By David E. Gehlke
PARADISE LOST's lightning-fast progression from gothic doom pioneers to the frontline of European metal happened within five years. The album that did the most for the band was 1993's "Icon", a drastic shift into tight, streamlined songwriting that was complemented by Nick Holmes's freshly refined vocal delivery. "Icon" was tailor-made for European audiences who wanted the sweet spot between underground metal and METALLICA. PARADISE LOST capably plugged the gap and had the bonus of MTV Europe's support, who routinely aired all three of the album's video cuts. And while the band made an even better album two years later with "Draconian Times", "Icon" remains particularly revered by fans and within the PARADISE LOST camp.
In a surprise move, PARADISE LOST recently re-recorded "Icon". It stays faithful to the original, including Holmes, whose voice continues to hold strong despite countless changes in style. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the 1993 and 2023 "Icon" is the drums — new drummer Guido Zima Montanarini has accounted for any tempo fluctuations by original PARADISE LOST stickman Matthew "Tuds" Archer, although the loose drumming was part of the album's initial charm. Here to chat about "Icon" with BLABBERMOUTH.NET was Holmes, who displayed his usual wit and self-deprecating nature.
Blabbermouth: Let's start here: 1993. What's the first thing that comes to mind?
Nick: "The recording sessions. They were memorable. It was a long time to record anything — it was like six weeks in one place, like a house or a studio, where we didn't know the area. We didn't know anybody, so we stuck together more than we would now. It was such good fun. We were still kids, even though technically, we were adults. We were doing the Ouija boards, staying up all night in these scary mansion houses. It was so much fun in hindsight, the period of 'Shades [Of God]', 'Icon' and 'Draconian Times'. At no point did it feel like we were working. It was like summer camp. We were just dicking about all the time. We didn't drink that much then. Later on, it was about going to the pub and getting pissed, but in '92 and '93, the main thing was messing about, playing tricks on each other, childish pranks."
Blabbermouth: What do you remember about Jacobs Studio, which is where "Icon" was recorded?
Nick: "It was the first posh studio we went to. It had a tennis court. It was in a village called Farnham, which is in Surrey. It was beautiful. I remember hitting a hornet's nest in the garage and it landed on the floor. They all fucking chased me; it was like a Snoopy cartoon. [Laughs] Weirdly enough, now, thinking about it, I would have left it. But, no, I had to hit it to see what happened. [Laughs] I had to run down the road like someone from the fucking 'Simpsons' or 'Looney Tunes'. At no point did it ever feel like work or did we feel stressed. We had a real good laugh. It was a great time for the band and us as individuals."
Blabbermouth: There are tons of PARADISE LOST promotional pictures from that era. Did you mind having your picture taken so frequently?
Nick: "People told us what we were doing. We never questioned it. Choice wasn't an issue then. [Laughs] We never thought about it. Then we got to about 45, and we thought, 'Hang on a minute. We have a choice in this?' When you put choice into the equation with a band, it ruins it. This is a thing with all these boy bands in the '90s. None of them thought they had a choice. They did and were worked to death. We were told, 'Blah, blah is coming down for a photo shoot.' You just did it. There was no Internet. My kids couldn't even think about a time without the Internet. They can't contemplate it. If I said, 'We did all these photo shoots.' They say, 'Why didn't you take some fucking selfies in the garden?' They can't contemplate the notion of a photo shoot."
Blabbermouth: You have said before that it was originally hard to sing the songs on "Icon" because your voice had changed so much in such a short period of time. What was the experience like this time re-recording the album with Gomez [producer Jaime Arellano]?
Nick: "It was much easier. The blueprint was already there. Once you have that blueprint, you're basically copying. It was definitely a lot easier. Also, with that voice, when I double-track, it has a kind of harmony to it, which makes it sound more melodic in a way. When it's a single voice, it sounds rough. When you put two together, it gives it this strange harmony sound. That is the sound of the album as far as the vocals. I approached it the same way as the original. I sang it once, then sang it again. You could time the vocals way better now since it's all digital. It was a question of copying. Once I've already done it, it's literally copying. You don't have to think about it too much once it's there. It was definitely a lot easier. Before, I would sing the whole fucking song 25 times with [original 'Icon' producer] Simon [Efemey]. You'd end up fucking up your voice. Now, when I do any vocals, I'll do a verse at a time, or even a line at a time, because there's nothing worse than singing it all and the engineer says, 'Let's do it all again.' You'll get burned out. I had four days with Gomez in Porto. I was literally listening to a line, then singing it, listening to the original, then singing it again. That was every line from the album. It was time-consuming to get it right. I didn't see a point in singing it any different from the album. I've heard re-recordings. If you change the style, it's not a re-recording. It's a re-imagined version."
Blabbermouth: Was there anything from 30 years ago that you wanted to change?
Nick: "Not really. I was a little pitchy. I wanted to correct that. Some of the bits were pitchy. I don't know how they became pitchy. I asked, 'How did I get so pitchy?' I had no idea. [Laughs] Some of the timing as well. There were no click tracks; everything was sped up and slowed down. That was the magic of the albums from that time. Everyone sped up and slowed down. I read that Stewart Copeland [THE POLICE] famously sped up the verses and slowed down the choruses, which is the opposite of what drummers tend to do. It was all redone to a click. Some songs sound faster because it was a case of it going with the click. I think that was one of the main things from Greg's [Mackintosh, guitar] point of view was to make it all work to a click."
