Happy 30th birthday to the king; the mac daddy; the muthafuckin’ GOAT! On this day back in 1991, Paradise Lost changed extreme music forever with the release of their second LP, the legendary Gothic. And since we can’t join our miserable friends from the grim north to party, Decibel is celebrating the best way we know how—by sharing our Gothic Hall of Fame induction story from way back in Issue No. 7 of the magazine. After appearing in our long-sold-out June 2005 issue, Scott Koerber’s piece later resurfaced in our equally long-sold-out Precious Metal Hall of Fame anthology, but has been unavailable to read since. So today we fanaticize that we’re stuffed in a corner table at the Frog & Toad while we raise a piss-warm pint and toast one of the true miracles of metal creation. Submit to the fall. —Albert Mudrian
An Eternal Classic
The Making of Paradise Lost’s Gothic
story by Scott Koerber
Northern England, 1990. Amid the cacophony of blast beats echoing from the speed-obsessed world of U.K. death metal and grindcore, five lads from the grim North were feverishly gathering songs and ideas for the follow-up to their doom-laden debut album, Lost Paradise. Marrying the grittier sound of the down-tuned, death-doom heaviness of their 1989 demo Frozen Illusion with the icy majesty of the early ’80s U.K. gothic scene, the band emerged with a monolithic slab of metal unlike anything the underground had ever heard. Gothic, released through Peaceville Records in 1991, stunned headbangers everywhere with a dark, innovative sound that seized listeners within seconds of dropping the needle onto the opening track. The album became an absolute cult classic, approaching religious stature by countless underground fans and bands alike. In its wake, the Gothic album single-handedly opened the gates for countless trends within the metal world, which sought to incorporate melancholy and—above all—melody within heavier sounds. We gathered the band’s original five members—vocalist Nick Holmes, bassist Steve Edmondson, drummer Matt Archer, and guitarists Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy—to reflect on all things Gothic.
What was the general feeling within the band around the time you were writing and recording for Gothic?
Greg Mackintosh: In those days it was the grind scene, so we were playing with bands like Extreme Noise Terror and Napalm Death and Carcass, and we were the only slow band around from that scene. We’d play gigs and people would shout, “Play a fast one” and so, of course, we’d play an even slower one. Our first album, Lost Paradise, didn’t really sound how we wanted it to sound. We thought the Frozen Illusion demo was better than the first album. So, with Gothic we wanted to make it sound more like the demo, but we’d also been listening to the Reptile House-era Sisters of Mercy stuff, and bands like Trouble, as well as all the tape-trading death metal stuff, and wanted to bring in some new elements.
Nick Holmes: Around the time of Lost Paradise, the Sisters of Mercy were pretty big in England, and I liked the sound they were doing. On the early records, they kind of captured a real sort of depressive gothic sound, and we really liked that. We thought we could try and capture that element and put it in with the kind of noise stuff that we did. Plus, at that time, Matt, our drummer couldn’t play fast anyway, so we were kind of restricted even if we wanted to play fast. I think we tried playing fast and it was just a disaster and so we said, “OK, we’ll just go the opposite and play as slow as we can.” [Laughs] First and foremost, though, we were totally obsessed with death metal and doom metal. We were such big fans of it. Just like today, I see teenagers totally into it. We were no different.
Aaron Aedy: I think what we were trying to do with Gothic was combine the majesty of gothic music with the miserableness of doom music. We heard Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium and Morbid Tales, and they were using orchestrations on metal music, and we thought that was cool to take it in another direction.
Matt “Tuds” Archer: In those days, we listened to so much death metal and all the bands we played with were death metal bands. On tour, we’d put on our old compilation tapes and stuff just to hear something different. So, when we did Gothic, we wanted to do something that was heavy and somewhat in line with Lost Paradise, but we wanted to expand the sound into other genres of music that we were listening to: Celtic Frost, Trouble. We were young enough and naïve enough to have that sort of “let’s just do it and see what happens” attitude.
All of that aside, Gothic was certainly something much larger than the sum of its parts. Where were your heads at back then to be able to create such intense atmospheres with your music?
