As we dash towards the holidays and the end of the year Ghost Cult is feeling good about this season of giving. So we are giving our fans a chance to get to know our partners, peers, and friends from bands in the world of music. They will chime in with some guest blogs, end of year lists, and whatever else is on their minds as we pull the plug on 2015. Today we have Bidi van Drongelen, Dutch booker and manager who has worked with the likes of The Devil’s Blood, Saint Vitus, Ghost, In Solitude and many more. Every year a multitude of his bands get booked at the excellent Roadburn festival, and we have asked him what he feels were the best releases of 2015.
1. Klone – Here Comes The Sun
Great songwriting, amazing vocals, and a crystal clear though heavy production blending prog and post metal.
2. Ghost – Meliora
Ghost has it all to become one of the leading melodic heavy rock bands in the world
3. Bliksem – Gruesome Masterpiece
If you like Metallica’sMaster of Puppets of Death Angel’sACT III….with the a raw female voice like Doro.
4. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
Great atmospheric rock album with the amazing voice of Mlny Parsonsz
5. Tribulation – Children of the Night
Melodies of occult rock like The Devil’s Blood drenched with a satanic black voice which reminds of Satyricon.
6. Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
Refreshing approach of doom & drone. ART with capital A!
7. Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
8. Steak Number Eight – Kosmokoma
9. Melechesh – Enki
10. Enslaved – In Times
11. Clutch – Psychic Warfare
12. Thy Catafalque – Sgurr
13. Amorphis– Under The Red Cloud
14. RAM – Svbversvm
15. BRING ME THE HORIZON– That’s The Spirit
16. Mgła – Excercises In Futility
17. Baroness – Purple
18. Leprous – The Congregation
19. Graveyard – Innocence & Decadence
20. Hangman’s Chair – This Is Not Supposed To Be Positive
For such a modest gent, Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes is one such musician who can remember the glory days of record label advances. Surely Paradise Lost wouldn’t have had access to bountiful excess, but they did indulge their rock star side. “When we started with EMI we hired Jane Seymour’s stately home to stay at while recording. We bought loads of studio equipment and had a chef and everything! It was great. That’s was the benchmark of success for us, you could get a fillet steak whenever you wanted! It was fucking ridiculous when I think about it but there was money in the industry and people bought albums! If you think its right or wrong, you get wrapped up in it because you have industry people telling you it would be a good idea. You can enter a different world easily. We did waste money on silly things and spent a fortune on booze! The bar bills were insane! It was a real cliché but we spent a lot of money on booze especially around the Host album!”
“We dipped our toes in the pool of rock stardom but we never plunged in. It was like being Metallica for a day but then it was gone again. Now it’s strict budgets. I remember the first time we went to Israel and did all the tourist stuff and hung out. These days, you’re off stage and on a plane two hours later!”
Having invested Gothic Metal and created a memorable legacy, many bands have come and gone during PL’s career, splitting up and reforming on a whim. Yet Paradise Lost have endured and existed without such issues. “We need to make a living. We forfeited a life doing anything else years ago. We never had the time to have a couple of years off and reassess things. You could count the bands on one hand who could take five years out. You don’t shut down the shop just because you’re fed up.”
Such acclaim for Greg’sVallenfyre project has been well deserved with a spark clearly ignited under Paradise Lost. Surely though at this stage in their career could talk of side projects been a concern to the productivity of Paradise Lost? “I didn’t know what he was doing on his time off. I didn’t know how much he’d got back into death metal. He asked me if I wanted to do the vocals but my head wasn’t in the right place at the time. I didn’t know I’d do it himself. It runs alongside PL fine. I keep missing their shows so I want to catch them.”
Considering Nick’s confession that he could have been a part of Vallenfyre, his involvement in death metal supergroup Bloodbath, were Holmes replaced Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt comes as an even greater surprise. “It was a good two or three years after that. We’d look on the early days of death metal with great fondness. The guys in Katatonia are all four years younger than me, but that was a lot when you were all teenagers. We listed to different generations of death metal. They were listening to Deicide and I was more into the early Death stuff. The tape trading days were a great time, exciting and new. Anything that has happened with PL has been a gradual change. We had written the whole album before I did the Bloodbath stuff and already decided that there would be death metal elements.”
