“Oh wow, so I’m keeping you up,” Greg Mackintosh exclaims as I mention it’s 10 PM as I’m starting out the interview. I’m very lucky to be speaking with the guitarist of Paradise Lost, and we begin by discussing how their upcoming release Medusa compares with their previous album, The Plague Within.
“I would say the bridging point between the two records would be the song Beneath Broken Earth,” Mackintosh tells me, “which was the last track we actually wrote for The Plague Within, and it’s a big, Doom Metal, epic song. We just loved how that turned out, and loved playing it live. So that was kind of the brief for me, for Medusa, I just wanted to do a full-on Doom Metal record. So that’s how we started writing it. As far as recording it goes, I think we’ve gone for a much more,” he pauses, searching for the right word. “I guess, retro vibe on the record, or,” he shrugs, “That’s probably the wrong word. It’s, I hate using the word in this sense, but ‘organic,’” Mackintosh goes on with a self-deprecating twist to his voice. “But that’s just because we spent so long getting the sounds, and we didn’t really spend a lot of time recording. It took three days to get the drum sounds, and about a day and a half to record all the drums. The same for the guitars, probably about three days to get the guitar sound, and a couple of days to record all the guitars. So we didn’t overthink it, and it’s not edited at all, either. What the mics in the room heard is what you’re hearing. So we definitely went for a more stripped down approach to the recording than we did on The Plague Within, and it’s more of a Doom Metal record. I think it’s less immediate than The Plague Within. The Plague Within opened with a track that was fairly catchy from the off, but this album opens with an eight and a half minute song. Which the label thought we were fairly mad to put first, when we first saw them. But we couldn’t see it anywhere else on the record. And I like how it flows. I just think it’s more of a grower, this record, which is not a bad thing for me.”
Mackinstosh goes on to discuss the diverse influences behind the opening track, The Fearless Sky.
“I’ve always had this thing about church music. Always. Even going way back in our career, I was always trying to create these harmonies on guitar that were emotive of some kind of church music, even though I detest religion. It’s still brought us some fairly interesting things, art and literature and various other things. I just like those church melodies. We didn’t really want to overdo any keyboards on this record, in fact we weren’t going to have any keyboards on the record, but I was messing around with Hammond organs and filters and stuff, and just came up with this strange little intro that sounds very church-esque, but then it leads into this bludgeoningly heavy Doom Metal stuff. The first riff that it opens with is kind of funeral Doom, you couldn’t get much slower if you tried. And then it goes into this hypnotic riff that kind of rotates for a while. So I’m really proud of that song, because usually with songs over maybe five, six minutes, they can get boring. They can get very repetitive, and I think there’s enough going on in that song and it flows well enough that you don’t really notice the length of the track.”
He goes on to explain how so many moods could flow through a single song.
“That was kind of by accident, really. We changed the way we write songs part-way through the last record. Halfway through The Plague Within I came up with this concept for songwriting I’ve never really tried before. I don’t know if other bands use it or not. But the idea came to me because I was reading an article on David Bowie, and he used to write his lyrics by writing his favourite words down, and then cutting them all up into pieces and throwing them on the floor. So he would pick the sentences out of that, in a random fashion. So I thought of a way of doing that with music. I would give a couple of riffs that may or may not end up in the finished song to Nick [Holmes], our vocalist, and then get him to sing as many different styles, as many different melodies, maybe gruff vocals, maybe clean, maybe deep, maybe harmony vocals and send them back to me. And I’d just cut everything up into pieces, and then sporadically put them together like a jigsaw. It’s a really intuitive way of songwriting, really fast. It only took six months to write this record, it usually takes about a year. It’s so intuitive because you can have ten, fifteen versions of a song at any one time, whereas with my old style of writing, I’d have been ploughing away at one version of a song until I got the right feel. So with this style it was so much quicker and more interesting. And then you get these kind of obscure structures that you wouldn’t normally have thought about.”