Mackintosh: Part of it comes from the area where we grew up. Not sure why, but all the other bands that also came out of the Bradford/Halifax/Leeds area also made very depressing music: the Sisters of Mercy, the Cult, New Model Army, My Dying Bride. Lots of bands from that area went for a sort of bittersweet tinge to their music. I think it’s because we’re all just miserable. We’ve all got this quite dark sense of humor where you can laugh at everything, but the area has still got this grim, miserable edge to it. There’s a saying around here that goes “it’s grim up north,” and it was very true for us. We were always pretty miserable about stuff. We’ve lightened up a bit now, I think. I think it’s an acceptance that life is a bit shit. [Laughs]
Aedy: Leeds is where gothic music came from really, so there was quite a strong following for darker music in our area, and a lot of the pubs and clubs sort of reflected that. In Bradford we used to go to a number of clubs where one minute they’d be playing serious gothic music, and the next minute they would have Kreator on or something. Between that and the Frog & Toad, which was the venue where we played our first-ever concert, they really mixed everything up, which kind of helped because you were hearing these things in the clubs as well.
Holmes: I had a friend at school who gave me the Sisters of Mercy Reptile House vinyl, and I remember going back and listening to tracks like “Black Planet” off the first Sisters’ album First and Last and Always. I did like that sort of music very much, but outside of the Sisters, there really weren’t too many other gothic bands that we knew of. We were also into the Melvins at the time and they played really slow. I remember an album they did called Gluey Porch Treatments. It was so slow. We liked the idea of combining the sort of Sabbath riffage, but making it even slower and getting the whole doom thing going. But honestly, we were so obsessed with the death metal stuff in those days that we didn’t really venture that far outside our own musical field.
Who came up with the album title?
Mackintosh: The title for the album had come about because I had seen the Ken Russell film Gothic and I remember saying to Nick, “Hey, what about calling it that?” And he sort of went back and forth because he didn’t want people thinking we were a gothic band rather than a doom whatever band, but eventually we agreed on using it.
Holmes: It was more to do with gothic literature and gothic architecture. That was more in our minds than any actual musical movement. Greg’s very much into grandiose titles. He came up with [1995’s] Draconian Times as well. For Gothic, it had more to do with architecture. We just like looking at gargoyles. Even now, I still like looking at gargoyles. It’s kind of like the ultimate heavy metal thing, really. [Laughs]
How much of the record’s sound did you have down prior to going into the studio?
Mackintosh: We had all the songs down beforehand. As far as sound, we knew what we wanted the record to sound like, but we didn’t know how to capture sounds in those days. The only thing we had down beforehand was my guitar sound, because I had all the effects that I wanted to use ready to go before we went in to record. Aaron had a lot of trouble when we went in to record Gothic. He was trying out a lot of different guitars and different amps and he never really got the sound he wanted, so I ended up playing some of the rhythm stuff as well, until he sorted out his sound. I think Keith [Appleton], who owned Academy Studios where we recorded Gothic, was instrumental because he played the keyboards on Gothic. He had this Proteus rack thing that we used, and we were like, “Oh my God, that sounds amazing! Yeah, use that!”
Holmes: Songwriting in those days was just a case of gluing riffs together. A lot of the old metal stuff is like that anyway. It’s like eight minutes of riffs glued together, which is cool. One after the next, after the next, and then come back to the original riff right at the end there. And then for the studio, we’d just buy a bottle of bourbon, plug in and see what happened. It was all very kind of rock ‘n’ roll. I mean, when you’re a kid, you just think about being in a band and just getting drunk and having a good time, and that’s all we really did in the first few years. Even Hammy [founder of Peaceville Records], who had done some production for us on Lost Paradise, all I can remember during Gothic is him buying a bottle of whiskey and sitting there smoking spliffs. There was no massive sort of sterile recording environment like there is now. With the song “Rapture,” Matt couldn’t get the timing right on a certain drum fill. We were under tight time constraints, and in those days drummers didn’t have a click track. So in order to wrap up the song, I remember pushing a key on the keyboard right at the time when the drum fill was supposed to come in. It was the sound of a bomb going off, or a nuclear explosion or something, and it covered up the drum fill perfectly. If you listen back you’ll hear it.
Aedy: I seem to recall back when we did Lost Paradise, Hammy was actually reading a book called How to Be a Producer, which I’ve never forgotten. But he did seem to know more about it than we did. Basically, he just sort of sat there with a bottle of whiskey and some marijuana and just headbanged. The great thing about Hammy was he was really into music.
Steve Edmondson: As for the time spent in the studio, it was hard work. I mean, we weren’t brilliant musicians then. It was only the second time we were in the studio, and I just remember it being hard to nail the parts. Looking back, I can say it was genuinely innocent times, really. We were having a lot of fun.
