Paradise Lost have been Yorkshire’s biggest metal export for the last 20 years. In October, they will unleash ‘Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us’, an album that mixes uncompromising darkness with blistering power. Recently we had a chat with guitarist Greg Mackintosh about the themes and ideas behind the new album alongside his take on the Northern scene and the music industry as a whole.
“This new record doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out there”
S] How did you enjoy the set at Sonisphere?
G] It was pretty weird doing ‘the breakfast shift’ and I have never played that early before in my life so it is kind of weird having three pints of beer and a Jack Daniels for breakfast and then going straight on stage. It was very strange. For that time of day, and for that amount of people to be there – I really thought the gig was cool. It was nice for us to be asked to do it. I know we were kind of a late edition. It’s always great to do the UK festivals though.
S] Can you explain the inspiration behind two of the new tracks, ‘As Horizons End’ and also, ‘Last Regret’ ?
G] Well, on ‘As Horizons End’ we were trying to do a song that was very foreboding. It might sound weird to you but there’s a part on ‘Jason And The Argonauts‘ where there’s this huge gold statue that comes from around the corner and then there’s this huge trumpet noise that happens, so we wanted to create that kind of thing, or like a thunderstorm or something but set it to music. We tried to make this album as heavy as possible but not in the American way where it’s all compressed and in your face. We wanted it to still sound very open and alive. We didn’t want it to lose any melody because it was so down-tuned. ‘Last Regret’ is one of the more ballad-like tracks on the album. There’s a couple on there like the final track and also ‘Last Regret’ that are not necessarily real ballads but they are certainly not as aggressive as the other songs – it’s probably one of the more doom metal ones.
S] Though it’s been said the album’s not a concept album – for you personally, is there a message and meaning behind it?
G] I think the producer of the record Jens Bogren has done a great job on the production. For me this new record doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out there at the minute which is great for us because it still makes us feel relevant and like we are filling a gap in the metal scene somewhere. It feels like a bit of a dichotomy but on this album we tried to create this almost church-like feel. I mean, apart from all the various rock and metal influences on there, there are influences from stuff like Gregorian chants, choral music and even hymns. The reason we called the album, ‘Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us’ is because it’s a very atheist title and we are atheists naturally but the artwork and music is quite heavily inspired by religious themes. So, we thought it was ironic that we have a title like that and yet the music has religious influences. There are lots of different topics on the album, it’s not about religion or anti-religion or things like that. It’s just one of many topics on there.
S] There are little flashes of your diversity on the new album with a little synth but it’s a predominantly metal album – was that something you consciously went for on the new album, to try and blend all the various styles and genres you have used previously but record a much heavier record?
G] No, there wasn’t really any ideas to put aspects of previous albums in. I mean, we’re never going to get one million miles away from what we did with our original demos because it’s always been the same four guys playing, and we have a certain way of writing songs. It took two years to write this album, and while I was writing I was having a very nostalgic time with my record collection. In the last couple of years I’ve actually brought a vinyl player and gone through all of my old records. As a result there are a lot of influences on the new album from when I first got into this type of music. So, I think that will come through. I guess that influenced our early material too, so there are going to be flashes of the attitude from some of our early albums like ‘Gothic’ or ‘Shades Of God’.
S] Your doing a massive tour next month – what are you looking forward to most about taking the new material out on the road?
G] We’re actually in talks with a guy at the minute who we have known for a number of years. He’s done lighting for the band Samael and they always have great lighting. We’re talking about taking projections out this time and having these visuals that centre on the artwork that we have for the album. We really want to try and convey the feel of the album live. It’s a great sounding record but we have got to pull it off live. All through this month we are going to be rehearsing this stuff to try and put it all together and get a great show out of it. It’s going to be a long one, so we have to be pretty well prepared for it.
S] How do you enjoy touring now after 20 years together?
G] I find it much easier now than I ever did before really because we’re very comfortable with each other’s company and we know when to leave each other alone. When I was younger I used to torture myself about being away from home and my family and friends and now it’s just part of life and it doesn’t bother me as much. Plus, because of the internet now we can talk to our kids if we want wherever we are in the world, so that makes it easier. As far as touring on the whole goes, it really depends. I mean, I don’t particularly like a lot of the travelling, especially if we fly because it’s so boring but the actual playing element, of course that’s always great and if we have a great gig then that really is a great feeling that we can’t replace with anything else. Being away from home is the only bad bit really, but so long as we are fed and watered and can get enough sleep, it’s not a bad job to be doing.
S] What does recording with Paradise Lost mean to you and how has that developed over the course of your career, is it a cathartic process, where you can get certain demons or issues out?
G] Absolutely, I mean we started it as a hobby where we would just get together in a rehearsal room every Saturday we would bang out some really bad songs and then we’d record them on tape and go get drunk. It was just a hobby and to me it still is. The whole point of being in a band for a living is job satisfaction really so I wouldn’t record anything that I wasn’t one hundred per cent into. So, for the people that don’t like certain parts of our back catalogue, that’s understandable but we’re not writing for you, we are writing for us because we enjoy doing it. I guess we wouldn’t have been able to do a heavy album as convincingly and as passionately as this new one if we hadn’t diverted a little bit in the past.
S] Can you tell us about one of the best moments you had working with Jens Bogren?