Another track on the album was resurrected from a 1989 live recording. Mackintosh elaborates, “We played this song live a few times, and at the time it was called Hallowed Ground – this is in 1989. And we played live a few times, we were touring with Bolt Thrower at the time, and it was Carl Willis, the singer of Bolt Thrower’s favourite track that we played. So I was going through some old cassettes while I was writing this new record, Medusa, and I just came across a live tape that had half of that song on it, the first half and not the second half. So I recreated the first half, for the song From the Gallows. The first half, exactly the first half – you can hear where it changes, probably – is from 1989. And then I had to write the second half now and make them gel together, and bring that past element into the now. It was kind of challenging, and I didn’t know if it would work. But then when I gave the finished thing to the rest of the band they were like, ‘Yeah, this is great, this really, really works.’ But to me, because I remember writing the second half, and hearing the first on this old live cassette, it’s very, very prominent to me where the switch is in style, but you probably wouldn’t hear it.”
We move on to discussing the upcoming Australian tour, and what Mackintosh recalls from previous tours.
“We toured once before Soundwave, many years before that. We came over and we brought Cathedral with us, Cathedral supported us. That was ’94 maybe, something like that. We did a couple of weeks, all round. That was a great tour as well, we really enjoyed that. Soundwave was just strange to me, because it was so big and there were so many stages, and when we were back stage it seemed like we were the odd ones out because there were all these guys who were like, had Trilby hats on and neck tattoos,” he chuckles. “All this hipster thing was going on and I thought, ‘Wow, this isn’t the Metal I remember.’ But we had a great time, we had a really good time. Cathedral were on that as well!” he recalls brightly. “One of the last things they did I think, before they split up.”
We come back to discussing Paradise Lost, and what drummer Waltteri Väyrynen brings to the band.
“It’s kind of interesting because he’s obviously from a different generation,” Mackintosh muses, “and one of the big differences I’ve noticed from the old guard Metal drummers, is they’re all very, very good at one style but can’t really diversify too well. With this new style of drummer, who’ve grown up with YouTube and things like that where there’s lots of different styles at any one time they can pick and choose from, his main strength I would say is improvisation, and tasteful improvisation as well. So I think this is most apparent on the second track of Medusa called Gods of Ancient, where a good portion of that song is just him improvising in the studio. He did maybe three takes of the song, and will still just used the entire first take. That’s his big strength to me, diversity of drumming, the way he’s able to improvise between styles.
“I was working with him while I was doing that iterative writing process. I was sending him bits and pieces of music, and he was improvising over it. We just got the job done so quickly, and we were so in synch on what we were doing, there was very little argument over the style or arrangements of any sort, really. We kind of all gelled on it very quickly.”
Drummers aside, Paradise Lost have kept the same line-up since 1988. So what’s their secret?
“There’s a few factors, really,” Mackintosh tell me. “From a musical point of view, it’s that every time we approach writing a new record, we pretend we’re just a brand new band, no baggage, no history, no anything. What music are we into now? That’s it. So it’s that simple, really, that keeps us fresh musically. But as people, I guess it’s, we have a very similar sense of humour, we grew up in very similar circumstances, working class backgrounds in the North of England. Sense of humour I would say is the number one key to it. But another point is we know each other’s boundaries. We’ve known each other a long time, and it’s as much knowing when not to talk to someone as when to talk to them. If you’re spending a lot of time with someone, you have to just know when people need their space.”
So with a musically fresh band and a brand-new album, what is Mackintosh most looking forward to about touring Australia in December?
“It’s been a while since we were there, 2012. And that was on a festival, so we haven’t really done a proper club tour there since ’94, ’95, so it’s going to be interesting. I hope we still have a fan base there. And I hope Medusa goes down well there. We’re really looking forward to it. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the heat, because it’s your Summer there, right in the middle of it. And again being from the North of England, the sun doesn’t appear much here, and that’s the way I like it. So I think it’s going to be a lot of air conditioning and sunblock,” he finishes wryly.
Paradise Lost Australian Tour
Presented by Metropolis Touring and David Roy Williams
Get Your Tickets HERE!