photo credit: Paul Harries
Recently revealed as the new vocalist of death metal supergroup Bloodbath, Nick Holmes looks to fill an impressively tall order by replacing former vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth. Much like Åkerfeldt, Holmes has steered the sound of his primary band, the hugely influential Paradise Lost, away from the band’s earlier sound much to the equal delight and derision of fans and critics alike. For Holmes the distinction makes sense as a kind of departure from potential stagnation and a constant desire to create something new and exciting for himself and for his bands. Bloodbath’s upcoming Grand Morbid Funeral will herald the return of one of death metal’s finest acts, only now with Holmes at the helm in a role that provides an exciting musical contrast for the vocalist as he revealed in SfB’s recent conversation with him.
After several months of anticipation and speculation, you’ve been announced as the new vocalist for Bloodbath. What led up to that decision from both sides?
We were touring the States with Katatonia and Devin Townsend, I think it was about 2011, and the guys asked me if I wanted to do the vocals then. I don’t think Mike had officially announced that he was leaving at that point, but they asked me, and at that time I kinda thought they were joking. I know they’re fans of the old Paradise Lost material. But I had quite a long time to think about it, so in the last year or so I was chatting with my friend, and he said, “You should do it. You’d be mad not to do it.” And I thought well, yeah…you’re right. So here we are. [Laughs]
Now obviously Bloodbath is a completely different animal than Paradise Lost in terms of what each band demands from you creatively and even aesthetically. What’s that disparity from your perspective?
Even though it’s sort of all under the umbrella of heavy metal they are, like you said, completely mirror opposites. That in itself is interesting for me because it’s not even close to what PL does, so it’s quite exciting to approach songs that are quite a bit more extreme in every single element than what Paradise Lost is. I think if it was kind of more close to what we did in PL it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting to attempt it. It’s the fact that it is so different is what I like about it.
It’s definitely interesting from the perspective that you’ve got two opposing sound ranges just from a vocal standpoint. Is the creative approach between the two something that’s also distinctive?
Well, the majority of the album was already written anyway. About 85% of the album was already written before I came along, and I mean completely written. I’ve just kind of seen everyone else’s stuff, which in itself is quite interesting to me because I’ve never really done that. I’ve always been the songwriter in Paradise Lost, so it was quite exciting to just listen to someone else’s take on the vocals or on where I should sing or shouldn’t sing. That whole aspect was fun to do, really.
Heavy music is something you’ve been involved in since you were seventeen. What was the draw for you initially to come to this music or music in general?
It was quite a typical thing, really. I got in metal music when I started listening to Iron Maiden around 1981 or 1982. After that it just blew me away. It was something that stuck with me forever. Obviously then I got into more extreme stuff like Venom and Metallica in the 1980s, and then eventually I met like-minded people. I got really into the underground death metal scene because there wasn’t really vinyl, there was only tape trading. We had to trade tapes, and it just felt like ours. We traded tapes with people around the world, and it was our thing, and it wasn’t big or commercial. There was no vinyl, it was just word of mouth, and it was kind of real fun to do all the tape trading and things. A lot of my friends in other bands come from the same beginnings. Barney from Napalm Death for example, he also started out like that. I used to trade tapes with Barney in the 80s. It was purely a love of music and nothing else.
Was there a band or artist for you initially where there was a moment of clarity for you where you knew this was what you had to do?
It’s gotta be Metallica. I was a massive fan of Maiden as well and the first two Maiden albums I just played so much, but it’s gotta be Metallica and especially the Ride the Lightning album. I played that so much. I was obsessed with it. Such a heavy thing, and I’d never heard anything like it before. It was such an exciting feeling. I was just like “Wow! This is insane!” It was one of those rare moments that I think you probably don’t get that often in your life where you’re genuinely blown away by something. I went back to Kill ‘Em All after that and of course the other classics as well, but that album particularly absolutely blew me away. When I heard “Fight Fire With Fire” for the first time I was like “Oh my god!” It still sounds good.
From your point of view, how has that culture, the metal culture, changed since those tape trading days in the 80s where it felt like it was yours?
I mean, everything is sort of different. The Internet is sort of a complete double-edge sword. People are bombarded with things, and it’s so difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s like a mirror opposite of what it was when we were teenagers. There was so much mystery behind the music and the musicians, and nowadays you can see Danzig buying cat litter. [Laughs] It kind of sucks now. But again, you have to roll with the times. This is how it is now with the metal scene, and it’s the same with everything. I think it’s hard for younger people now to find really good bands because they are so bombarded it tends to make things very disposable. I have teenage kids, and I know this better than anybody because my kids don’t like things longer than like three months.