G] He works really hard. I mean the whole process was very different to what we are used to. Every time we have recorded an album previously, we would maybe start at two in the afternoon and work until two in the morning. With Jens, he liked to start work at eight in the morning and then work until six. It really was very odd for us to do it that way. He’s such a perfectionist as well which is very hard work but the results speak for themselves and I think he’s at the top of his game. I mean, recently I have seen emails from Monty Connor who runs Roadrunner Records saying that he’s heard our new album and he wants Jens for some of his new American bands. So, I think Jens is going to be really big in a few years. I have to say though, the recording process really wasn’t that much fun because we were in the middle of nowhere it was a cold Swedish winter and there wasn’t even a pub nearby. It was a bit like ‘The Shining’ but with four guys instead of one. Of course I’d do it again after hearing the end result, it was just something that was very different for us. I would love to work with Jens again.
S] How do you think that this album represents Paradise Lost in 2009?
G] I think you can tell with this album that it’s a seasoned band that’s written it and not a new act. I also think that the energy that you get from the sound of the record is very good. It’s quite a depressing record but it’s also uplifting at the same time if you are into that kind of music. Like I said, I don’t think there’s very much out there that sounds like this at the moment so hopefully this will be a very relevant album in the metal scene over the next year or so. You can never set your expectations too high because you never know what’s around the corner. I mean, people might not like it but that’s something you really cannot worry about when you are writing and recording. You’ve just got to write to the best of your ability and as passionately as possible, and hope that people like it.
S] Do you have a song on the new record that is a particular favourite or that resonates with you?
G] I like all the songs because each one gives a different mood off. There’s one towards the end of the album called ‘Universal Dream’. That track is very inspired by classic metal and rock and it reminds me of when I began going into rock clubs as a kid and so it gives me a very nostalgic feeling. But I would say the second track on the album called ‘I Remain’ is one of the best tracks on the album and one of the best we’ve written for a long time, it’s just got everything. I don’t think there’s any singles on the album though. I mean we told Century Media before we even brought the album that we wouldn’t be bothering with singles anymore because we didn’t want to have it our heads that we had to write one because then it changes the song writing process. In my opinion it makes for sub-standard songs and I’d rather write a really strong album.
S] Obviously we are based in the north and we are so used to hearing that everything’s based down in London – what’s your opinion on the northern music scene, are you proud or disappointed with it at the moment?
G] The only thing that disappoints me is in the UK as a whole. There are not really enough outlets press-wise, in radio, TV or in magazines that actually play and show what they want. Everything seems just a little bit too controlled. Everybody prints, shows and plays the same stuff over and over again. It’s too commercial for my liking. I think in a lot of other countries they’ve got it right where they can play absolutely anything they want and they are not told by people what to play. In other countries they have certain TV channels and a very broad spectrum of magazines whereas in England we have two or three large selling dedicated rock magazines but they all cover the same stuff. It would be nice to have a broad spectrum of mags that cover various sub-genres.
I think with regards to the North, I occasionally go back to where I am from in the Halifax and Bradford area and it seems to be doing okay but I don’t see much of it around East Yorkshire and the Humberside area. I have been to places like Hull a couple of times to see friends’ bands and I don’t think that their following is huge but I think if people put more effort into seeing them then they would thrive more. It seems like there’s a bit of apathy involved on the part of the people that are into this kind of music when it comes to actually going into these places and supporting bands. I mean, there’s probably only one dedicated place for every major city in the UK for rock, whereas there are millions of dance places.
S] Greg, you’ve produced demos for Hull-based band Systemyk in the past, how do you enjoy doing this kind of work separate from playing live in Paradise Lost and will you continue if you have time?
G] It is a time thing. I mean, I don’t really get the time to do these things but it’s something that I quite enjoy doing because it is totally different to the creative process. The great thing about producing demos for other bands and helping them is being able to channel what is special about them but not changing the music in any way. I am a great believer in the idea that you should never try and follow any trends, and you should always stick to what you believe is good. If a band has a strong idea about what they want to be then I think that you should help them channel that and give them a push in the right direction. I think it’s also useful to give some advice on how to handle the industry.
Some bands that approach me always ask, ‘How do we get a record deal?’ and I think they are already on a loser with that kind of attitude because they are thinking about success and sales. It was never like that when we started out. All the bands that we started playing with like Napalm Death and Carcass did it for a hobby too, we never even thought about record deals and never thought about selling a record. You should always do it for the love of it and absolutely do not try and pursue some kind of career because it will affect the way you think about your own music and they way that you write your songs. The advice I would give to anybody is to enjoy what they are doing and to do it to the best of their ability and people will come to them.
S] If you could sit down with one person, dead or alive (it can be anyone dead or alive) who would it be and why?
G] One person that I have always wanted to work with would be Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance. I mean, she has moved on to bigger and better things now working with Hans Zimmer on various film projects, but I just think she’s got such a great insight into melody and the atmosphere that goes into a certain type of music. She might not even be into heavy music but I think she’d really appreciate the quality of song writing and the chord progression of the melody and things like that.
What message do you have for the variety of fans that have supported you not only at Sonisphere this year (where the crowd was very impressive) but for the twenty years you have been together?
G] I am just pleased that people have their own minds because in a lot of other music scenes people get told what to listen to and don’t think for themselves. I just have to say, keep up with that and keep on using your own judgement and don’t be tricked into liking other things because it’s played enough at you. I am just pleased that a scene like that still exists in the UK because now the media and people in the record industry try to hammer metal and Goth music down because they just don’t get it. I mean, I remember when we were on BMG years ago when Simon Cowell was there and he axed the entire rock department just because he didn’t like the music. So with people like that around we have to stick together.
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Check out the electronic press kit for ‘Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us‘ below: