Latest Release: Grand Morbid Funeral (Peaceville / Century Media)
Death metal has continued to change over decades and still has classic sounds that few can either imitate or replicate. Whether it is down to producers, studios or just songwriting techniques, it all depends on the talent driving it initially. Bloodbath is one such band given it consists of members of other established extreme metal bands using it as means to be more creative and pay homage to an old school sound. When Opeth front man Mikael Åkerfeldt was in the band, the profile of Bloodbath grew substantially as Opeth’s success surpassed many other contemporaries. Since leaving, the vocalist slot in Bloodbath has recently been filled by an equally respected metal scene vocalist in the form of Paradise Lost vocalist Nick Holmes. The latest album Grand Morbid Funeral contains some remarkable performances so Loud Online took the opportunity to chat to Nick about Bloodbath and his highly regarded legacy in the unique Paradise Lost.
Of the latest album, one song on there aptly titled ‘My Torturer’ is full on. Did you struggle to take a breath during it and are there many overdubs?
Ah no, ha. The vocal lines are meant to overlap coming in from different angles. That is how I approach that one and it is pretty full on. You have to do some overdubbing for it, it is impossible to not do that. When I first got the song I thought I was going to have to take some words out just so I could purely sing these but then it didn’t sound as good. So we may not do that one live but for the sake of the album it sounded better to overlap things.
You have been performing and singing live for years. How do you look after your voice when you’re touring?
It is different with a death metal voice. It is kind of easier to do that in the studio in that you don’t have to do fifty takes whereas you might have to with a cleaner voice. It is either right or wrong as there is not a great deal of ambiguity with it. As long as you’ve got a voice you can do it, it is not a case of how it sounds. I just don’t get drunk too much, simple as that. I don’t go out drinking or to loud nightclubs after shows or anything like that. I go straight to the tour bus.
In Paradise Lost, there is a different musical style. Do you find you bring that into Bloodbath at all, even subconsciously?
It is different in many respects. Even though we are under the hood of heavy metal it is pretty far away from it. The spirit might be the same in many respects but the intensity is way different with Bloodbath and it is different to anything I might have done with Paradise Lost. The slower songs on Bloodbath kind of nods to Paradise Lost a little bit purely because it is slow and it is me doing the singing. But songs like ‘My Torturer’ are totally removed from Paradise Lost.
The song ‘His Infernal Necropsy’ has you doing a pretty large growling introduction. Do you have to work up to that?
No, once I am warmed up I can do them quite easily and then never find them hard to do. I can do them for quite a while and there is a technique to it. All the guys where in the studio when we did it and recorded it at Katatonia HQ plus it was all recorded by the guys with Per [Eriksson – guitar] doing most of the engineering on it. They definitely know what they want too so it is just a case of them asking, ‘can you do a growl here or an ‘ergh’ there?’ They hurt more then the growls, I don’t know why but they do.
Has your voice changed over the years?
I don’t know, it has changed but as far as growls go, no. The mix makes it sound a little bit different to when I did it in the studio. If you’re in the room with me, it sounds more guttural, I think. I always like a bit of clarity in the voice. That is the thing that I always liked about death metal when I was younger. You can have the growl but I like to be able to hear what people are saying. That was the case with old Paradise Lost in that you could make out the vocals and it wasn’t trying to sound like a dog or something. Still, I used to love early Obituary where he didn’t even say any words on it and you couldn’t tell what he was saying. I can kind of hear everything he is saying with the new stuff now but he has gone up a few octaves now. When babies talk, they make sense of themselves though, I guess. Ha ha.
There are a lot of half time sections such as in ‘Mental Abortion’ and ‘Beyond Cremation’. Do those interludes just happen in the studio at the prompt of a producer or is it all pre-written?
We didn’t have a producer, it was a case of Anders [Nyström – lead guitar], Jonas [Renkee – bass] and Per [Eriksson – guitar] writing and kind of doing the whole thing. They don’t really interact with each other, they just sort of do their own songs, you know. What you’re hearing is just what they’ve done as we didn’t have a producer on it. I kind of co-wrote ‘Beyond Cremation’ and ‘Unite in Pain’ with Anders but he just gave me the music and I did the vocals exactly to what he had written. I didn’t try to change his songs around or cut the riffs in half. That is how myself and Greg [Mackintosh – Paradise Lost lead guitarist] write songs, we kind of work out if vocals go here or if we should chop a riff out. I didn’t do that with Bloodbath, I simply put sound to what I had been given.
Did you go out of your way to make sound a little bit rougher or less polished?
I wasn’t around when they mixed it but I know that they very much wanted to go back to the old school Swedish death metal sound which they have managed to do in spades. That was the whole intention. They wanted to get away from the Florida death metal sound since some of the previous releases sort of hinted towards that. I think they wanted to get a lot more towards a Scandinavian death metal feel.
Just on that, there is a little bit of an early Opeth feel to the title track. Would you agree?
Musically, I don’t know and obviously I have toured with Opeth so am pretty familiar with them. I mean, possibly in the opening guitar lines but you’d have to ask Anders. I know what you mean about the sound so possibly given they are good friends.
Did you do a lot of pre-production?
I wanted the guys to send me the songs as soon as they were done. It was just a case of getting the phrasing right because with this kind of death metal and especially the faster stuff, it is almost like rapping. So I wanted to make sure there were no surprises in the studio with nothing I couldn’t actually do. I like recording at home myself to try to get comfortable with it for singing lines. So I personally did quite a few weeks with it myself getting ready for it before I went in.
Some of the drumming on the album is phenomenal along with some great guitar solos and your vocals, of course.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that every one on Facebook is whinging that I’m not Mikael Åkerfeldt or Peter Tägtgren but no one has mentioned the drumming. Yeah, the drumming is fucking outstanding on this album. No one has really said much about it. When are we going to stop whinging about the fact that it is a different singer and actually appreciate the drumming on this album? It is good that you’ve mentioned it. Axe [Martin Axenrot] is an amazing drummer, he is like a fucking machine. He did all the drumming ages ago back in February and I don’t know how much songs have changed. They may have edited some drums here and there. I think that the fill at the end of ‘My Torturer’ is mad. It is just insane and he is a great player. He is brilliant but maybe it is a case of people being happy with it so they don’t have to mention it, you know. He is a significant drummer. He is not just some guy tapping away at the back. His playing is awesome on this record.
Is there any jamming aspect in the presented songs once in the studio?
Not with this one and we don’t do that with Paradise Lost either. The songs are written so they’ve gone away and written three or four songs each and I basically helped out with two or three songs with Anders a few weeks before we started to record it. So it is pretty much their own thing.
What do you need to listen to live to stay in time?
Well, I haven’t played live with this band yet but some songs will lend themselves better to playing live than others, I mean, there are songs that will always be album songs and so on. They have a good back catalogue to go through to work out songs that work live.
I know the songs we’ll be doing and a lot of times it might be a case of seeing how I’ll sing it to whoever sang it at the time. There is nothing that I probably cannot tackle with enough practice.
The tours look like going to a lot of festivals. Paradise Lost were last here on tour with Cathedral’s final live shows a few years back. Any chance of returning to Australia?
I hope so and it would be great to come over there again either with Bloodbath or Paradise Lost. But we’re just doing key festival shows with Bloodbath for next year with no plans to tour as such as we kind of want to keep it special and a little bit different and not go in for the eighteen month tours like Paradise Lost and Katatonia do.
Does Bloodbath exist or function with a side project mentality?
Yeah I think it does for everyone concerned. We’ve all got that kind of mindset so you can play a little bit more fast and loose with it. You don’t have to be processing ideas off the cuff and it is a lot more relaxed. I’ve had very little involvement in the writing. I’m usually ninety percent content with the music that has been written. I’ve very much into the really dark stuff and am content with Paradise Lost. But I was asked to do Bloodbath. I was very passionate about it as a teenager so I thought it would be interesting to approach it again.