In addition to the orchestrations, the presence of a female vocalist complementing the death growl was also more apparent on Gothic than Lost Paradise. How did you meet vocalist Sarah Marrion and what was her reaction to the music she was asked to sing on?
Mackintosh: We got Sarah through an advertisement we placed in NME. She was from Manchester. I remember seeing a surprised look on her face when we played some stuff back for her. She had never heard anything like it in her life!
Archer: I’m not sure the band sold itself extremely well in that instance. [Laughs] Here we were, a death metal band on a small independent label, and here was this quite prim and proper young lady. I don’t think she knew what she was getting into, but she went in and when we heard her vocals with the rest of the music, we just thought it sounded absolutely fantastic.
Aedy: I think she got what we were trying to do, but it wasn’t her thing. She was more into house and dance music. But I think she kind of got it because she had a bit of classical training. If you take away the guitar sound and Nick’s vocals, we were just playing chords and melodies in minor keys, so she was able to catch on to the atmosphere we were going for.
Edmondson: We used her again on our next album, [1992’s] Shades of God, so she must have liked it somewhat since she came back to the studio with us to do it again a year or so later.
The lyrics on Gothic were a mature departure from those on your first album. What were you going for?
Holmes: I always felt that psychological subject matter sort of gave you more space to work with. Back then, lots of bands were discussing evil or the devil. I’ve always tried to avoid the satanic stuff because once you do that it’s hard to get out of that. Back then, it was just death metal growling, so I could write the lyrics at the same time or even before the music was written and just make the words fit. Basically just like writing down poetry or something, because you don’t have to make it fit to a melody. It’s actually easier to write lyrics like that. You can be as pretentious as you want if you’re growling lyrics. If you’re writing in the context of a melody, you have to think about words you’re using and syllables, but in the old days you could be the Poet Laureate—you could be the death metal Poet Laureate if you wanted to. [Laughs]
Do you remember your reaction to the playback of the finished album while you were in the studio?
Mackintosh: Oh, we were loving it. We were all very young at the time and as soon as we played any of it back we were all going mental and headbanging along to it and saying, “Oh, this is ace. We’ve got another record out!” As far as the sound, there’s a phrase that Nick always uses: “Weep openly at the sea of pomposity.” It’s the whole over-the-top thing. There’s a fine line between sounding majestic and being pure cheese, and it’s a line that we’ve always been very aware of and been very conscious of not crossing, which is unfortunate for a lot of other gothic metal acts today because they seem to err on the cheese side of the line.
Holmes: I think because it came through the huge speakers we were more impressed with the fact that we could play it so loud; plus, we had had a few drinks, so yeah, it just sounded phenomenal.
Archer: Rehearsals for the record were held in this shitty little room, which was noisy and distorted, so we really didn’t know what the finished product would sound like. Listening to the playback, the album definitely had a sort of raw sound to it that added to the overall feel of what we were going for. Today most metal bands opt for a strictly regimented sound, but we loved the raw feel of what we had with Gothic and we felt that any overdubs or re-mastering would have killed some of the magic we had managed to create.
Edmondson: The ultimate reaction came when we actually got a tape of it and you put it in your car stereo and went somewhere quiet. We went to the rocks in Halifax, which is sort of a local beauty spot, and we sat there playing the album; that’s when it hit us all.
Prior to the release of Gothic, there were no death-doom or gothic metal scenes, but there were some bands [Cathedral, Winter] that picked up on what you guys had done with the Frozen Illusion demo and Lost Paradise. Were you paying much attention to any of these bands?
Mackintosh: When we were doing Frozen Illusion and our first album, bands like Cathedral weren’t in existence yet. Lee Dorrian was still in Napalm Death before Barney [Greenway] had joined. Back then I hadn’t heard of bands like Winter or Cathedral or any others. The death metal stuff that we knew of was just the early Earache stuff and the early Peaceville stuff, and all the stuff from our tape-trading days from death metal bands. After Gothic, I remember we fast became a band’s band. I remember Lee Dorrian and bands like Bolt Thrower were into it, and we got letters from bands like Entombed who were writing to say that they were really into it.