Vallenfyre, by Hillarie Jason
What must it be in a band with the guys from Katatonia, a band who have cited Paradise Lost as an influence? “Half the conversation who can name the most obscure band and who has all the old demo tapes. Jonas is very into that stuff. Bloodbath are weekend warriors, we get on a plane, play a gig then go home. It’s refreshing to play with new people and worked really well for us. Everyone is friends so there’s no negative.”
How Paradise Lost have kept relevant and free of nostalgia. “I never heard the term ‘The Peaceville Three’ until recently. We started before Anathema and My Dying Bride. I think Anathema played their first gig in Liverpool with us. As a band we don’t need to name drop or fit into a scene. We are institutionalised in making music. I’ve blown my chances of being a surgeon long ago. I could write a book but that would be about what I have done with the band. You never know!”
Pleasant, unassuming with an endearingly laugh and a dry wit steeped in self-deprecation and sarcasm. Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes is the complete antithesis of a rock star asshole.
Early spirit in modern setting: “It was about catching the simplicity of how we worked in the early days. There is a temptation to overcomplicate things with technology unnecessarily. I think we have produced albums with lots of layers over the years, and we wanted to take a step back.”
“It was nice to make things a bit simpler and capture the spirit of the old stuff.” Nick recalled. “There was a time when we were on EMI that it was all about writing singles, but we have always been an album band. As soon as you have to think about what is on MTV, it kills it. It’s nice to not worry about that anymore. We just worry about creating an hour of great music not what is going to get more rotation. At the same time we learnt a lot about songwriting. Not everything has to have a verse, bridge and a chorus.”
One moment on the new record which stands out as different is ‘Cry Out’ with it’s almost stoner rock feel. Nick explains how that one came about. “It’s got a more Sabbath vibe but then goes more melancholic. Greg (Mackintosh) has a truck load of those kind of riff but we don’t use them because they sound a bit too happy. It’s straight from the Tony Iommi School of metal.”
The new Paradise Lost material is certainly in the spirit of the hallowed Draconian Times (Music For Nations) era, yet the Yorkshire act has dabbled with electronica and experimented with different styles which has received much criticism from some fans. Much in the way Metallica were for every post Black Album (Electra). Does Nick still stand by all the creative decisions PL have made? “When you start a band you emulate the music your idols play before you find our own sound. I don’t have that much hindsight with our albums because they are a reflection of where we were mentally. Everything we did made sense at the time. Everything that has happened in our own lives has had an impact on this band. It would kill me to make the same records throughout my career that would be so boring. In terms of Host (EMI) if we did it now it would definitely be as a side project. We were really into that stuff at that time so it made sense. I still think it’s one of our strongest albums sonically and has some great songs. One Second (MFN) is our best-selling album but that had a lukewarm response from some areas. Host was too much too soon for some people. We needed a change from the metal thrash mania after touring Icon (MFN) and Draconian Times for so long.”
These days artists changing their style or image can still be controversial to some but back in the nineties this was tantamount to treason! Recalling the reaction to the fan backlash he received at the time, Nick remains proud of the ‘Host’ record while being disarmingly honest when it came to the follow up. “People were outraged that I cut my hair and we wore eyeliner but I wear more eyeliner with Bloodbath than I ever did with PL! I didn’t think Host was weak but Believe In Nothing is a shrug album. We didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going. It’s just as well the internet was in its infancy around the time of ‘Host’ as that would have crashed our forum!”
Over the course of their history, bar the drum stool little changes in line up. Nick spoke about how important it has been to retain such a stable line-up throughout their career. “We all get along. We are all mates and were friends before we started the band. We don’t hang out much outside of band time because we don’t live close to each other now. We came together from a mutual love of music when there was no one who loved extreme music. We still have a great laugh. You can’t get bored when you have thirty years of anecdotes!”