Blabbermouth: Tuds was certainly not one to stay on the meter, but Guido does. Doesn't that make the album feel a little weird to you? Say what you will, but that was one of Tuds's charms as a drummer.
Nick: "I thought Tuds did a really good job on 'Icon'. It was his best playing. It's fine for the re-recording. It's like anything. I know from experience — I know when I'm done for the day, but back in the day, we'd get a bottle of wine and Simon was shouting at you, calling you a 'cunt.' You just carry on drinking and singing all through the night. Then, you'd be having a laugh in between takes, pissing about and being thoroughly unprofessional, then you'd wonder why you had a sore throat the next day and needed a day off. There's none of that now. It's a distant memory, that behavior. It's just a case of cracking on with it. At no point was it difficult to do it, but it was time-consuming. I wanted to make sure it was as close to the original as possible."
Blabbermouth: Did you gain a newfound appreciation for some of the album's deeper cuts like "Poison" and "Dying Freedom"? The band hasn't touched those songs in a while.
Nick: "I do! I always thought 'Poison' was an album song. When I did it, I was surprised. It came alive more on this version. I definitely appreciate those songs more now. We'd never rehearse them or listen to them since we don't play them live. I hadn't listened to 'Poison' until I re-recorded it. God knows how many years!"
Blabbermouth: You will be playing the album in full live soon. Are you prepared?
Nick: "I think I'll be alright. My voice has changed a lot. I don't find it as taxing, that style. I think a lot of the time, I was trying too hard. There's an attitude when you sing it. You pull a face and that voice comes out. I've learned to do that as opposed to pushing from the throat. I used to sing a lot from the throat in those days. I know my limitations now and know when to stop. I don't even bother trying to do something if I can't do it now. It should be cool. A lot of those songs we've been doing for years, like 'Embers Fire' and 'True Belief'. Actually, the hardest to sing is 'True Belief' because it has so much singing. The middle section comes back into the [verse]. It's a busy song vocally. When we re-recorded it, I thought, 'Fuck. I forgot how busy this song is.' From a labor point of view, that's the hardest one to re-record. Easily."
Blabbermouth: Did you get a tinge of nostalgia re-recording "Icon"? After all, so much went right for PARADISE LOST, then.
Nick: "In a nice way, yeah. I don't want to be one of those pub bores who go on about how things were in the old days, which we end up doing anyway! [Laughs] We do it amongst ourselves. We don't inflict on other people. We're not at that pub bore level yet. It's 'nice' nostalgia. You forget how long it is. Thirty years is a fucking lifetime, but it doesn't seem that long ago. Picking up the songs again to sing them, it was like nothing had happened in between. I think I've said to you before that if we stopped doing it, we'd have way more nostalgia because we'd have a mid-life crisis. You see guys wearing cowboy boots again and growing their hair back. [Laughs] We've never stopped doing it, so we've never let that period of time to become like that. As long as we keep doing it, nostalgia has a limit."
Blabbermouth: Let's not forget how much MTV supported the band, especially the European "Headbanger's Ball", hosted by Vanessa Warwick.
Nick: "That had a massive impact. When you were filmed doing something on a Saturday afternoon — she used to come up and do specials on us. You had no idea how many people saw it. You'd dick about, then watch it that night and you had no concept of how many people saw it until you did the gigs and walked onstage to see how many people turned up. You could judge it by how many people were at the concerts. That was the only way to judge it. You had album sales, but they didn't mean anything until you walked onstage and saw three thousand people and thought, 'Okay. This is good.' That was quite nice. Online, straight away, you know whether people like things. You can read it immediately. That was the only output for metal music in the '90s. I think a lot of it was the right place at the right time. We were very lucky with the magazines and Vanessa really helped us out. Luck is such a massive part of anything in life. I think music is no exception. You got to have some songs, I guess, but you still need to be lucky.
"We were so busy. It was non-stop touring. It was a bit too much. We weren't really ready for it. The workload, in a way, I'm glad we did it, but I wish we had more of a break. Some of us had young children, like Greg and Steve [Edmondson, bass]. If you're going away and you have a young family, it's a fucking massive strain. You need a step back. You don't need to step away for long, but a couple of weeks. I remember writing 'Draconian Times', we used a four-track. To sound cliché, it was a blur. We did a tour with SEPULTURA, right?"
Blabbermouth: You did. It was on the "Chaos A.D." tour.
Nick: "They were getting massive. It was a hot ticket. But it was a great time. I wish we'd step back and have a break. The burn-out syndrome was always pending when you're partying hard as a young lad. You don't know when to stop. You don't know how to press the off-switch. You see it now. History repeats itself. When I read about these guys, I laugh. This stuff will carry on for ages. It's what young people do."
Blabbermouth: Proverbial last question: Where are you with the next studio album?
Nick: "We have three or four songs, but I think we shelved them. We might start again. We have a few ideas. We did a tour in Europe and we've been doing so many festivals. We haven't had time to do anything. We got into a bit of a routine. It was going well, then we did the summer festivals and it went down the chute again. We'll pick it up next year. When there's a gig, it's impossible to write. If you do two festivals in a row and then get home, you're talking about a four-day week. On the two days you have off, you're fried. You want to rest."