How do you look at the music you did in the early nineties with the benefit of hindsight?
It was a really good time. It wasn’t so much the music but when I hear it, it reminds me of probably the best time in my life. We were technically adults but we didn’t feel like it. Perhaps the production was crappy on the first album [Lost Paradise] but we didn’t know what we were doing. We just thought you got drunk in the studio. I don’t have any regrets because everything happens and you move on. It might have been a bad or good time but I haven’t got any regrets about anything we’ve done.
When you did Gothic, was there any awareness in the band that it may be a classic?
No, not at all. We just were mixing death and doom metal with gothic sounds like Sisters of Mercy and there was no subtlety. There was an obvious line down the middle between death metal and Sisters of Mercy styled music which no one had done before. So it was just an accrued thing that we did which tapped into a lot of people somehow. The production is crude and no one knew what they were doing but I can listen to it now and think that for the time, it was pretty good.
Would you ever consider going back and re-recording it?
I don’t think there is any need. We re-did ‘Frozen Illusion’ and ‘Our Saviour’ from the first album. We re-recorded those songs recently for a b-sides compilation for Paradise Lost. They sound better and cooler but there has been a lot of death metal written since those albums. It is not like it is super fresh or anything now.
Did any particular Paradise Lost album hit the mark for you with achieving a vision?
I think that every album did, at the time. The only one that didn’t come out as we wanted was the Believe in Nothing album, which was a weird time for the band and the record is a result of that. I think we would all agree that we didn’t really know what was going on during that album but for every other album we were just like, ‘fuck yeah’, every time.
There was a time where bands created albums to then tour upon whereas that is not so much the case now. Are you noticing that it is becoming far more difficult to survive?
I think it is virtually impossible unless you’ve got a foothold in the nineties. Most of our peers are only around because they managed to create a name back in the nineties, before the Internet because mainstream adopted. You can make a living with new bands now but you’ve just got to really, really work. It is not enough to just be a good band anymore. Doing Bloodbath is for pleasure but you are working with a budget for everything now. Back in the nineties, you didn’t really ask about budget, you’d just do whatever and hopefully there would be enough money around to cover that. But now everything is to a budget, you can’t even walk out of the house without seeing if it is in the budget. Every single band is like that but when you get to Metallica level that is a different matter. There are the biggest metal bands and then there is a huge gap and then there is Metallica and AC/DC. That grey area has no bands filling that so I’m interested to see what happens when Metallica and AC/DC goes, will any metal bands ever get a big as that again? Slipknot is on the next stair down but there is still a big divide between Slipknot and Metallica. Who knows?
Have you learnt techniques to get in and out of the studio quickly?
Yeah particularly in the last five years, I’ve just started to record earlier like at 10:30 in the morning. I’d rather start early and finish early as that is better for the vocals. You’re at your best at that time. After nine o’clock at night I don’t want to be in the studio. You just get tired. We used to do overnight lockouts and it is just not productive especially if you’re drinking to get yourself in the mood because your ears lie to you after a few drinks especially if your engineer is drinking as well. That used to happen all the time. If you finish by four or so in the afternoon it is a nice feeling to know you’ve had a good day and have got the night free. It is more productive. I think Jens Bogren [producer] who did our last few Paradise Lost albums likes to work like that and we were all moaning about it but I got into that idea so I now prefer to do that.
What influences led you into getting into death metal initially?
I was very into Metallica early on and then Venom blew me away. So, it was a natural progression from that getting into Bathory but I really got into the underground tape death metal trading scene. I loved being part of that and a lot of our peers came from that as well so it is always cool to hook up with the older guys and discuss the Devastation demos and all of the shit we used to listen to in the late eighties. I guess Bloodbath is very much a part of that as the roots of it are in that scene. It is cool to be part of it.