It certainly has been a heck of a year for Paradise Lost, with a strong and heavy new album “Tragic Idol” making the metal rounds with the band also hitting the States for their fourth time ever. But Gregor Mackintosh is a busy man himself these days. In addition to his time and effort in Paradise Lost, he is also eyeballs deep in the involvement of Vallenfyre, his side project that centers on an old-school death metal sound. In a strange way, one could make a good argument that Vallenfyre, in addition to Paradise Lost’s recent revisiting of their masterpiece “Draconian Times” for its 15th anniversary.
For the sake of this argument, just listen to “Draconian Times” followed by Vallenfyre’s “A Fragile King,” and round it off with Paradise Lost’s “Tragic Idol.” At the end, its almost like you’ve listened to a mathematical equation of metal. “That’s interesting,” says Gregor Mackintosh in the lounge of the band’s tour bus in hot Houston, TX. “Doing that ‘Draconian Times’ anniversary thing, I was halfway through writing ‘Tragic Idol.’ I think that definitely did sway it. I think to relearn that stuff, and then play it every night; you don’t really realize how your songwriting style, and even your playing style, has changed in that amount of time. It certainly leaked into the songwriting process and shaped it a little.” So it might be safe to say that revisiting “Draconian Times” for its anniversary possibly inspired the songwriting process towards the end of the “Tragic Idol” process. “It wasn’t an intentional thing,” continues Mackintosh. “When you go to write a new record, it’s like I just pretend that we’ve never done anything before. So there’s no pressure, there’s no history; there’s no being jaded by anything or pushed in any one direction. It’s just ‘what do I want to hear today.’ And that time, we were doing that tour, so that’s why there was that leak into it.”
But now let’s take a look at the Vallenfyre part of the equation. “A Fragile King” has an aggressive, death/doom sound that rattles the listener’s bones, which is a feeling that one can experience at various points in “Tragic Idol.” To explain this musical incest, Mackintosh elaborates “Vallenfyre influenced the writing of ‘Tragic Idol’ in a different sort of way. What it did was it made me realize what shouldn’t be in the next Paradise Lost record. I see Vallenfyre as my youth and a ‘devil-may-care’ chaotic side of things. And Paradise Lost is more of the focused, adult side. That kind of made it easier to write ‘Tragic Idol’ because it made me understand the psyche and the sides of what should go into what.”
For the other part of examining ‘Tragic Idol,’ Mackintosh describes the feel and construction of Paradise Lost’s previous album, 2009’s “Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us,” and what Mackintosh wasn’t interested in rehasing. “I wanted to strip it right back. No orchestration, no keyboards,” he sums up. “[Faith Divides Us…] was heavily orchestrated with lots of layers. And I think it’s a good record, but I didn’t want to recreate it, I wanted to try something different. The first way to approach that is to strip it right back and do a bare-bones thing. As a result of that, it turned into sort of more of a doom metal record. It also meant that it had to be a bit more melodic than the last one, because to have that same kind of dynamic without that many layers you have to inject more melody.”
But I have to wonder what would come next from Mackintosh in terms of either Paradise Lost or even Vallenfyre, but the man himself gives a partially vague and partially specific answer. “Too soon to tell, since I’m involved in two things now. There was never any intention to do anything else with Vallenfyre, just sort of a few summer festivals over in Europe. It was really successful and made me see that people actually want to hear this stuff.”
To continue on his thought, Mackintosh recalls that “The Vallenfyre record was more of trying to recreate the feel of that time rather than just the music. How it was when I was trying to do that stuff in the clubs back then. I think we pulled it off, kind of, but I want to delve more into that. So we’re turning around and doing an EP at the end of year, early next year. But one side of it developing more of the death metal and crust punk sorta stuff, and the other side way more the doom stuff. So maybe one really long track on one side, and five or six tracks on the other side.”
There’s somewhat of a personal reason that this writer was interested in picking Mackintosh’s brain so much. Back in 1998, as a teenager, an older friend of mine recommended the “Draconian Times” and “Shades of God” albums to me with a helluva lot of enthusiasm, which I quickly gained when I put both of those albums in the stereo and cranked it up. I was hooked and couldn’t get enough of Paradise Lost, which is still the way I feel these days. I explained, as best as I could, to Mr. Mackintosh that listening to the band for the first time helped to fill in a lot of gaps in the vast metal puzzle that I sometimes see before me. Hearing Paradise Lost helped me to see not only where they fit into metal, but explained a lot in terms of what came after them. I wasn’t sure if I was able to explain it adequately to him, but he seemed to pick up on what I was saying when he grinned from ear to ear and said “That’s an interesting way of looking at it. We were this little puzzle piece that didn’t fit a certain way at different points in our career but we definitely did ultimately tie a lot of it in together.”
And thankfully, Paradise Lost never shifted too radically to different sides like other bands I discovered at the same time. Without naming names, there’s a series of Swedish metal bands I used to hang my hat on that now sound like pure shit. The best way I could sum it up is that those bands got famous in America then hit the road stateside with bands that negatively influenced them to head in musical directions that were pure shit. It’s another one of those things that bounce around my brain, making total sense to me, but I feel I’m unable to get it out in a way that another can fathom. But maybe Mackintosh and I had this sort of ESP thing going on this day when he says “With Paradise Lost, we’ve been going for 25 years now. It’s kind of just growing up on record, we were 17, 18 when we started out. And I think you can follow the path just like anyone growing up through music, metal music, whatever. You eventually come full circle, and you have learning curves here and there, and you find out about new things, and its all very honest. People will say ‘you sold out at this point in your career, or that point’ but selling out really is finding a formula that works and sticking with it just to make money ya know?” Fair enough….
And last on the evening’s agenda is the sporadic touring of Paradise Lost on this side of the Atlantic in the band’s existence. I always figured it was a popularity sort of thing, but as Mackintosh recalls “We came over first with Morbid Angel and Kreator and it was just a really hard tour. Kreator at the time were really left-wing, Morbid Angel at the time were really right-wing, and we just didn’t want to get caught up in any political thing like that. There were a lot of high points in the tour, but there were a lot of shows cancelled, and a lot of bullshit to deal with, and it really put us off of coming to America. And that was our first experience of it! So at that time, 1993, we had just put out ‘Shades of God,’ and about to record ‘Icon,’ and things were blowing up for us in Europe and we just thought ‘We don’t need this.’” It wouldn’t be until 2003 that I would see Paradise Lost with my own eyes when they hit the US with Opeth, who were touring for “Deliverance” at the time. “That changed my opinion of it again. It was a lot of fun, and can be a lot of fun.” But just like every good thing, the government has to go and stick its head in there, right? As Mackintosh describes, “Since then though, the reason its been sort of sporadic is because the American government don’t want European bands coming over to tour! They’re making it really difficult and to jump through hoops, the visa thing gets more and more difficult each year. And the cost of visas is just astronomical, and promoters just don’t want to pay that. It’s a huge bullock, but once you get here, it can be a lot of fun.”
Thanks for dropping in!
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