We talk about how he’s managing the pandemic, the new album, and some of the highs and lows of one of the UK’s most legendary doom metal acts. Get all the details below…
Paradise Lost is a band with a long cemented legacy in the gothic metal sound. They’ve been treating us to their sombre, dark music for over 30 years now, and have never been afraid to experiment and grow with each release.
Guitarist Greg Mackintosh provides much of the bands signature sound, and despite his 6th sense for creating miserable guitar melodies, he’s in good spirits speaking from his home as we connect over skype to talk.
OD – Hi Greg, I hope you’ve been keeping well.
GREG – All things considered, I’ve been doing good. Professionally and lifestyle-wise it’s a bit odd. Since the age of 18, I don’t think I’ve had more than 3 weeks where I wasn’t travelling or on a stage somewhere.
It’s odd but I’m trying to be optimistic. I’m trying not to read the news because the government don’t seem to know what’s happening, the medical professionals don’t seem to know what’s happening and the economy seems… fucked [Laughs]. It’s odd that a person like me is trying to be optimistic when everything around is pessimism but you know…
OD – Let’s get to it! The new album ‘Obsidian’ is quite varied. Given your previous album ‘Medusa’ had such firm roots in the death/doom genre, was it a conscious choice to do something more difficult to pigeonhole? Or do you create as you go and see what happens?
GREG – It’s a bit of both. The first part is definitely true because Medusa for us was definitely going to be our full-on doom album. It was quite linear, caveman drums, fuzzy guitars, that was the idea for it!
But then after we’d released that and lived with it and toured it when it came time to write a new record we straight away just for our own enjoyment wanted to do something more varied and eclectic. So that was the initial idea, let’s vary it up a bit.
From that point on we just took it a song at a time. As much as each album is a snapshot of our life at the time, each song is a snapshot of a couple of weeks. So there’s truth to the second part as well, we did take it a step at a time.
When we’d finished recording the album and then listened back to it, we thought; “Ahhh ok, that’s like some kind of musical biography of the band”. That’s not really what we set out to do. It’s just something that happened along the way.
OD – Do you find choosing to shake things up every now and again is what keeps songwriting and gigging exciting all this time?
Greg – I can only speak for myself but I think it’s vitally important in a long career. I have a side project that’s called ‘Strigoi’ that’s ultra-extreme. I finished writing the new Strigoi [listen below] album the day before I moved on to the Paradise Lost album, so that was a breath of fresh air.
There’s always going to be a place in the world for the Iron Maidens, the Slayers and the AC/DCs, but most of the bands that stay the same over long periods of time, I kind of have to question that a little bit. From my point of view, it would be like reading the same book over and over again. I fully expect listeners of Paradise Lost to like some of our stuff and not like other stuff. That’s the whole point.
OD – A few tracks have a strong 80’s goth feel to them, and I’ve seen it mentioned that a few of you have a soft spot for that music. While you’ve certainly touched on elements of goth music before, was it fun to explore and blend the paradise lost sound with something so distinctly of that era?
Greg – What I was thinking through when I was doing those songs that sound fully 80’s out on the album was reminiscing about these old goth clubs that we used to go to. They weren’t strictly goth clubs actually, there was a place called Adam and Eve’s in Leeds we used to go to. I think it was around ’85 when I was 15 years old, and I was a punk at the time, so I had this Mohican. And there was a punk corner in this club, there was a rock/metal corner and there was a goth corner.
You’d get a goth song and all the goths would rush to the dancefloor, then a punk song would play and you’d get all the punks would run on and start pushing each other about, and this would continue all night. Although I was brought up with punk, all those styles of music became vitally important in moulding me.
I went through a real reminiscing of the goth part when writing a few of those songs. Not trying to bring it back to life because I realise that some of it hasn’t held up very well and a lot of that scene completely died out, especially in the UK. For me, it was about what I find endearing about it. Especially on a track like ‘Ghosts’. Some of it is very bass and drum orientated, which is somewhat the opposite of lots of metal and punk. The guitars were just the sprinkles on top to create some textures and layers. It’s something that I always found interesting about that style of music and I thought would lend itself to parts of this record.
OD – I’ve seen it said that ‘Fall from Grace’ was the first track written for the new record, and that often your writing process begins by picking up where you left off with the last album. Was there a specific song or point in the writing process where you could feel the identity of ‘Obsidian’ start to take shape?
