PODCAST: Episode 90: Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost Discusses “Obsidian”

Ghost Cult had the honor of chatting with Nick Holmes (Bloodbath) of Paradise Lost about their new album, Obsidian (Nuclear Blast Records), due out on May 15th, 2020. Nick shares his thoughts on releasing an album during the pandemic, the creative process of the band, the more sweeping vision behind Obsidian, how the band approached the follow-up to Medusa 2017, how he and Gregor Mackintosh work together on new material, the orchestration on the albums, Nick’s vocal harmonies, the changes in his lyrics over the years, a look back on the 20th anniversary of their debut album Lost Paradise (Peaceville), and much more. Order Obsidian here and check out the podcast: Continue reading

Vallenfyre – Fear Those Who Fear Him

You ever hear that old adage about experience? The one that smug superiors like to toss around to mask their insecurities. There’s no substitute for experience, I believe it goes. Yeah, well Vallenfyre totally proved that right on their third full-length effort, Fear Those Who Fear Him (Century Media). Continue reading

Paradise Lost – Symphony For The Lost

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Set against a stunning and wholly appropriate backdrop of the genuine Ancient Roman Amphitheatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Symphony For The Lost (Century Media), a double CD and DVD package, is a culmination of a seed germinated and cultivated over a decade before being actualized in a unique and special moment for a band that has made a genuine and lasting impact on European metal and beyond, as Halifax’ finest, Paradise Lost, achieve a long-held ambition of performing with a full orchestra (the Plovdiv Philharmonic) and the Rodna Pesen choir.

Split into two halves, the first set is the band performing a selection of tracks specifically chosen due to their natural allegiance to classical music – accompanied by the full orchestra and choir – beautifully scored by Levon Manukyan, known for classically reworking Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest along with collaborating with Tarja Turunen.

While Paradise Lost’s music does lend itself to the swells, crescendos and additional trimmings expertly and subtly applied by Manukyan, containing a lot of space, it is particularly pleasing how compatible the partners in this marriage are. While Metallica’s S&M (Vertigo) was a spotted affair, the eight tracks of collaboration here are perfect bedfellows, with ‘Victim of the Past’ from The Plague Within (Century Media) in particular enriched  by the additional melodies and strings that dance over the intro and weave into the tapestry of the song.

‘Tragic Idol’ is a classy opener, and throughout Nick Holmes is in good voice while Gregor Mackintosh’s distinctive melancholic leads intertwine with the strains and descants flowering around him, before we are treated to a jaw-dropping, mesmeric rendition of ‘Joys of Emptiness’; the iconic (sic) track truly resplendent in darkest majesty. The doom-grandeur of ‘Gothic’ is the natural conclusion to a special first half of the show.

The one nagging disappointment is that, as with exposure to any good thing, the desire is, naturally, to want more, and the second half of the set, performed sans embellishments,  leaves you wishing that they had the same orchestral touches and enhancements, particularly as the backing tracks splice in synths, strings and female vocals. It’s a minor quibble, as the band polish off the latter nine tracks with style and panache.

Deliberately eschewing the option of being too dramatic or cinematic with the shooting, the direction is an understated warts-and-all that suits the band, as does Holmes dry self-deprecating between song wit. The overall release is truly completed by the brilliant Bulgarian crowd, as you can feel their love for PL, and their gratitude at witnessing something special, in their honest appreciation and participation.

Paradise Lost is one of Britain’s greatest, most distinctive and influential bands. Symphony For The Lost is a fitting addition to their career and a well-deserved achievement.

 

8.5/10

 

STEVE TOVEY

De Profundis – Kingdom Of The Blind

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Last time out, 2012’s The Emptiness Within (Kolony), progressive deathsters De Profundis lit the touch paper of anticipation by spinning a twisted tower dire of cacophonous, methodical strands of tight, technical metal all wrapped taut in a very promising third album. Follow on by refining and developing the song-writing elements on Kingdom Of The Blind (Wickerman) would surely see De Profundis crowned as cyclopic kings?

