Paradise Lost are renowned for many reasons, but perhaps the most prominent one is innovation in the face of an ever-shifting musical landscape. Starting out as filthy death metal, their style has quickly morphed through a bewildering variety of genres – from gothic metal to industrial-driven rock, from synth-pop to doom; say what you will about the band, their discography is nothing if not wide-ranging. One of the key turning points was sixth album One Second, which saw Paradise Lost dismiss the gruff gothic metal stylings of the hugely successful Draconian Times, and instead explore piano arrangements on top of a gothic rock foundation. The record drew comparisons to Sisters of Mercy – with whom they toured – and The Cure, and enacted a huge shift in the band’s fanbase. It started off a run of albums which grew further and further from the band’s metal past – Host in particular is a unique and spectacular piece of gloomy doom-pop – and so to this end, the band are honoring One Second’s place in their discography with a reissue on its 20-year-anniversary.
In interview with Broken Amp, vocalist Nick Holmes states, “I think it was a really important album – we kind of went off on a tangent from the last few albums prior to it. It was a very experimental phase for the band for better or for worse, and we’re still doing it, so I wouldn’t change anything we did.” The yearning for change came from within, but had nothing to do with a shift in taste – “We were just tired of the fist-banging kind of stuff – all it was was just metal 24/7, which is alright, but when sometimes it’s nice to have a little break from it.” Nick continues that their music taste hasn’t changed all that much – “We still like the same stuff, really.”
In some regards, it was clear from the get-go that the dirty doomy death metal of Lost Paradise and Gothic was never going to be Paradise Lost’s only calling card – the band name allowed for more genre shifting than, say, Necrosadistic Witchcult . “When we were kids, I always said you paint yourself into a corner if you’ve got a real extreme sort of name, so it really was more about the ambiguity of the name [that made us choose it].” For those unaware, Paradise Lost is the name of a epic poem by John Milton, dealing with the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden. As Nick points out, “The poem itself is really dark,” but the way that it ended up in his possession is suspicious. “The book was at my parent’s house and I don’t know how it got there because none of them read, at least beyond Mills and Boon, or whatever my mum read in the 70s.” Whatever the reasoning for them owning this classic, it spawned a band who created music which turned the metal community on its head.
In an interview that guitarist Greg Mackintosh did a few years after One Second was released, he remarked that he had “overestimated the metal community’s open-mindedness.” So given the shifts in said community in the intervening years, is there more open-mindedness nowadays, in their view? Greg shoots it down sharply – “No, not at all! I think Linkin Park are a good example of that!” Considering the backlash to that band’s branching out since their alt-metal days, he makes a fair point. “I think the metal community likes its traditional ways, and I think experimentation in the 90s today would be no different. People like things to remain the same a lot in the metal community; not everybody, but all you’ve got to do is look at a band like Slayer and Motörhead and stuff like that – people like that familiarity.” The experimentation in Paradise Lost is actually a part of their natural routine – “if you’re going to create something and you have to play it every day… it’s kind of like working on a production line for a band – I think you need to keep it fresh for yourself.”
As a further remark of how the band’s experimentation is purely internal, Nick makes a poignant comment regarding the landscape within Paradise Lost are operating – “The musical climate changes all the time and you can never pre-empt it. Our Draconian Times album, that was very successful, but had it come out three years earlier or three years later it might have been a different story. So I think it’s best not to try and pre-empt these things.”
On a lighter note, we also had to discuss the band’s intriguing choice of covers – which unveils some interesting tidbits about the Paradise Lost mindset. Their most famous cover is of ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat – a pop anthem. Here’s where Nick and Greg’s tastes differ – “The Bronski Beat one I think is actually a very good song, but Greg didn’t want to do it. But when we did a bit of a demo it sounded like it could be quite good.” Greg quickly snipes back that Nick looked like Bronski Beat vocalist Jimmy Somerville, which provokes heaps of laughter. What is also a revelation is that Devin Townsend adds screaming vocals to the track, which “lifts it a bit, because I can’t scream like that. We didn’t actually know him when he did that – he did it as a favour for us via another friend, Rhys Fulber. The cover is actually a bit tongue in cheek, because it’s so opposite to what the band is about, I suppose, music style-wise.” Conversely, of ‘Missing’ by Everything but the Girl is “a really dark song, very melancholic,” so their cover “fits in more with what Paradise Lost is about.”
The experimentation of the band’s sound has also led to their songwriting techniques changing over years. Greg shares, “We wanted a more intuitive way of song-writing, something that sped it up, and I came up with this thing where I just had to send Nick a little bit of music, he’d sing as many different musical styles over the top of this as possible, and try and get maybe between five and ten different styles of vocal over the top, and then get it back and then strip all the way again and use those vocals as building blocks, and build the song in the same way as a jigsaw, really.” It’s clearly worked out well for the band, as their recent releases have sounded fresh – even when exploring genres they played previously. “I’m surprised I’ve never thought of doing it before, really – I don’t know if other bands write like that, but prior to that, I was coming up with the full song, giving it to Nick and then he had to put the vocals on and that was that. But it’s very time consuming that way.” The person who inspired the shift in technique was David Bowie – “He used to write a lot of words down and cut them up, and throw them on the floor, and then put them together in totally random structures, and I thought that would be a good way to approach the musical side of song-writing as well, or just the lyrical side.”
This discussion of changing technique brings us up to the present – Paradise Lost have finished their fifteenth new album Medusa, and the band hinted that the direction is inspired by the track ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ on previous record The Plague Within. This track is notable as possibly the most brutal, doom-driven track the band have done since those Gothic days – Nick’s returns to growls a welcome one which adds extra punch to the song. “That was the last song that we wrote on the last album and it turned out really great – better than we thought it would – and we really enjoy playing it live as well – we’ve even closed the set with it a few times. It just made me really want to explore almost a full album of that type of material. That was the catalyst for writing all the new material.” It’s been refreshing returning to this previous style with new eyes – “It’s something we haven’t really done in any vast quantity for a long time so it’s nice to play again – it’s quite exciting as well. Also with all the songs were written with playing live in mind as well – we didn’t really want to do an album with songs that we perhaps couldn’t pull off live. But I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction when Medusa is released!” We cannot wait to hear it.
Our thanks to Nick Holmes and Greg Mackintosh for their time, and Simon Glacken for the opportunity. One Second’s 20-year-anniversary edition comes out July 14 via Music For Nations, go here for pre-orders. Medusa comes out September 1 via Nuclear Blast. You can find Paradise Lost on their website here and Facebook here.
1. As of publication, not an actual band name.