GREG – Even during the writing of ‘Fall from Grace’, I could feel a shift. Which is strange to say because when I wrote the first couple of riffs for that song it was very much in the vein of ‘Medusa’. As the song took shape and we started arranging it and jigsawing the different parts together, it started to shift into something else.
That’s why the song itself sounds like this stepping stone somewhere between ‘Medusa’ and ‘Obsidian’. I can’t remember which song came second, but I know it shifted there and started to move in different directions.
OD – Any song in particular from the new album that you personally enjoy most, or are excited to debut live?
GREG – I generally enjoy the real slow stuff the best, I always have. But I’d have to say I also like polarizing songs that test people a little, songs that are a little different, and I think the opening track ‘Darker Thoughts’ does that.
OD – It’s certainly a surprise from you guys…
GREG – Depending on your outlook on music it either lulls you into a false sense of security, or it makes you think ‘what the hell is going on? Is this Fleetwood Mac not Paradise Lost?’. It was for that reason that we knew that song had to be first on the record, it couldn’t go anywhere else!
OD – Given the huge resurgence in vinyl over the last few years, do you savour getting to create a more complete visual experience to match the music of the album?
GREG – Coming from the generation that we do, it’s all about that packaging for us. It’s as important as the music, and we spend as long… sometimes longer depending on the album [Laughing] working out what we want it to say and how we want it to tie into the music. I’ll give you an example, with Medusa being quite a linear and aggressive statement of an album, that’s what the cover is… it’s very simple.
It’s a very straight forward, in your face statement really. With Obsidian, as the album came together we realised that it was becoming a more introspective and reflective album, with lots of different sides to it, and when we came up with the title Obsidian we were thinking about the connotations of that. It threw us down this path that had different metaphors within it and could be interpreted in many ways.
There is a common thread throughout the album and the artwork ties into that, and that usually happens on every album that we do, if we can do it. I think it works really well on this one.
OD – Unfortunately live music is not something we can think about for the foreseeable future. But with such a varied career it must become hard to choose a setlist that represents the band as a whole, how do you go about it?
GREG – Well, Nick [Holmes], our vocalist, always chooses the setlists, and then we discuss it. There are usually only two or three changes from what he draughts. It’s different for every gig. Partly because we have a lot of stuff to choose from, and partly because we play in different environments, or whatever we feel like at that moment in time.
The last interview I did the guy said he saw us at Eindhoven Metal Meeting last year, and he said it was a full-on, Death Metal bill. We played a song called ‘Isolate’ which is very upbeat and has electronics on it. You would imagine everyone booing, but it went down a storm.
Conversely, if we’re playing something that’s far bigger and more mainstream, we’ll play something like ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ which is a 7-minute doom metal track. We just like to shake it up a bit. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but more often than not you’ll find that people are glad of a reprieve, you know?
OD – Absolutely! Obsidian is your second album with the label Nuclear Blast, how has your experience been with the label so far?
GREG – It’s actually been great! Century Media were also very good. The only reason we left Century Media was that they were taken over by Sony at the exact time that they were trying to sign us for another record. Most of the people who were working there were getting the sack. We didn’t want to deal with corporate Sony guys that we didn’t know.
Nuclear Blast is very similar to how Century Media was before the Sony takeover. It’s a lot of people who know the music, know which magazines and websites to target. They know it inside out and many of them are fans. If they’re not a fan of the band they are of different sub-genres of metal, and that does help a lot.
We’ve been on major labels, a couple of times in our career. EMI and BMG to name a couple. You realise how lost you get and how much you feel like things are taken out of your hands when people don’t really fully understand your point of view. Nuclear Blast are very easy to get along with.
Bizarrely, in the last year, Nuclear Blast sold a lot of their company to someone else, but instead of getting corporate guys in, most of the old people from Century Media are in.
Check out the official video for ‘Darker Thoughts‘ below;
OD – So you’ve come full circle in a way?
GREG – Yeah! On Obsidian we’ve been working with pretty much the same people we were working with on ‘The Plague Within’ with Century Media.
OD – Speaking of EMI, I’ve heard you had a difficult relationship, full of pressure, expectations and compromise. Would you care to comment on that?
GREG – To use a quote ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ (chuckles). We really did live life to it’s full-on EMI and on their dollar. We were taking private jets places, we were drinking… I don’t even like cognac but we were drinking the best cognac you could drink. I was even smoking, I smoked cigars and I hate them… I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life. It was absolutely the epitome of taking the piss. [Laughs]
But we kind of did that as a result of feeling like we were not being taken seriously or… being a little fish in a big sea. When you feel like your album has become a tax write off for Robbie Williams’ latest release, and you’ve got these huge expense accounts then we’re going to take the piss.