Having stopped a gap with last years’ Frequencies EP (also Wickerman), two-thirds of the original material of which is regurgitated here, Kingdom Of The Blind (once we’re past the obligatory “atmospheric classical” intro – yawn), throws an interesting initial curve ball, as ‘Kult Of The Orthodox’ unfurls with a discordant melodic fury, before settling into a stately deathly march. Unfortunately it seems Tom Atherton has borrowed Nicko McBrain’s biscuit tin for a snare, as heard on No Prayer For The Dying (EMI), and the distracting “pah-pah-pah” takes away from a fine couple of Dissection tinged riffs.

Settling down after its’ initial divergence, Kingdom Of The Blind soon finds a comfort zone… though maybe not for the protagonists, whose dexterous performances risk finger-cramp at times.  While mid-paced death metal, decorated with melodious and frequent leads and both progressive and technical deviances is the order of the day, once the early cards have been dealt there are few surprises to light the way.

Lacking either a truly innovative spark – the jazzy breakout in ‘All Consuming’ accompanied by the (though very complex) fretless bass noodling of Arran McSporran arrives as expected, neither shocking nor adding any particular dynamic embellishment to the song – or series of hooks to overly distinguish the tracks from each other, Kingdom Of The Blind competently passes by with its contorted mesh of riffs, overlaid with some Gregor Mackintosh-esque leads.

With touches of (very) early My Dying Bride in their more death metalling moments, and with more than a nod to the excellent Disincarnate and legendary Death (natch), De Profundis have turned in a decent, if safe, slab of progressive death metal that doesn’t reach the levels promised by its’ predecessor. Expectation can be a bugger, hey?

 

6.5/10

 

STEVE TOVEY

A Therapy For Pain – Gregor Mackintosh of Vallenfyre

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Born as an outlet for grief at the tragic passing of his father John Robert Mackintosh, Vallenfyre’s first album A Fragile King (Century Media) was Gregor Mackintosh’s way of coping with the horror of losing a parent to cancer. The resulting album saw Mackintosh returning to his roots melding a love of grindcore, crust punk and doom to frightening effect, all ably assisted by the likes of My Dying Bride’s Hamish Glencross, Doom/Extinction of Mankind bassist Scoot, Paradise Lost band mate Adrian Earlandsson and hometown pal Mully on guitar. Fast forward three years, the band has been touring delivering many impressive performances, not least last years Damnation Festival in Leeds where they turned in a face melting performance. Ever the busy man, Gregor was taking time out writing for the new Paradise Lost record when Ghost Cult caught up with the amiable Yorkshireman to talk about coping with loss, addiction and new album Splinters.

 

Due to commitments with their other projects, there was some doubt over whether a new record was on the cards but one listen to the bleak and visceral follow-up should put paid to any idea of a sophomore slump. “I knew after the first record when we did a smattering of festivals and then left it. After I bumped into the rest of the guys we then talked about doing a second record. The whole point of doing this album is to better the first. I wanted everything to be bigger on this album. We wanted the shorter aggressive songs to be more violent and the doom parts to be more extreme. Everything is slower, faster and angrier. I think we have really tried to develop our own sound on this album rather than just turn out a retro sounding death metal record.”

 

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Indeed while Vallenfyre’s music takes influence from acts like Bolt Thrower, the sound they have developed feels extremely fresh. Perhaps this can be attributed to the band’s core ethos of keeping the music full of groove and power without turning it into a pretentious technical workout. “I think there has been a bit of a void in modern death metal” Greg agreed. “There are some great musicians about but the songwriting is not there. You need hooks no matter what genre you are playing in. I wanted to bring the sounds of punk and death metal I grew up on into a modern setting. The process for writing “A Fragile King” was a really lonely one with me locked inside a room working. It was very difficult and only became enjoyable to do when the rest of the guys got involved. Splinters is a very spontaneous record with elements of all the other bands we are in. We have branched out. It’s almost like a mix tape, you have a six and a half-minute doom metal song followed by a minute of grindcore. We went into the studio and recorded naturally and kept the imperfections in. That’s why we chose Kurt Ballou as a producer as he’s not obsessed with perfection. He really captured our live sound.”

