By David E. Gehlke
Swedish death metal supergroup BLOODBATH had the whole "retro" thing figured out when they formed in 1998. At the time, death metal was on the outs, deemed un-hip and out of step. The bands that pioneered the style had either broken up, gone through unrecognizable changes in style or faded from view, but that didn't stop the KATATONIA duo of Anders Nyström (guitar) and Jonas Renkse (bass),OPETH throat Mikael Åkerfeldt and highly reputable producer/former EDGE OF SANITY frontman-turned-drummer Dan Swanö from paying homage to the early 1990s Floridian and Stockholm scenes that changed the landscape of extreme metal. BLOODBATH was a good idea then; today, retro bands have nearly been done to death — no pun intended.
Circa 2022, BLOODBATH endures with Nyström and Renkse still leading the musical charge. They're joined by PARADISE LOST frontman Nick Holmes, who has been with the band since 2014, second guitarist Tomas Åkvik of LIK and former OPETH drummer Martin "Axe" Axenrot, whose status in BLOODBATH remains in question as of this writing. Their latest is "Survival Of The Sickest", which, oddly, is a semi-return to form for the band after 2018's blackened "The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn". BLABBERMOUTH.NET caught up with the ever-witty Holmes to talk about the new album and how staying nostalgic is the elixir of youth for the members of BLOODBATH.
Blabbermouth: You've been with BLOODBATH since 2014. Have you found a good balance between that and PARADISE LOST?
Nick: "As far as writing goes, it's okay. I think the logistics with gigs, it wouldn't be an issue since we have the same management [Northern Music Co. Ltd. ]. Everything is coordinated quite well in that respect. It would be a real nightmare if we had separate management, but it all coordinates well for everyone. Obviously, KATATONIA, PL, BLOODBATH, OPETH, we're all under the same umbrella, so it has worked out okay."
Blabbermouth: Plus, when one band isn't doing something, the other is. That keeps you busy.
Nick: "Absolutely. Doing two bands and playing quite a lot, especially during the summer, there is a ton more work involved — way more than I thought it would be with two bands. At the same time, I really like it. I like to stay busy. I realized how much I like being busy when I'm not busy. It's nice. The album was written over a very staggered period. We recorded over a staggered period of time. People were asking for studio reports and it's like, what's there to report? I think Axe did drums a year before I did the vocals. There was a bit of a gap between everything."
Blabbermouth: Speaking of Axe, what's his status with BLOODBATH? Is he still in the band?
Nick: "He's still in the band as far as I'm aware. I haven't seen him for three years, maybe more. Waltteri's [Väyrynen, PARADISE LOST] has been playing drums with BLOODBATH more than Axe has in the last couple of years. I mean, he was working with OPETH prior to the pandemic, so he decided to take a backseat to the live shows and Waltteri did the live shows ever since. He's still in the band. The whole pandemic — he didn't want to get the vaccine, so that caused issues with travel and touring with OPETH when they started to go out again six months ago. That caused them issues there. It's come over to BLOODBATH for sure."
Blabbermouth: Do you find writing vocals to BLOODBATH easier than PARADISE LOST, considering you don't have to worry about "singing"?
Nick: "It's easier in a sense that you're hitting certain tropes. You're heading with the death and zombie thing. Somehow, I'll always think of it as a musical version of [1982 American horror comedy film] 'Creepshow'. There's an element of humor involved in it. The lyrics I write, they are taking away from what is reality for me. If I watch a horror film, it still separates me from reality, no matter what. It's similar to what I do with PL in that the lyrics match the part in the song it suits, so it's like another instrument. I like to step into the world of horror and everything that goes with it."
Blabbermouth: You've mentioned previously that about ten or 15 years ago, you went through a period where you re-discovered your love of old-school death metal. Does that still exist?
Nick: "Yeah. There's a time and place for it. Before we play live in BLOODBATH, Jonas always brings out the Bluetooth speakers and plays two hours of non-stop death metal to get us in the frame of mind. Everyone turns into a 17, 18-year-old teenager again. It's nice. I've always liked knowing what's coming out and the new bands. It's not like every day I'm listening to death metal, but there is a time and place for it and it's usually around gig time when we go back and listen to AUTOPSY's 'Mental Funeral'."
Blabbermouth: Do you think that rubbed off on the new album a bit more? "The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn" had a blackish feel, where "Survival Of The Sickest" is more old school.
Nick: "I think that's the thing: The band started paying homage to the original bands. Then, the last one went in a black metal direction, but it was never about that anyway. We find ourselves, for whatever reason, going slightly down that route — also, the theatrics. I loved the theatrics for the first few years, but I'm a little bit jaded with that. It was like, 'Okay, let's strip it back to basics.' Isn't 'Back To Basics' an ANVIL title? I think it is, isn't it?"
