When Mikael Åkerfeldt announced his intention to step down as vocalist of Swedish death metal supergroup titans Bloodbath, we feared the worst. Sure, Åkerfeldt was done with the death growls and was happy wearing lots of corduroy and disappearing down the Prog hole, but the hole he left was still pretty bloody massive.
Then the news came out that his replacement was to be none other than Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes. Suddenly we were more excited about Bloodbath than we thought it was possible to be. Anyone who has ever heard those early PL records knows just what Nick Holmes is capable of when it comes to harsh vocals – Grand Morbid Funeral shows us that he’s lost none of that rub come 2015. Which is why we got him on the phone and asked him to break down just how this whole wonderful hook-up came about.
Nick, let’s start with the most bare bones, obvious, question: how did it come about that you joined Bloodbath?
We were touring with Katatonia in 2011, with Devin Townsend. I’m sort of mates with the guys already anyway, and they just asked if I fancied doing it. Mike had left at that point; I don’t know if he’d officially left but he had decided he didn’t want to do anymore.
I actually thought they were kind of joking at first, it turns out they weren’t so I had three years to get my head around the idea. In the last year, because I was messing around, they discussed perhaps getting someone else, so when they said that I was like “Nah, I’m definitely going to do it!” Another part of the reason is that people didn’t expect me to do it, so that made me want to do it even more,.
Like you say, you spent a couple of years thinking about it. Was it an easy decision in the end?
Yeah, for me death metal was like putting on an old coat. It’s not like it’s something I haven’t done before. I’m completely comfortable with that style of music; I always have been. I’ve always loved it all my life. It might be put away in a drawer for a few years but I can always get it out again.
Speaking of the death metal style… in the early days of Paradise Lost, your vocal style was a lot closer to the style you’re doing on Grand Morbid Funeral. Was that part of the attraction to go back to a vocal style that perhaps doesn’t fit with modern Paradise Lost quite so much?
Nah, it wasn’t really anything to do with that, it was just something completely different to Paradise Lost. Even though we’re under umbrella of heavy metal, it’s so different, musically so far removed from it. It was interesting to delve into that sort of style. It’s nothing to do with the vocal style. The new Paradise Lost material has got death metal elements to it, it’s not like Bloodbath style death metal. Yeah, it was more just something completely different, I think.
Most of the song writing that takes place on Paradise Lost records is collaboration between you and Greg, how were you involved with the songwriting for Grand Morbid Funeral? How was it different from your normal way of working?
I was involved in two songs towards the end of the recording. I worked with Anders on two songs – ‘United Pain’ and ‘Beyond Cremation’ – those are the only two I participated in. Jonas [Renkse, bass] and Anders [Nyström, guitar] wrote everything else between them. They don’t really collaborate between themselves – they do their own songs , the words, the whole thing. Once you get past the initial noise of the album the songs are pretty different I think. That’s down to the individuals writing the songs themselves, completely. It was just the two songs I wrote some lyrics and melody – for want of a better word.
Is it easy to insert yourself into another person’s song like that?
It goes back to what I said originally, I know about death metal. I spent most of my teenage years into this sort of music, I know what it should sound like…. I know what the words should be . I know about this type of music. I wouldn’t say it was particularly challenging, It was just more aggressive than I’m used to. You can have more fun with the lyrics in death metal, There can be plenty of ambiguity, they don’t have to be nailed down, it can just be about general topics, it doesn’t have to have a story That’s one thing, you can have a lot more fun with death metal lyrics.
Were the songs written with you in in mind to add the vocals?. Or was it a case of you adapted to the melodies for those tracks?
Definitely not written for me. Definitely not! The good thing about Jonas, because he sings in Katatonia, he thinks like a singer and he writes singing lines like a singer. Guitarists think differently with singing lines.
