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Interview: Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes on new album ‘Obsidian’

Gothic metal pioneers and death-doom leaders Paradise Lost have been making gloomy music for 32 years and there are no signs of slowing down. Now, they present to the world their 16th studio album and second with Nuclear Blast, ‘Obsidian’. To find out more, Grater catches up with singer and lyricist Nick Holmes, who is at his home in Halifax, UK.

Paradise Lost have experimented with gothic metal, death-doom and more over the years.  Where does ‘Obsidian’ sit sound-wise?

“The Medusa album was a very specific death-doom album.  There was only one song that wasn’t in that frame, but even that was a very heavy, fast song.  It was a very specific album. This one; we’ve really shaken it up a bit. It’s very typically Paradise Lost from start to finish.  Every song you can totally identify as a Paradise Lost song. But this kind of nods to songs or a songwriting feel that we haven’t done for a very long time – maybe even stuff around the 2005 era – which is a period that we’ve never really even gone near for the last 10 years. 

“There’s a lot more messing around with a clean vocal style and the gruff voice and just trying to make each style work the best we possibly can. We don’t want to do anything for (the sake of it) either. Singing gruff for the sake of it – didn’t want to do that – or clean for the sake of it, so it’s about getting a balance and what sounds right for the song.” 

The video for the first single Fall From Grace is rather disturbing and surreal.  It also doesn’t feature the band, favouring a more filmic approach. Tell us about that.

“The song’s about the cracks appearing in something and you don’t see, and other people see it, so you kind of carry on as though everything’s fine but you don’t see that you’re perhaps not on a pedestal as much as you were.  People don’t have respect for you like they used to have. It’s just about things going wrong and you can apply that to anything really.

“The video was done by a guy called Ash Pears and he’s done a few Paradise Lost videos actually.  I have a really good relationship with him and he totally gets the band. I just give him the rundown of what it’s about and he just kind of runs with it really. We wanted it to be very much like a little mini film and the song is a soundtrack for the visual.  It’s not about syncing with the track or making it an MTV-type music video. It was about doing a little film, a five minute film, and then the song is just the soundtrack. Simple as that really.”

Will you be shooting another video for the second single?

“It’s kind of hard to do a video shoot at the moment.  We tend to avoid performance videos. It’s not that we don’t do them, but we’ve done so many of them anyway.  We are probably going to do another one for this one, but at the moment, it’s pretty much impossible to do that, particularly as our drummer lives in Helsinki.  So he would have to swim across to the UK which is a bit too far (laughs).”

Metal is sometimes lambasted for focusing on recurring themes like hell, satan, serial killers, dragons and so on. What’s your take on lyric writing?

“If I was writing a song about a warship then there’s no ambiguity with that.  It’s like, well, this is about a warship, and then done, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But for me to read lyrics, I like to read lyrics that I don’t really know what they’re on about.  The more ambiguity the better for me. There’s a real sort of poetic thing to that. So, when it comes to writing lyrics, if I find that I’m being specific, I start getting a little bit bored.  My eyes glaze over. Even a line could mean something completely different to the rest of it. I just like the ambiguity because there’s no rules with it.

“Heavy metal songs historically tend to be around specific subjects and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for me, I’ve always found… a band like Celtic Frost – particularly Celtic Frost – there’s so much ambiguity in the lyrics.  I always found them incredibly inspiring when I was a little kid. I guess I brought that with me ever since.” 

Do you scribble notes about a time, person or place and fit them to a song, or do you listen to a demo and get inspired?

“I write the lyrics … for what I think about when I hear the music.  For example, on the new album – the song Serenity – I imagined that song to be like the soundtrack to a battle.  So I imagined horses galloping to that song, so it was what was in my mind’s eye really more than any specific thing.  I would never take the lyrics away from the music. They’re a very powerful package. So for me, it’s all about escapism.  The whole thing’s about escapism, because if I’ve got any personal stuff going on, particularly negative personal stuff going on, I separate it completely from music.” 

Do you write most of your material in a positive or negative mood?

“Music is about fun for me.  Even the lyrics could be absolutely depressing; it’s still escaping from what’s going on in my real life.  I always separate the two. I don’t think there’s anything productive from feeling down. I do know a lot my peers; when they feel down they feel creative. I do not feel creative when I feel pissed off.  It’s the absolute opposite. When I feel depressed, I do not even go anywhere near feeling creative. I feel creative when I feel happy.”

Will you tour Obsidian in Australia if travel bans are lifted?

“We absolutely love coming to Australia. If it’s not on the list we’re going to be asking why.”

Paradise Lost has been moving up and down festival bills over the years.  Are you content with where the band has been placed recently?

“When we started the band there were about five festivals in the whole world (laughs).  Probably less; probably about three. Every year there’s more festivals. Now they’re all year round; becoming perennial.  There’s now these indoor ones in sports centres. You can do a festival in December, which would never happen years ago; it was always about the summer festivals.  You kind of go up and go down. Once you’re at the top though, the only way is down. It’s kind of best to be in the top three quarters. That’s a nice spot. If you can get your logo on the poster, that’s alright (laughs).”

How are you going with isolation in the UK?

“We haven’t got it as bad as some people.  You can go out to exercise and get shopping, but some people are kind of going over the top: ‘You’re not allowed to leave the house for any reason’, which is bullshit …  To me, it’s not that different from a normal day.  If I’m not on tour, I’m at home anyway, so it’s not a massive stretch really.

“I’m exercising more than usual because I went on vacation and I got a bit fat, so I’m trying to get rid of that (laughs). I’m also listening to audio books when I’m running … The weather is quite nice at the moment. I’m enjoying running now.”

For more album details check out our news article.

Obsidian is out May 15 via Nuclear Blast

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