So, it was a great time to some degree, but then the sheen wore off. For instance, we did an album called ‘Host’ and it was immense fun. We hired out Jane Seymour’s mansion on the south coast, and built a studio in it! Why we couldn’t have just gone to a studio I don’t know. So we did that and we lived there for a while.
We had a great time and did all these weird press trips everywhere. Then along came the turn of the century, ‘Believe in Nothing’ our second album for EMI came, and they realised what was going on [laughs]. They put a tight leash on us. Both financially and creatively, and it all came crashing down. It resulted in one big hangover really, and a big lesson for the future you know? It made us cynical for a long time.
OD – I can imagine… it can’t have been easy to be so restricted.
GREG – It took us a long time to regain our focus… years in fact… to get our passion back I guess.
OD – No doubt it had its share of strange moments.
GREG – You get surreal moments. I remember on the promotion of ‘Host’ we were flown in somewhere. When we arrived we were told that we would be travelling around with this huge arctic truck, with visuals of the ‘Host’ album all over it. It was basically carrying a cyber café of the time, like the original IMAX with interactive ‘Host’ things on it.
It was the first time anything like that had been done, and we were travelling around the country with it. It was just the most… stupid and far from Paradise Lost thing that they could have possibly dreamt up and well… it just became this surreal time. Every day our manager was trying to convince us to stay which just became this hugely Spinal Tap thing, you know?
OD – The state of the whole world in lockdown has been a fairly doomy experience for many of us, but at the same time we are spending the extra time indoors enjoying music and other art forms. Have you been binging on any particular music/books/tv show? Or perhaps have you found inspiration to write anything yourself in this time?
GREG – It’s quite interesting because I think the first few weeks of lockdown, I don’t know if any other people felt this but I kind of found it hard to get motivated in any particular direction. This huge wave of apathy came over me. Kind of a shock to the system I suppose.
Gradually over the last few weeks, I’ve been turning that around and tried to turn it into some proactive creativity. I’ve picked up the guitar and been in my studio, trying to think about putting together some new side project stuff. I’ve been reading a lot of books, I love historical books. I’ve also been doing what most people do… far too much Netflix, so much so that I have nothing left to watch.
OD – Having done so much with Paradise Lost over the years, is there anything you’d still love to see the band do or achieve?
GREG – It’s a funny one, I’ve been asked this a few times and I’m always stumped by it. It’s because I don’t have expectations, I’ve never had expectations. I’m the kind of guy that just lives for the 24hrs he’s in. Let me think… what could I possibly want to do…?
It’s not for Paradise Lost but it’s maybe for the scene. I would like to see a resurgence in subculture scenes, like the things I was talking about. For the gothic, punk and rock clubs come back, so we’ve all got a corner again like it used to be in the 80s.
OD – Finally, if you had to pick one of your records to be remembered for (Obsidian excluded), which one would it be, and why?
GREG – I guess it would maybe have to be the ‘Gothic’ album, our second album. Just because it was the first time that we felt like a change was going on for us, something was shifting. Not record sales-wise, but music-wise we felt like we were authors of our own destiny.
Prior to that, we knew we were doing something a little different in the scene we were in because the bands we were playing with were predominantly grindcore, punk and death metal. So even from the off what we were doing was quite different. It wasn’t until the gothic album that we brought those gothic influences in as well. It felt like ‘wow’. We can really do anything we want here. Again, not from a career point of view because that didn’t even enter into it at that point. Just discovering that music can be so expressive.
You don’t have to be part of a scene, you can do what you want. I think that’s led me to Bandcamp these days. I’m constantly trawling it and getting recommendations. The future of extreme music especially is in the underground, like it always was. For some reason, the record labels think it’s in the mainstream. The majority of mainstream metal is trying to sound like itself. It’s just regurgitating, you know? The same old producers, the same old everything. With Bandcamp, you have to wade through a lot of shit, don’t get me wrong, but you find gems.
These bands with that same ‘wow’. It reminds me of those days, it reminds me of that moment when I felt that, and it inspires me to be quite honest.
Paradise Lost ‘Obsidian‘ is out NOW via Nuclear Blast. Order your copy via this link.