When I first heard the songs I wouldn’t have done it like this, but then it’s not me. It’s more interesting to tackle someone else’s ideas. Now when I listen back [to Grand Morbid Funeral], how it’s recorded it makes complete sense to me. You can get stuck in a certain way of writing. It’s interesting to take on board someone else’s perspective. That’s one of the things I liked about doing this album, it’s a total different viewpoint of where the singing line should go… I keep saying melodies, there’s no melodies on there. It’s good to hear it from someone else’s angle.
There’s a level of theatricality that comes with Bloodbath. The last time they played the UK was at Bloodstock couple of years ago,when they were filming that for their DVD so they put a lot of effort into it. With the forthcoming festival circuit… well, next year, when Bloodbath already have some dates penned in is that something that’s going to continue or are you going to strip it back down to a more raw old school death metal performance?
I dunno… For the photo shoot we decided to do something a little bit different. It’s not going to be like Ghost where I have to be wearing that outfit [see the promo photo above] on stage. I’m working on alternative version of that because I’ll probably end up tripping over and fucking killing myself in the pit if I wore that outfit. An element of it perhaps. None of us are particularly into theatrics but as long as it’s fun. None of us want to be pinned down to having to look a certain way. We’ll see. Like I say, I’ll probably try to work on a variation of the grim reaper or whatever the fuck it is.
With the festivals you’ve got next year, are there any plans to do any touring outside of the larger festival shows is that just all that your schedules let…
That’s all we’re looking at for now. Once Katatonia [of which most of Bloodbath are members] have done a new album, they’re hardcore into touring. With Paradise Lost, we don’t go to America that often but when we get going we go a lot. Between both bands, and also Opeth [of whom drummer Martin Axenrot is a current member] as well.. it’s going to be hard to fit in any tour. I’m happy to do festivals, personally to be honest. We’ll see how it goes. It’s more special if we just stick to festivals.
Are you happy with.. I’m trying to think of a way of phrasing this that comes across in the right way… do you think that the impact of joining a band like Bloodbath will reflect into the new Paradise Lost album, as an outlet for things not usually expressed in Paradise Lost or is it something so separate it’s not going to impact at all?
Most of the songs were already written before I agreed to do Bloodbath. We re-recorded some old songs like ‘Our Saviour’ for the singles thing we did recently. I was doing death metal on that. Greg just said “Why don’t we try and mix this with some new stuff?” I mean, when you’ve done 14 albums, and you’ve been around 27 years, you’re constantly looking for new ways to do things.
We’ve incorporated a lot more of that element in the new album, but that’s nothing to do with Bloodbath, it’s kind of alongside it. Maybe with Greg, he’s doing Vallenfyre and he’s writing the music so maybe there’s something there, subconsciously. It’s not like I want it to sound super heavy or super death metal, we’re very much aware of what the band is and what it means to people, it’s not a case of, we’re not going to pretend it’s 1997 again.
Now, I say this in as respectful a way as possible….with Paradise Lost you’ve been around such a long time and you’ve played everywhere, I think it’s fair to say you’re elder statesmen now…
Oh that’s fair enough yeah.
The sheer number of albums you’ve put out, the length of time you’ve been a round it dwarfs most other UK bands, what do you think it is that allowed you to maintain such longevity, and with so little change in your line-up over the years?
It’s funny, I’m actually forgetting how long we’ve been together… I just said 1997 there, but I actually meant 1987. That just shows you how long we’ve been around. I dunno really, we started out as kids, it was an excuse to get pissed on a Saturday afternoon
We used to meet up, get drunk, make a racket and then we’d go to the pub. I was barely 18, I dunno, we started for the right reasons, we were massive fans of this kind of music, we had a common interest in it, we loved the whole lifestyle of it. Still do.
We weren’t pushed together from an advert in a magazine or anything. I think ironically it’s a sense of humour that’s kept us together. We do still laugh at the same stuff. Ironically, I think humour is something that bonds you, not just in band life, in life in general. Humour plays such a huge part in everything – every aspect of life.
Grand Morbid Funeral is released on 17 November 2014 on Peaceville Records. Go buy a copy as it’s bloody incredible.