect bands like us. The nu-metal thing shook up the scene, suddenly bands that had a lot of coverage didn’t get any coverage. It was a bit of a bumpy time for bands like us in that generation.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some more bucket list items either personally or professionally that you would like to check off in the coming years – either in music or other outlets?
Holmes: We’ve been to quite a good proportion of the world. It would be nice to play areas we haven’t been to – places like Siberia, South Africa. It would be nice to establish ourselves a bit more in North America. The last tour that we did there was the best time we’ve had in the states. We are big fans of the states, and we left a big gap in the 90’s when we should have been there. It would be nice to make up lost ground when we can travel again.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you look at the development of the metal music scene today? Do you see major differences in how the music is consumed, developed, and appreciated maybe compared to your early years through the tape trading, snail mail, and in print fanzine circuit?
Holmes: Yeah, the passion for music is still the same. I don’t think people treat (metal) as a throwaway genre. Kids these days who listen to pop music, they listen to it on shuffle, it isn’t about albums, it can be disposable. None of that stuff matters to my kids. When I was a kid it was vinyl, looking at the artwork, looking at the lyrics. I still think there’s a strong interest in vinyl. How people have listened to music has changed. It’s hard making things stick. I still like albums that I liked when I was 15 years old. Now it’s very disposal, it’s all about playing live. You can do a brilliant album, but if you aren’t prepared to play it live, it’s going to fall by the wayside. It’s such a fast thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Why do you think the UK rock/metal journalists put their domestic bands more through the ringer in terms of acceptance compared to bands from other countries?
Holmes: In our newspapers it’s always about trying to belittle someone, or putting down people, when people get successful. That’s sort of a British thing. I don’t think it’s as much like that now – but it’s almost like waiting for the downfall. And if you are Northern English, that makes it even worse. The Smiths and Morrissey, they talked about that kind of thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you changed your mind about in the last few years personally? And why have you changed your mind?
Holmes: I haven’t really changed my mind about anything. I’ve become less vocal and less bothered about things. Sometimes I think it’s better to not give your opinion. I can’t be bothered with arguing, I find arguing tedious and I would like to walk away from a situation. My values are pretty much the same as they’ve always been, on a general level. I guess I’ve chilled out a lot. And particularly if there’s no solution to an argument, that’s even worse. If you can solve it, solve something. But if it’s arguing for the sake of arguing, I can’t be bothered. It’s so boring.
It’s like if someone smashes into my car, I see people going crazy. It’s not going to sort the car out though, is it? I think once something is done, that’s it – you just have to move on. Dwelling on something and being angry- I try not to do that anymore. It’s just a waste of energy.
Dead Rhetoric: What does the next year to eighteen months hopefully look like to support this record? As I’d imagine you are having to find other things to consume your time while waiting out this pandemic for the music industry to return to some sort of normalcy…
Holmes: Fingers crossed we can get out there and play. We have something booked for September but nobody knows how long it’s going to be – people are just guessing. You could have the scientists looking at the charts, but you don’t know. This is the longest I’ve been in the UK since I was a kid, I think. It doesn’t bother me, I live in West Yorkshire. I spend a lot of time at home when I’m not on tour anyway. I never get bored. Not playing concerts and not going away, it’s strange. It will be nice to get out there once again.