Interview by Jordan Sibberas
Nick Holmes is a legendary name in the extreme metal community, most well known for his work in Paradise Lost, and more recently, death metal supergroup Bloodbath. He took time off to talk to Jordan about ‘Obsidian’, Paradise Lost’s 16th full length record, which was released on May 15th, 2020.
Jordan: Can you tell us about the creative process behind ‘Obsidian’ and how it got to where it is now?
Nick Holmes: I think we started writing the album around January last year, and then we started recording it around November last year and finished in December. So I mean, it’s usually around a year from the beginning to the end, I mean, we don’t write particularly quickly. We’d rather just spend time making things right. Some guys just churn out an album in a month, we just couldn’t do it. It takes time, and after we finish the touring process, we usually like to have a bit of time to take stock and decide where we’re going to go next. Pretty much as long as I can remember, the writing process has always been very similar. Greg and myself kind of file share, writing the songs, we’ve done that kind of thing for the last 20 years probably.
JS: Does the final product reflect your initial goals and vision for the record?
Nick Holmes: Yeah, completely. We spent so long tuning the songs and getting them exactly how we want them to be that by the time they’re on the album, that’s as good as they’re going to get. I mean, we’ve had that mentality pretty much since we started. Even the first album is very crude, it sounds like a bunch of kids, which we were, but that’s as good as we could have done at the time. So I never think in hindsight, “Oh God, I wish we could re-record it”. There’s no point in doing things like that. Each one we’ve done is the best we could do at the time, and this is definitely continuing with that I think.
JS: What goes into getting the dense compositions of the guitars to ring out so nicely? Especially when your tracks are so moody and thick with sound?
Nick Holmes: I thought you said dance composition! I was going to say, I’m not sure about how that would work!
JS: Well, there was one track in particular, ‘Ghosts’, that I felt like dancing to!
Nick Holmes: You could dance to anything if you try hard enough! But we used Jamie ‘Gomez’ Arellano again, I think this is his third album he’s done with us, and he’s really come into his own. A lot of the songs as they are put down, the sounds have got to be right. There’s the drumming, getting the drum sounds right is a real art in itself. He was tuning the snare drum after practically every beat. There’s a real craft involved in that, and then obviously the mix. Gomez did the whole mix this time, like he’s done on the last three albums, that’s his world and he’s still done another good job, getting like you said, a good separation, you can hear everything and it’s all very dark, and heavy as well. It’s important to get a good mix because a good song can fall by the wayside purely because of how he sounds sometimes, you know?
JS: After a year of writing and recording, it would be a shame for that not to all shine through because of a mix.
Nick Holmes: Yeah. We’ve been most of the time pretty lucky in that respect, we’ve worked with people that really get the band and where we’re coming from. But you know, you can have the best song in the world but if it just doesn’t sound right, you could still think, “Well, it’s a good song, but I just wish you sounded better”. You know, we didn’t want to be in that situation with this one.
JS: Originally I discovered Paradise Lost from being a fan of your work in Bloodbath – does shifting from Bloodbath mode like after last years’ Australian tour, into writing and releasing a Paradise Lost album, take much work?
Nick Holmes: Bloodbath don’t usually tour all that much, we did a short tour with Kreator and Dimmu Borgir, and other than the Australian tour we usually just do festivals. But yeah, it is a bit of a process to switch. I mean, Paradise Lost is obviously my main band, but just dealing with those guys with Katatonia and Opeth, it’s completely different and we have a lot of fun with it. Even going on stage, you see how we look, it’s good fun doing all the makeup stuff. We have a good laugh with it. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been almost five years I’ve been in the band now as well, which is insane because people still talk like I’ve only just joined. I can’t believe it. But yeah, two albums with that and I love doing it, it’s good fun. But yes, it’s a different appeal, even just the onstage performance is a different appeal, it’s so much more intense. It’s just insane, it’s exhausting, but I love doing it.
JS: I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Paradise Lost live, but seeing how members of Opeth and Katatonia shift into Bloodbath mode compared to their main acts is quite entertaining in itself!
