Published Apr 25, 2012Paradise Lost, as part of the original unholy trinity of UK gothic doom, have a great deal of history to live up to. The band's path forward from those illustrious origins hasn't always been obvious, but it's hard not to respect their tenacity. Nearly 25 years into their career, Paradise Lost demonstrate with Tragic Idol that 13 (as in albums) can be a particularly exquisite number. As much as Nick Holmes represents the easily recognizable face and voice of Paradise Lost, it's the guitar work, especially Greg Mackintosh's leads, that's at the core of the songs' siren irresistibility. Those leads interweave with, and against, Holmes's gruff vocals and the rest of the band's deep rhythmic support until, every so often, the frequencies tap into something primal. Guitarist, founding member and songwriter Greg Mackintosh took a break from family life and rehearsing (with his other metal band, Vallenfyre) to share some thoughts on where Paradise Lost sit with latest album Tragic Idol and how the band got there.
How does Tragic Idol build on what you were doing with Faith Divides Us — Death Unites Us? How would you explain the relationship between these two albums?
Mackintosh: It's a much more straightforward record than the previous one and more melodic. The easiest way to explain would be a baking analogy. Faith Divides would be quite a bitter, dark cake with lots of layers and plenty of icing. Tragic Idol would be a simple, delicious, moist cake with no icing.
In past interviews, you have mentioned religious themes cropping up on Faith Divides Us despite the atheism of the title (and the band). What themes are predominant on Tragic Idol?
While the topics on Tragic Idol aren't drastically different to the previous record, the outlook is. Whereas Faith can be quite detached and angry, Tragic is more personal and reflective. Loss and honesty feature quite heavily on this record.
"Honesty in Death" and the accompanying video seem particularly tragic. How much does the video clip tap into the song and the album's lyrical concerns?
The video is quite a literal representation of the song's theme. It deals with the view that sometimes total honesty doesn't appear until you have lost, or are in danger of losing, those things that are closest to you.
Paradise Lost have often delved into the darker side of human emotions and human nature, sonically as well as lyrically. Would you say the band's interest in dark themes is primarily aesthetic, a form of catharsis or type of social criticism?
It's a collection of all those things. Firstly, I have always loved music, literature and art dealing with the darker side of life. Secondly, I find the darker side of life more inspiring. Lastly, I think I am the kind of person that simply overanalyses things and that can lead to being overly emotional on certain things.
Clearly most bands that last for a significant amount of time evolve in some way, but how that evolution develops isn't always predictable. I'm interested in the underlying influences on, or logic to, Paradise Lost's changes in sound. Why the heavier direction with the most recent releases after going in what seemed like the opposite direction for several years?
I see it as a simple growing process. When we started out, we were quite narrow-minded about music. As we grew older, we were open to more diverse influences and being a full time musician, it's easy to get bored with genres. Gradually the older we got, the circle started to close and we came back around to the music we first fell in love with.
How do you go about turning an idea into a song? I gather that for Paradise Lost, it's somewhat of a democratic process.
It starts with me sending our vocalist some guitar melodies and riffs. He will add some vocal melodies to this and we go backwards and forwards like this until we are happy with a song. Then we present it to the rest of the band and they give us criticism, positive and negative, and we tweak until we are happy.
One of the most appealing things about Paradise Lost's music historically, but especially on the last couple of albums, is the relationship between riffs and leads in the guitar parts. How much conscious thought or intent do you put into this relationship?
I treat the guitar parts more as intertwining melodies. I imagine them as vocal or string lines so that even without any vocals over the top they would still stand up as a solid piece of music.
How much musical training or theory do you draw upon when writing material for Paradise Lost?
I have no musical training; I am self-taught. I just know what I like and I like to mingle differing scales and accepted musical theory into parts and patterns that a classically trained musician may not see as the norm.
Tragic Idol is nearly keyboard-free, but you've used keyboards a great deal in the past. Why not now?
There is one distorted piano part on the opening track for atmosphere, but that's it. I went as far as I wanted to with electronic sounds and I was happy with the orchestration parts that I wrote for some of our records. I just felt it was time to strip Paradise Lost right back to the core; I wanted to find the essence of our sound again with no frills.
How important have those previous keyboard parts been to your sound?
