Paradise Lost singer Nick Holmes has always had something of the grumpy old man about him. Known to his friends as Moans, he has a black sense of humour and a glass-half-empty demeanour – in keeping with his role as frontman for the UK’s premier gothic metal band. He is the Victor Meldrew of heavy metal.
Formed in Halifax in 1988, Paradise Lost rose in the early 90s with a series of powerful and influential albums including Gothic, Icon and Draconian Times. On late-90s albums One Second and Host the band incorporated electronica into a radically different sound comparable to Depeche Mode. But now, with their fourteenth album, The Plague Within, they have, in part, gone back to their death-metal roots.
Holmes reckons this album is among the best they’ve recorded. But he’ll always find something to moan about – whether it’s hair loss, his teenage daughters, a troublesome vacuum cleaner…
Do you think of this new album as a throwback to the band’s early days?
I feel it’s like a flag-in-the-ground album for us. In the past we’ve had certain albums that set the pace for the next few years. We did that with Icon and then One Second. And this is another. The death-metal element is adding a texture that we haven’t had for a long time, but the album is a mixed bag and it’s better for it.
Before was completed you said: “There’s some songs that could’ve been written in 1989, a couple of really old-school doom/death songs which are gonna surprise people when they hear it.” Is that how it turned out?
I wouldn’t say we’re living in the past. We’ve got to keep moving forward. The album has a loud, modern production. But it’s got a vibe to it – the spirit of the early days. One song, Punishment Through Time, could have been written in the eighties. It sounds like [cult doom metal band] Trouble. You know, what we liked about music when we were teenagers is going to be with us all our lives. So why not tap into that?
One song, Beneath Broken Earth, has the feel of Black Sabbath circa 1970, it’s so slow and heavy.
There’s one drum beat every eight seconds. There’s a term for that kind of thing: funeral doom.
Meaning doom metal at its doomiest?
Yeah, it doesn’t get any doomier [laughs]. But if we had five songs on the album that are doom-laden like that it would be a bit too much.
Is it difficult to play so slow?
Slower than that song it would be. We had another song, and it was so slow you couldn’t time it. And if it gets too slow it just defeats the object. There’s a point where it just gets boring. It’s a thin line.
You’re also singing with a death-metal growl on this album.
It’s the first time I’ve sung like this on a PL album since probably 1993. But recently we re-recorded some really old songs. I did the death metal singing on them, and we got a bit of a vibe from it. It was like all those years had never passed. So Greg [Mackintosh, PL guitarist] said: “Let’s do this with the new album.” I screamed out in horror: “No chance!” But Greg talked me round.
Did it hurt to sing like that again?
It hurt when I did those two old songs. That was nightmare – I hadn’t found my footing with it. But now I’ve regained my technique. You just gargle, really.
You also did a spot of gargling last year on the brilliantly titled album _Grand Morbid Funeral _by death metal supergroup Bloodbath, featuring members of Opeth and Katatonia.
That was fun. It’s a bunch of guys from other bands paying tribute to all the bands we loved growing up – the original death metal bands of the mid-eighties.
And Greg Mackintosh has his own extreme metal side-project, Vallenfyre.
Greg’s been doing that for five years. The last album [2014’s Splinters] is a bit crust-punk. He asked if I fancied singing on it. But if I did that it would end up like PL, so Greg sang it himself. He’s pretty good, too.
As a lyricist, where do you look for inspiration?
We have a PL dictionary. There’s about forty words in it [laughs].
Like a random-word generator of doom metal?
Yeah. But I always count how many times I use certain words, because I start panicking if I think I’m overdoing it. It’s a bit like Dio with his rainbows. He used to say ‘rainbow’ fantastically, didn’t he?
Which words do you keep coming back to?
On the last album it was ‘eyes’. On this album I think it might be ‘darkness’. I use that word a lot.
Beneath Broken Earth is such an evocative title. What does it actually mean?
Everything leads to the end, no matter what you do. The king is death itself. You cannot beat the king.
Are most of the songs generally about death?
No, actually. They’re about looking at life from an aged perspective. I’m a middle-aged father-of-two now. When I was eighteen I looked at life as an angry young kid.
Which music is inspiring to you now?
I have to be in the mood to play music. I associate music with being in a good mood, and I’m not always in a good mood. The last Behemoth album, The Satanist, had a real spirit of the old days. And another great album is Foundations Of Burden by Pallbearer.
How fitting that you would like a band called Pallbearer.
Ha ha. Well, I was going to say it’s not all doom and gloom, but it is really.
And what if you were in the mood for something lighter?
I like Fleetwood Mac. But that’s miserable as well, isn’t it? It’s got a heavy dose of melancholy in it. I also like Lana Del Rey. But her stuff’s miserable as well.
Is your nickname Moans still as apt as it ever was?
Totally. I’m still the same.
What do you moan about these days?
I’ve been moaning about the vacuum cleaner this morning, actually. All my kids have really long hair, and the vacuum cleaner is bunged up with this ball of hair. I have to constantly pull it all out. That’s not a very rock’n’roll moan, is it? I need something more heavy metal to moan about.
There’s not so much hair on your head these days.
My hair looks like an old Action Man’s hair. You know, when they go patchy on top after many years?
But you’ve compensated with a fetching beard.
Yes. Problem is it grows sideways, so it makes me look insane.
What do your kids think of having a heavy metal singer for a dad?
They don’t even think about it. I have two girls, eighteen and fourteen, and they’re not into rock music at all, they just stream dance music.
Are you a strict father?
It’s a totally different world to when I was growing up. Mobile phones changed everything. Now, if I come in and shout at my youngest daughter for not tidying her bedroom she’ll just film me shouting and send it to her friends. I don’t have a say in it. So when you’re telling them off, you don’t know whether they’re doing something on purpose as a set-up. It’s like Jeremy fucking Beadle, constantly. And you can never get too mad, because they just laugh in your face.
And what has all this taught you?
It doesn’t matter how cool you think you are, the kids will make their own minds up. Christ, I sound like an old fart!