For the longevity of any relationship humour can play a part at keeping things together. This was no different for Nick and his comrades “It’s just how we are. We have similar upbringings and backgrounds. When you’re in a professional band as long as we are it keeps you young. It’s a respite from the rest of life. It takes us away from the horrible stuff. You can go to a gig, get pissed and feel better. We all look decrepit but we’re young in spirit.”
Taking of line-up changes Finnish drummer Waltteri Vayrynen will be filling in for Adrian Earlandsson on the bands UK dates next week. According to Nick, it was an easy choice. “Adrian has been very busy with At The Gates. Waltteri replaced Adrian in Vallenfyre and he’s a big PL fan so it was a great fit. He’s only twenty years old and such a great player for his age. In ten years he will be on the top of his game. People do many different bands, drummers especially. That’s how it is these days.”
The older you get, the more you realise that not only is “growing up” more complicated than you think, it sometimes looks like going back. In the mid-late 90s, bands were tripping over themselves to grow out of Metal – dropping the growled vocals, softening the sound and heading in a more self-consciously “mature” direction. Everything that lives, however, changes (apart from Lemmy), and the road ahead sometimes leads backwards.
When Nick Holmes announced last year that he was joining no-frills old school Death Metal revivalists Bloodbath it seemed to some people to have genuinely come out of nowhere, but the signs had been there if you knew where to look. My Dying Bride were very much ahead of the curve, reintroducing their Death Metal elements mere years after ditching them, but the others were catching up slowly – The King Is Blind, Vallenfyre (featuring PL’s own Gregor Mackintosh) and Bloodbath themselves all being formed by “mature” former Death/Doom Metal musicians. By the time that Paradise Lost – who had been steadily moving back to their heavier roots for the last several albums – announced that Holmes would be growling again on The Plague Within (Century Media), it can only have come as a surprise to people who’d stopped paying attention years ago.
That said, it’s important to start by understanding what The Plague Within is, and more importantly what it isn’t. Even in their demo days, Paradise Lost weren’t Morbid Angel, and this album should be best understood as a partial return to their roots. Ignoring the vocals for a second, the sound here is slick and melodic, the focus very much on big riffs and catchy choruses that most call to mind their Icon or Draconian Times (Music For Nations) periods. Songs explore the slower and faster ends of the mid-pace, but never really indulge in either. “Groovy” is a word that isn’t frequently used to describe Paradise Lost – and it certainly doesn’t fit every track on The Plague Within – but there are moments here where they almost attain mid-period Cathedral levels of swing.
Which is not to suggest that the rumours of their return have been overstated, just that they need to be put in context. The guitars are thicker and heavier than they’ve been in a very long time, and that adds a pleasing weight to even the catchiest of tracks. It’s not all catchy grooves, either – ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ captures the sort of forlorn True Doom grief-pride you’re more likely to associate with Warning or Solstice, and ‘Flesh From Bone’ has a genuine old-school Death Metal rumble that I genuinely never thought I’d hear from Paradise Lost again.
The vocals are the most instant point of focus, and they’re largely well done, shifting between mournful clean singing and the audible dry growl Holmes used so well on the recent Bloodbath.
It goes without saying, of course, that it’s not perfect. They’ve chosen to open proceedings with two of the weaker tracks, leaving the stronger ones to the end where the long running time means they’ve lost some of their impact. The vocals don’t always work – some of the clean singing sounds a little flat, and when Holmes isn’t pushing the full-on growl he sometimes settles for an awkward gruff-singing compromise that sits a little awkwardly. ‘Cry Out’ pushes the groovy-fun-party-Doom thing a little too hard and ends up sitting a little awkwardly on the album. Ultimately, however, The Plague Within is the kind of album that will stand or fall on the quality of the song-writing, and though it’s a bit of a mixed bag, overall they’ve done what they need to make it work.
Not a descent into the darkest bowels of harrowing Death-Doom, then, but expecting it to be would be rather silly. What The Plague Within offers is a sincere, heartfelt amalgam of older influences and current songwriting from a band who have always had the courage to follow their own muse where it leads them, even if it seems to lead them back.