Blabbermouth: It sure is.
Nick: [Laughs] "So we thought we'd go more retrospective and think about why the band started in the first place. BLOODBATH is about the whole nostalgia thing, even with the artwork and the logo and the use of certain fonts — that kind of thing. It came back into focus on this."
Blabbermouth: Did you get tired of being covered in blood for shows?
Nick: "It was worse for people that have hair. [Laughs] You don't get a shower, then you're sitting on an airplane with caked blood in your hair at six in the morning and you're getting strange looks from businessmen. It was never an issue for me — I could put my head in the sink since I don't have any air, but for the other guys, it got to be a pain in the ass. We definitely had a lot of fun with it. It revved you up for the show. I remember Gene Simmons [KISS] saying it and it's obviously a different thing, but he said it got him into character. It's certainly not necessary."
Blabbermouth: Does the "Survival Of The Sickest" title have anything to do with the pandemic, or was it coincidental?
Nick: "I don't think it does, really. We started writing it. Then we had to stop for a while. It was such a staggered process. I wasn't even sure when we would start writing again, then Anders sent me some music and I started to work out the vocal lines. No, I don't think anything was about the pandemic. I think as a musician anyway, you're doing a lot of time in your own headspace when you're not touring. You have a lot of time away or downtime. People who work 9-5 don't have that in the same respect as we do. You can have months where you do nothing. You have time where you can be on your own and do your thing each day. Obviously, for a lot of people, it was a bit of a headfuck. Our business, especially the crew guys, the people who work behind the scenes, had a tough time with it. They are perennial workers. They work year-round with different bands, then it was nothing. I know a lot of guys who suffered a lot from it and still are. But, yeah, from our perspective, we have a lot of downtime anyway. A lot of people quite enjoyed it — the downtime. Not the virus."
Blabbermouth: Barney Greenway [NAPALM DEATH] and Marc Grewe [ex-MORGOTH] seemed like good, clear choices as guests, but how did Luc Lemay of GORGUTS get involved?
Nick: "I'm not that familiar with Luc. I know Anders and Jonas are fans of GORGUTS, but their music escaped me for some reason. I don't know how that happened. When I wrote the lyrics for the song, 'Putrefying Corpse', when I wrote it, I thought it would be good for Barney's voice since it has a d-beat vibe to it, which is very typical BLOODBATH. It works in that context. I asked Barney and told him, 'It will be easy. It's your sort of thing.' He was happy to do it. The song 'To Die', is like a DEATH song. Marc's voice is very similar to Chuck Schuldiner's. He has that higher-range death metal voice, which I haven't got. Marc sang the choruses on that and I think he did a great job. When we get into guests, it's almost an afterthought. It's like, 'How can we add an extra flavor to the whole thing?'"
Blabbermouth: Your growled or "death metal" vocals are holding up well, considering you had a long stretch of not doing them.
Nick: "Yeah, it's like finding your footing again. My voice is totally different from when I was younger. Your voice changes anyway. It changes without you realizing it has changed. When I listen to the first PL album [1990's "Lost Paradise"], I think I sounded like a kid. I sound like a kid doing death metal vocals. I can hear the youth element to it. No matter how brutal you try to sound, you still sound like a teenager. [Laughs] There's definitely an element in the early PL. But, yeah, my voice has changed quite a lot. I've gotten more into it as we've gone on and played live. I have to rehearse a lot. You just can't go into it and hope for the best. You can run out of steam pretty fast if you're doing an hour of death metal live. It's a case of doing your homework with it."
Blabbermouth: It's more about paying attention to how you breathe now, too.
Nick: "Particularly with the older songs, there's a lot of layering, so you have to figure out to do it. Breathing is a real thing. It's so fast most of the time. If you do fuck up, you just hope you can get in somewhere. [Laughs] But you don't have to worry about it with the slower stuff. I always compare it to a cart going down a hill and the wheels come off."
Blabbermouth: And if you mess up in BLOODBATH, it's not as noticeable as PL.
Nick: "Although the band notices in BLOODBATH. You never get away from it onstage, but I know what you mean. With PL, I start laughing and wait to get to the next part."
Blabbermouth: Is there any resolution to the ongoing issue of show cancellations here in the States?
Nick: "We applied for the visas in very, very good time. People talk — you see people's comments and it's not our first rodeo. We've all been to America. It makes you laugh when people honestly think we didn't put any time into it. We know all about that stuff. We were not getting the information back. We don't know why not, but I think it could be because we're applying from different countries. That could have something to do with it. But that's a guess. I don't actually know. Or maybe it has to do with the pandemic and lockdowns and extending the applications. I don't know, but we've been unlucky with the times we tried. We will continue to try to make it happen."