Holmes: In those days we didn’t know of any other bands pursuing the sort of sound we were doing. Most of the bands we played with during our demo days and around the time of our first album were bands from the U.K. hardcore/grindcore scene—bands like Doom, Concrete Sox, Extreme Noise Terror and Napalm Death. Around the Gothic-era, the scene had sort of fractured into divisions of punk and metal. For Gothic, the concerts were reasonably turned out, but still very underground. It was like 50 guys from each town; death metal tape traders who came to all the shows. We were tape traders ourselves so we’d all just sit around and try to name bands that no one else knew and see if you were better than the next guy because you knew this really obscure band. I mean, we didn’t think about girlfriends or anything back then. It was just guys and hair and tapes.
Early Peaceville bands like My Dying Bride and Anathema quickly picked up on the sound of the Gothic album, and subgenres like death-doom/gothic metal/funeral doom largely owe their existence to the Gothic album. In many ways, Gothic single-handedly spawned an underground metal movement.
Archer: On tour people used to hand us demos, and we started seeing bands with names taken from tracks from the Gothic album. While touring Europe, I remember suddenly we started hearing bands with that same sort of death metal sound, with orchestrations and female vocals. Here in the U.K., I remember Aaron [Stainthorpe] from My Dying Bride telling me that My Dying Bride was formed after seeing Paradise Lost play live at a gig in Bradford in 1990 or 1991.
Mackintosh: Over the years we had a lot of bands saying they liked Gothic, and it’s really flattering. I remember Anathema at the time, I think they were supporting us for their first-ever gig. They were a bit younger than us, maybe 14 or 15 years old at the time. During their set they did a cover of our song “Eternal,” and then we had to go on and play that song as well! We hadn’t ever heard of Anathema because they weren’t on record at the time, but afterwards we talked to them and we were like, “Oh yeah, really good. I think your version was better than ours.” The same thing happened with the Gathering when we played Holland. The Gathering opened for us and they also played a cover of “Eternal” before we went onstage, and it was like, “Crass, can these bands stop doing it, because their versions sound better than ours!”
Aedy: After Lost Paradise, we noticed some bands were picking up on the sound we were after, so what we tried to do with Gothic was to up the ante by putting all the orchestration and female vocals on. When we did Gothic, it wasn’t like a massive commercial success, but there seemed to be a whole explosion of bands that were inspired by the Gothic album, so I think we sort of reacted to that when we went to do Shades of God by dropping the female vocals and having no orchestrations. In a lot of ways, Gothic was the answer to people copying Lost Paradise, really.
So was the influx of bands that were trying to capture your sound an impetus to change your style and move in a different direction on subsequent albums?
Holmes: For us, when everyone else starts to do it, we really set out to change what we’re doing. It’s the same now as it was then. Once everything starts to sound the same and you can’t differentiate one band from the other, it’s time to move on. We’ve always wanted to be on our own little island. The thing with growling is that it is so one-dimensional. You can only go so far with it, because you can’t get any melody in there, so it’s hard to get across what you want to. When we did tracks like “Shattered” on Gothic, I remember doing the sort of cleaner voice just to try to slightly break away from the total growl. We went on to do the Shades of God album, and it was kind of like “growling in key” as opposed to “just growling.” And then we moved on from there. Not to say there’s anything wrong with the straight-on death metal sound. I mean, even today, I like good death metal bands, and I can still totally appreciate that sound; but for us, we wanted to sort of expand out of that, but still keep it heavy.
Mackintosh: At the time when Gothic came out and when we did some gigs after it and went on to write more stuff, there wasn’t that big thing surrounding Gothic where loads of bands were copying it. That came maybe a couple of years later. So, by the time Shades of God came out, there were bands starting to copy Gothic, but at the time we weren’t really aware of any of that. We get bored quickly, I think that’s what it is. We do a record and then sort of say to ourselves, “OK, we’ve done that, so what are we going to do now?”
So what is that image on the cover anyway?
Edmondson: It’s literally Matt Archer’s pocket. It’s a close-up picture of his chest pocket with a bit of Greg’s arm. It was Nick’s idea. We had taken some band photographs and we blew a few of them up to bigger sizes. The section between Greg and Matt looked really weird when we had the big photograph, so we turned it upside down and chopped it out and blew it up larger. Nice and cheap! It fit what we were going for much more than the cover on our first album did.
Aedy: We wanted to stay away from the typical “heavy metal painting.” Around that time, we were seeing a number of album covers with some sort of Viking warrior holding a Flying V in his hands or something. So, with the Gothic cover, it was a reaction against what other bands seemed to be doing back then. It worked; I mean, the Gothic cover stood out because it looked different and had a dark feel to it. I remember at the time getting letters from fans asking what the cover was. People thought it was a picture inside some cave or inside a tomb or the inside of a coffin lid that had been scratched apart.
