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Total Death Exhumed: A Conversation With Nick Holmes of Bloodbath and Paradise Lost

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]

 

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SfB Podcast 018: Kim Kelly

Special guest Kim Kelly of Pitchfork, Wondering Sound, Noisey, NPR, Iron Fist, Terrorizer, and many others, joins the SfB podcast crew to shoot the shit about all things metal, Jersey, and Taylor Swift (maybe). 

Guest(s): 

Kim Kelly (@GrimKim

Contributors:

Erik Highter (@EZSnappin)

Jonathan K Dick (@Jonathan_K_Dick)


Podcast Questions? Email: sfbpodcast@gmail.com

SfB Questions? Email: steelforbrains@gmail.com

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Now Screaming: Urzeit/Akatharsia

On their upcoming split, both Urzeit and Akatharsia manifest those compositional ideals of black metal’s most desolate characteristics. Urzeit’s slow tempo tremolo introduction to their solo track on Side A showcases a careful and deliberate attention by the Portland band to rhythmic detail, allowing the breadth of the minor key dirge to fully envelope the music before transitioning into a quickly paced barrage. Rather than recapitulate the go-to split formula of having two bands perform what’s essentially two separate compositions, Akatharsia’s Side B contribution serves as a kind of separate translation of the split’s central musical theme. Both bands embrace the noisier characteristics of black metal’s frayed and abrasive aesthetic, yet each band’s contribution offers a distinctive sonic perspective of the same void. Black metal’s most recent trending foray into the more melodic and accessible style undoubtedly serves its own purpose of offering a ray of light in what’s continually been a bleak musical landscape with black metal. In contrast to that light, however, there are black metal acts such as Urzeit and Akatharsia who by way of their creative perspectives offer their own singular translation of black metal’s oldest and darkest texts. 

The split will be a 10” limited to 300 copies and independently released by both Urzeit and Akatharsia. Instead of a record jacket, the bands printed the artwork on a 10.25”x”15.5” folder-like sleeve containing artwork from Goya (the front cover) to depict suffering as well as illustrations from Zola’s Germinal and Therese Raquin (on the inside of the sleeve)to portray the human condition, betrayal, and anomie. The split goes up for sale today via both bands respective bandcamps (Urzeit / Akatharsia).

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Abigor: Leytmotif Luzifer

   

AbigorLeytmotif Luzifer

(Avantgarde)

Among the many names given in Johann Weyer’s 16th century appendix on demonology Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, the demon known as Abigor is represented as a Great Duke of Hell. More specifically and more relevant to the Austrian black metal band bearing the same name, the demon perhaps earliest known as Duke Eligos in the Ars Goetia of the Lesser Key of Solomon grimoire is most often represented as an apparitional knight on horseback, symbolizing in many respects a warrior both cunning and deadly. If the connection between the two is lost on those uninterested in archaic Judeo-Christian mythologies, consider the fact that Abigor’s most recent release, Leytmotif Luzifer, wields an identical balance of smart and deadly, working the weapon like an instrument capable of both absolute subtlety and rancor. 

The press release for Leytmotif Luzifer immediately reads with the same kind of Satanic reference points one naturally expects to see in more than just a few of the black metal promos that make their way to the inbox. Half-promoted as the long awaited reunion of Abigor’s original lineup and half-promoted as a carefully constructed liturgical opus to Satan, Leytmotif Luzifer succeeds in the effecting of its thematical and musical purpose, both of which at least to the musicians involved, exist in a tandem kind of chaotic perfection. Anti-cosmic supplications aside, the darkest and most tangible matter for Abigor has long been the distinctive sound to which virtually Abigor’s two primary members can lay claim.

Formed in 1993 by P.K. (guitars/bass) and T.T. (guitars/drums/bass), Abigor’s beginnings were not unlike the narrative for many black metal acts in the early 90s with perhaps the primary distinction being that the band embraced thematic sendups of J. R. R. Tolkien over Satan. That was then, though. Fully embracing the diabolical, Abigor are among a few black metal acts in the history of the genre to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of offering a sound as sinister and evil as the lyrics themselves. While the band’s output over the last few releases has struggled to fully find again the scorching vitriol of earlier releases like 1995’s Nachthymnen (From the Twilight Kingdom), the seven songs here represent a sound that’s as much a return to the strengths of those early records, and a harrowingly exciting look at what lies ahead for one of black metal’s incomparable gems.

The record is free of synthesizer use – a point made all the more cogent since vocalists Silenius and Protector make judicious use of electronic and synthesizer landscapes in their primary band, the inimitable Summoning. Though not technically Abigor’s first vocalist (that title goes to Rune), Silenius provided the final much needed component to what made for the band’s seminal full-length debut with 1994’s Verwüstung/Invoke the Dark Age. Silenius is a daunting vocalist as capable of howling in a mutilated descant as he is in bellowing out the eerily enunciated lyrics in a growled lurch. Silenius’s obvious vocal versatility not only complements the unpredictable music of Abigor, it serves as a kind of call and response between the vocalist himself and the beast of noise surrounding him.

Comprised of seven tracks, all of which represent a marked place of advancement in understanding and at once joining oneself in alliance with Satan. Beginning with “Ego,” Leytmotif Luzifer wastes little time with fearful atmospherics or the glossed over theatrics of what often boils down to an occult bill of goods for so many other bands heralding the gospel of their respective “Dark Lord.” The track is exactly the kind of composition to be expected of black metal, yet it adheres to very little of that genre’s foundational technique. While there’s an admitted bit of eyerolling and even disbelief upon initially reading that this album was “free of any effects” for the stringed instruments, that fact is immediately and unforgivingly apparent within the first few moments of this album.

“Indulgence” echoes every compositional complexity that justifiably garners a band like Deathspell Omega its critical praise, yet it remains entirely a singular and distinctive chapter in an incredibly engaging album. Much of what makes Leytmotif Luzifer so compellingly powerful lies in the band’s rhythmic instinct. The songs twist, they roar, and in their most chilling moments they rest in a kind of horrific unease seconds before searing through the darkness and into another mindbending pathway. Abigor’s battlefield is a seven-track descent into all manner of hell as manifested through music. The band succeeds in this endeavor on every level here because the music is genuinely representative of the unrelenting evil being sold on the cover.

The seven tracks on Leytmotif Luzifer are representative of what black metal can still accomplish given the advantage of its members simply refusing to become awash in the tide of playing it safe. It’s an interesting obstacle for a genre replete with musicians eager to market the Devil but unwilling to offer his presumed message of rebellion and resistance into the actual music itself. The evolution of society and culture demands that those musicians hoping to conjure both fear and resolve within their listeners would do well to enforce that same perspective into their craft. The results can not only be interesting, they can be the culmination of what the seven tracks here accomplish so well. They can be downright brilliant and deadly.

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