It definitely presents an interesting sorting obstacle where instead of having to pick through ten doom bands, you’re having to pick through a hundred.
It’s always kind of the “next big thing” and the hype blows everything out of proportion. I mean, I’ve never liked bands based on any hype. I don’t care if you sell one record or a million albums, it makes no difference to me whether I like it or not. Simple as that. Speaking for my children, they really kind of go by what’s trendy and that’s all that seems to matter these days. It’s not necessarily how it should be. [Laughs]
It’s been fascinating to watch underground metal gradually break the surface of mainstream media and open up to a wider audience because of the Internet. People who might not have otherwise heard of these great bands are finally afforded that opportunity.
Metal music was always the villain when I was a kid, and that’s why I liked it. It was appealing. It was like the bad guy. Nowadays it’s kind of more like rock music. It’s developed that persona now, and that seems more exciting perhaps to some people. I think when they play metal soundtracks on films, that’s when things become a lot more accessible as well.
Is that something you see as a sort of paradigm shift for metal when the draw is no longer that “bad guy” or extreme aesthetic but simply an association with culture or some pop culture reference point? Does that change the dynamic of the genre?
I guess it does, yeah. But it’s a temporary thing until it goes underground again, and then it becomes exciting again. Everything goes around in circles, y’know? Everything. If you live long enough you’ll see everything go back round again. Within metal music I’ve seen so much come and go. [Laughs] I think the biggest shift was with the grunge scene. That kind of changed everything more than I’ve seen anything else change, maybe apart from Metallica with thrash metal. But I think grunge really changed things. Even now I think it’s still changing things. For me that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen. Things go underground and they come back again. It’s the circle of life to quote Elton John. [Laughs]
Specifically with Paradise Lost and doom metal, even that genre has undergone changes with regards to how it’s evolved and what new bands are bringing to the table thanks to what you helped pioneer.
It’s funny, actually. I really like Pallbearer. Obviously there’s a lot of bands I hear, but they really grabbed ahold of me. They kind of remind me of the old Trouble sound. I don’t know what it is – maybe the production, but there’s something about them that kind of ticks the box. It could be something that sounds like what struck me as a teenager, but I really like their new album.
I think a great deal of their success musically comes from being melodically savvy and knowing how to use various threads of that without arbitrarily jamming it into a song solely for hook value. Other metal bands have done this as well, and it’s nothing new of course, but when executed well it’s incredibly compelling.
I think a lot of the nü-metal bands, and I hated a lot of that stuff, but they kind of toyed with the really extreme sound and then they’d put in like a melodic chorus. It’s the same as the hip hop and rap stuff. They’ll put a girl singing a nice melody right in the middle of everything else. Everyone just identifies with that melody first, and then they get into the rest of it gradually. It’s kind of like brainwashing. [Laughs] It seems to work.
Going back to your beginnings, Nick, I’m curious as to how you’ve seen yourself evolve since 1988 with Paradise Lost’s genesis?
As individuals, and I’ll say this for the rest of the guys in the band, but I don’t know that anyone’s particularly changed all that much. Just being involved in music keeps you young anyway. Even if your face is decrepit at least your mind is young. [Laughs] I do think there’s some positivity in that. From a writing aspect and all of that, I don’t really feel that different when I write songs. My life’s changed considerably I guess, and obviously you’ve had a lot of births and deaths by the time you get to 40, but I don’t feel that differently really. I could probably say the same for the other guys as well. We still take the piss out of each other like we used to when we were teenagers. Not a lot has changed really. A lot of my old school friends who got jobs and everything look sort of old now and they talk old, so maybe there’s something for this. [Laughs]
Do you see being a parent and even aging itself as informing your own creative process in certain ways just given the nature of doom and that kind of constant confrontation with mortality?
I guess so. I think I was more worried about dying and death when I was younger, though. It used to worry me a lot more. When I got to 40 I kind of turned a corner, really. I hated the word “forty” just so much when it happened, but now it just doesn’t matter. I also think kids sort of change your outlook on life as well. No matter what happens you’re leaving something behind, and that itself is a bit of a comforting feeling, for selfish reasons I guess but still. [Laughs] It’s still something that makes me personally feel better about it. I don’t think nearly as much about death anymore. In my twenties and thirties I was terrible about it. It was really bad, but I used to have a lot of hangovers then too, though, which didn’t help. [Laughs]