Holmes: I did the cover. If you look on the inside sleeve of the gatefold and look at the cardigan that Matt is wearing, I saw a picture within the cardigan. I saw a stream with molten lava coming out of it. It sounds like some kind of fucking schizophrenic thing or as if I’d been smoking some weed or something, but I saw this image within the picture. I don’t think anyone else can see it, but I just thought it would be great on the cover. Now when I look at it, I can still see the image, but it wasn’t elaborated on. It was supposed to be more elaborated on to make it look more like what was in my mind, but that never happened. We just took the film and blew the image up larger and that was it.
Mackintosh: Yeah, it’s ludicrous when you hear the story behind the cover, but it all seems to fit into place now. A lot of people think it was some big plan, but really it was just a bunch of young kids just fiddling around in the dark. Back then we didn’t have any art direction or anyone saying yes or no to us. Hammy just let us do whatever we wanted. Same thing goes with the Christ image on the back of the Gothic album. My brother did that. He came up to me and said, “Why don’t you put this on the back of the record?” And I said “Yeah, OK.”
Archer: When we had the completed cover, we all thought it looked pretty cool and pretty dark. It took on a whole atmosphere of its own. I’ve seen the cover hung up on peoples’ walls and we used to get comments like, “That’s such an amazing piece of art,” and so at the time we didn’t want to advertise that it was a lock of my hair and a bit of a jacket. We didn’t want to shatter the illusion or anything. Everything from the cover to the songs to the sound of the record—it all sort of fell into place for us.
Doom Over My Hammy: Q&A with the Peaceville Records founder
The singularly-named enigma Hammy not only discovered Paradise Lost way back in 1988, he also produced the band’s early demos and their debut album, Lost Paradise. But PL’s Gothic album was the breakthrough release for his now legendary Peaceville Records.
How much input did you give the band on Gothic?
Hammy: Paradise Lost evolved very quickly from the days of the demos to the second album, Gothic. With Gothic they felt extremely confident when they were going into the studio. The songwriting was really down. It was extremely precise. They didn’t need me to produce or anything. I didn’t really feel the need to help anymore. Gothic was the last record they were contracted to record for Peaceville, and the band knew damn well that the world was their bloody oyster afterwards. They felt the big label stardom coming. It was absolutely a concrete thing, and that was such an exciting time for those guys. They were buzzing around like mad at the time. They knew they were flying off to major label-dom!
The record was really experimental at the time of its release. What was the vibe in the studio like?
Hammy: Not all of the bands sat too well with Keith Appleton [owner of Academy Studios] because he was quite uneducated in metal and rock and punk. Keith was coming from a pop background, and sometimes the two worlds just collided. But with Gothic, we just hit it right that time. It was the first really well-recorded album at Academy Studios. Being a studio-based guy, Keith had the technical knowledge to be able to pull off a lot of the experimental stuff that Paradise Lost were intending to do. The marriage between Greg’s songwriting and musicianship and Keith’s technical ability really came to the front, and the pair of them worked together extremely well to create the whole event and atmosphere that is the Gothic album. I remember running into Keith and Greg while out doing some Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve during the time when they were mixing Gothic. They both seemed really happy. I just felt that was a brilliant sign. Peaceville didn’t really have the funds to re-record albums or go for endless remixes or anything like that. It was pretty much a one-take sort of thing.
What did Gothic do for Peaceville Records?
Hammy: Gothic made Peaceville. It had a massive influence on the scene full stop. It made a lot of waves. Even from the white label promos going out to radio stations and the press, people were just really turning their heads because you could just feel the shockwaves. It affected tons of bands in terms of how bands were writing and how they wanted to sound. Soon you started to see a “Paradise Lost effect” on the new bands. Lots of bands started to say they wanted to sound like Gothic. Same sort of thing that happened after Slayer’s Reign in Blood. After Gothic, there was a massive flood of bands that went to Academy Studios for the Gothic sound. Cradle of Filth and everybody else started turning up after that.
Do you have a favorite track from Gothic?
Hammy: Definitely “Eternal.” “Eternal” was the first time Peaceville had sort of what we could class as a single. We put “Eternal” on a flexi disc on the cover of Metal Forces magazine in 1991. As a song, it stood out as the first really big song from Gothic.