I don't think they were terribly important to the band's sound. I think the way the melodies work and the playing style is the most important thing. I was just experimenting. Some of our songs that were keyboard-heavy over the years are still, in my view, very much Paradise Lost songs. If those keys were replaced with guitars, those songs wouldn't be out of place with the heavier songs.
Why do you think your more electronic-oriented music was some of your most commercially successful or do you prefer not to try to make sense of audiences' listening preferences?
I have no idea what makes music popular or not, and I don't really want to. Most of the music that I listen to would not be classified as popular music. I have no real interest in appealing to people who follow trends.
Do you write with anyone but yourselves in mind?
I never think about anything but what I like when I write a song. Everything else is a compromise.
How do you keep Paradise Lost and Vallenfyre distinct when you're coming up with new music?
It's easy: Vallenfyre are the chaotic, raw outpouring of emotion and Paradise Lost are the focused channelling of the melancholy.
For Tragic Idol, you returned to Chapel studio in England (for a fourth time, after recording the last record in Sweden). What drew you back?
We are very comfortable in that place; we know the studio and area well. It has the right amount of solitude to be able to concentrate, but it is still near enough to places to be able to clear your head from time to time. Plus, the live room is a converted, old chapel.
You have previously worked with Canadian producer Rhys Fulber; how was that experience?
We love Rhys; he is a good friend and talented producer and musician. We just moved on with our music and wanted a different spin on it. The last recording I did with Rhys in his native Vancouver was a great experience that I shall always remember fondly.
What draws you to choose one studio over another (or one producer over another) at a particular time?
It's just what feels right for that particular recording. As far as producers, I like producers that don't try to change the band's sound. There is a big trend in metal to have producers who are essentially bigger than the band. These bands go to these producers to get the producer's signature sound rather than just to hone their sound. Individuality is a rare commodity in metal, unfortunately.
There's a great deal of doom metal seeping into Paradise Lost's most recent material. To what extent do you feel like you're tapping into, reviving or reinventing something from the past?
I have always been a fan of doom metal right from the beginning. Some people do it well and some people miss the point and just sound boring. What we tried to do on this record is mix what we think are the strong points of the doom metal genre with our songwriting style and a more melodic approach.
Paradise Lost are often credited with founding the gothic metal genre and, according to some narratives, co-founding death/doom. To what extent do you still identify with these genres?
I still love a lot of the death/doom stuff, but gothic metal got twisted from what we saw it as when we started. I still see our music as true gothic metal, but if you ask a kid on the street what gothic metal is, they would probably say something like Evanescence or Marilyn Manson, which have nothing much in common with us.
You were among the first extreme bands to incorporate female vocals. What made you bring them in way back when and would you ever do it again?
We used them initially because our vocals were death metal and we needed another texture, as the music was becoming more melodic. I don't know if we would use them again. I'm not against it but I think it has been done to death in the gothic metal genre at the moment.
Was the band name originally from John Milton's epic poem? Does it still feel like it fits?
Yes, it was and I think it fits as well as it ever did. We chose the name because all the bands from the scene we grew up in had very obvious names for the genre and we wanted something a little more diverse.
Paradise Lost are well past their 20th anniversary and most of you have spent a good half of your lives working together. Is the band a bit like a family now? Does that help or hinder your working relationship?
It's probably easier now than it has ever been. We have definitely had our fair share of ups and downs. It's not easy to live alongside people on a tour bus for many years, but you get to know everyone's boundaries and respect them.
Do you feel much of a connection to a broader heavy music "scene"? Considering the proliferation of new bands in recent years, do you ever feel like elder statesmen in the international metal world?
That's tough. I guess we have always been outsiders, to some degree. We just came back from doing the Soundwave festival in Australia and I was quite shocked to discover that out of the 100 or so bands on the bill there were only a handful that I would classify as actual metal bands. Everything is so manufactured or faceless.
How do you see the relationship between the band and their fans?
I think we have a good relationship with our fans. I come from a punk background and have never been comfortable with things like signing sessions, etc. I would rather just walk around and talk to people in a natural way.
What's on the agenda for Paradise Lost in the near (or distant) future?
Near future? Touring and some festivals. Distant future? Probably the extinction of the human race.
What are your main motivations for making, or continuing to make, music?
A genuine obsession with sad, miserable, angry or grim music. Apart from family, it's my life.
Read a review of Tragic Idol here.