Speaking of uber-producer and Converge guitar player, Greg clearly has nothing but praise for Ballou’s methods. “We’d played some festivals with Converge and we got chatting and hit it off. It took a lot to get us over to Salem (Massachusetts) and I think Century Media were very trusting to let us do that. With Paradise Lost we are always planning everything, but with Vallenfyre we take each day as it comes.”

 

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Splinters will indeed be a record which raises the bar in terms of expectations for this “Supergroup”. The thing that makes this feel so natural is you see how even a veteran metalhead like Greg still enjoys playing in a band with a bunch of friends (Mully is still lovingly referred to as “Mully from the pub”). Despite having to fit around the touring schedule of his main band, Glencross commitments to My Dying Bride and drummer Earlandsson will shortly be getting back into things with his old group At The Gates as there is increased demand for the band to perform more live shows. Thankfully it’s something that’s in the works. “It’s a nightmare to manage. We have a spreadsheet that shows our schedule and it’s rare that we all have the same days off but we will be doing shows where we can. We are doing the Obscene Extreme in the Czech Republic, which I have always wanted to do because I love the concept that there are no headliners and no one is treated differently than the rest. We also have had a US band whom I love and respect offer to take us out with them but that’s an email I received yesterday so I can’t say anything just yet. We want to play and are open to offers.”

A Fragile King was undoubtedly hard-hitting in every sense particularly in the lyrical content. Splinters occupies a different territory which has no particular concept yet the themes of pain, rejection and addiction run rife. ‘Odious Bliss’ is about self-medicating. Things like grief you can never get over and that’s when alcohol and pills become a temptation.” Greg confirms. “I find it very therapeutic to sing about these themes. It allows me to release a lot of emotions. A song like ‘Seed’ is extremely personal and whenever I sing it, I am taken back to the head space I was in when I wrote it. People have asked if it gets difficult to perform these songs night after night which we will do more often but for me it is about connecting with these emotions. All the lyrics behind A Fragile King especially are insanely personal but I thought why not. There are plenty of extreme metal bands that sing about nonsense and fantasy like zombies and cutting people’s heads off. I don’t think many bands are singing about real death in the way we do. It is probably too close to home for some people. We did the gigs with Bolt Thrower which were for the Teenage Cancer Trust and the singer of Benediction was telling me how he related to it and Jo Bench (Bolt Thrower, bassist) was saying the same thing. My brother also had a book published which was about our dad dying but it’s not a sad book. I gave a copy to Jo Bench who has lost her mum and she said she really got a lot from it.” Splinters definitely feels more like a band effort with further influences from both the crust punk movement and the doom metal scene creating a more diverse second platter. “Everyone contributed a bit more this time. In terms of playing I really have to take my hat off to Adrian who has been phenomenal. He puts a jazz feel into the material one minute but then he can still deliver such crushing blast beats!”

On Vallenfyre’s biography Greg fondly recalls his early teens discovering bands like The English Dogs, Conflict and Discharge while simultaneously appreciating the works of Metal acts like Mötorhead and Black Sabbath before tape trading and discovering death metal and grind. Despite the nostalgic feel of this project Vallenfyre are not an act living in the past. “That was such a great time but it is about bringing the special moments from the shoots of the extreme music scene that came through the soil back in the late eighties and early nineties. I wanted to inject that into a record which is relevant today.”

 

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Briefly from there thoughts turn to Greg’s commitments with Paradise Lost. “The plan was to go into the studio in June but we kept getting offers for festivals. The new material is more adventurous than the last two albums. It won’t be what people expect. We have written half the album as of now. It’s important for me to keep PL and Vallenfyre separate and treat them with the respect they deserve. I want to tour separately just because it could be draining touring for both acts. We have done festivals together but that’s it.”

Considering how personal the lyrics of A Fragile King were, many acts would struggle to find ways to match its intensity. While the new album focuses on other issues Greg has no problem with finding yet more hard-hitting issues to discuss. “There are a couple of songs about mental illness and then there are a couple of songs which are more social and talk about how making money is put ahead of people’ feelings. It sounds very wanky when I talk about it” (laughs).

 

The first record was about being despondent and grief-stricken. There is much more anger on this record, it’s so aggressive. I can’t wait to hear what the world thinks of it.”

 

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ROSS BAKER