Nick Holmes: Yeah, but it’s about the timing and the speed, [in Bloodbath] the singing is so quick, you’ve got to be really on your game, there’s no room for error, you know. Whereas with the slower songs [in Paradise Lost] you can kind of, if you go wrong, you can feel it coming, and you can get back on the track. But if you go off the tracks where they’re really fast on, you’re not getting back on that, so you just f*cked up right till the end of the song! You’ve kinda got to really be on your game with Bloodbath, but I love the intensity on it. It just reminds me of everything I liked when I was a kid, you know, ’cause all that kind of death metal was just exactly my kind of thing when I was a kid. It’s good fun to tap into that again.
JS: The word ‘miserable’ has been thrown around to describe Paradise Lost and ‘Obsidian’, and I can see why in a good way – how do you tap into misery in the writing process?
Nick Holmes: I would rather be classed as miserable than happy, I can live with miserable. That’s easier. People that are not into this sort of music, when they hear it, they just think “Oh, it’s miserable”. When I used to listen to Black Sabbath when I was a kid, my parents had said this is miserable music, ’cause they didn’t get it, you know. I’m happy with that, it’s fine with me. But miserable music I find uplifting, I find happy music repulsive, it has the opposite effect on me. I guess if you’re not versed in this sort of music, or you don’t like it or don’t really get it, then of course, the first thing you think is it’s miserable, which I can live with that, you know, it’s fine.
JS: Funny you mention Sabbath, that was my first metal band as a youngster. My mum got me into metal, and my dad found some of it ‘miserable’, but I always found country to be more ‘miserable’, which was his style.
Nick Holmes: Yeah. Some of the country and western stuff was quite dark actually, some of it’s quite good, when I was a kid I was like “Oh God, no” but now I’m like, “Oh it’s quite, quite dark, quite good!”.
JS: There certainly are some diamonds in the rough in that genre. Do you find it natural to tap into misery when you compose? Is there a process for you to get to that mindset?
Nick Holmes: We’re big fans of really dramatic things, and we love dramatic movies, you know? There’s a lot of drama involved, and just almost Shakespeare in delivery of certain phrases and the lines and I love that sort of thing. I guess it’s not that difficult to kind of get into that frame of mind for it. If you saw me down the pub, I’m just a normal guy who likes to drink and laugh, but I do really enjoy dramatic, dramatic things, so it’s not that hard to kind of transform that into the music. And at the same time, I think Greg Mackintosh [guitarist] is exactly the same, he has the same outlook, we’re really into serious, pompous music.
JS: Interesting that you mention Shakespeare, I can definitely hear that influence. What other influences outside of metal, or music altogether, do you draw on?
Nick Holmes: It’s a weird thing, I mean, after all these years, this is our 16th album now, I can’t put my pin down on one thing that I would say is an influence is. It doesn’t really work like that, we just start writing and we get in the zone and I don’t really think about it. Obviously things you hear and things you see, they’re going to be and have some some kind of subconscious impact on you somewhere down the line, but there’s no kind of specific thing I can think, “Okay, we’ll use that”. I watch a lot of films, I listen to lots of music, but it just doesn’t work like that with me. It’s almost like drawing a painting, you know? It’s like, “where can I start?” and then once you start, you just carry on. That’s how I feel about it.
JS: Understood. Lastly, how does the COVID-19 situation affect the period now after dropping a new album, besides obviously not touring?
Nick Holmes: Well, we’re putting out ‘Obsidian’ on the 15th of May anyway, so things probably won’t be back to normal by then. We didn’t see any point in delaying it because people can still listen to it anyways, the only thing that’s really affected is the live music situation, which is a very incredibly important part of any band’s life. That’s something that we’re all kind of fingers crossed that we can get back on track with that. But I’m hearing a lot of things about people speculating that there’s gonna be no mass gatherings until 2021, but nobody knows that for sure. And I think it’s it’s better to be optimistic than pessimistic. We’re planning on playing on, I think the first one is probably the 17th of September, and we’re going to do like a launch gig for the new album. We’re just going to play the new album in Leeds in the UK, but I don’t want to get all old Grim Reaper and start saying, “Oh, we’ll never play live again and this and that”. There’s a lot of speculation that no one really knows for sure what’s gonna happen, but one thing’s for sure is that we can still release an album now and anyone else that’s thinking of doing it, I don’t see why they wouldn’t release now ’cause people are at home. You’ve got a captive audience, people are at home, you know what I mean? So why not release it?
JS: Thank you very much for your time!
‘Obsidian’ was released May 15th via Nuclear Blast, and can be found at http://www.nblast.de/ParadiseLostObsidianAU
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