Photo by Mathias Blom
INTERVIEW WITH NICK “OL’ NICK” HOLMES
BY KEVIN STEWART-PANKO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATHIAS BLOM and ESTER SEGARRA
When we catch up with Bloodbath’s gurgling and growling frontman Ol’ Nick [aka Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost fame], it should be a time for reminiscing about the band’s triumphant return to North America and the good time he and his bandmates had at the 2022 edition of Maryland Deathfest. Instead, we’re talking about his wonky back and zombies, because for the third time in three tries, Bloodbath came out on the ass end of America’s artist visa program and weren’t able to secure documents and credentials in due time to make their scheduled 2022 tour happen. However, there is also the band’s latest and sixth album, Survival of the Sickest to discuss, not to mention Holmes’ wonder years, the hook of old school death metal, and the case of the band’s disappearing/reappearing drummer. But there are undeniable hassles one experiences when your band is comprised of four Swedes and a Brit, and they transcend the labyrinth of US government bureaucracy.
It appears Bloodbath remains in the crosshairs of the American visa process?
I think it’s because we’re applying for visas from different countries. We got ours for Paradise Lost. It’s because it’s different countries applying for it in one go, under the same hood that causes an issue with it. Other than that there’s no other explanation for it. The Bloodbath visas didn’t come back in time and we applied super early as well. People are always going on like, “Oh, you didn’t apply in time,” but of course we did. I really don’t know what else it could be other than the multi-country thing. You used to be able to get a year long visa and you could do whatever you wanted in that year. Now you have to itemize every single trip you do and have to reapply for it. Don’t quote me on that, but that’s what I was told and it’s more complicated now. It would be like, I’ve done Paradise Lost, but now I’m doing Bloodbath on the same visa, but you can’t do that anymore, you have to make another case for it. It’s made it a little bit trickier, but we’re going to try again and keep trying. We’ll get there, even if I have to get Swedish citizenship (laughs).
“WE WERE OBVIOUSLY PLANNING ON DOING AN ALBUM ANYWAY, AND IT SEEMED TO MAKE THE PROCESS VERY SPREAD OUT.”
The obvious question that’s going to be asked of every band for the next year is about how their new album was impacted by COVID. So, how was Survival of the Sickest impacted by COVID
We started on it halfway through it all. We were obviously planning on doing an album anyway, and it seemed to make the process very spread out. The drums were recorded a year before I even did the vocals. I was supposed to go over to Sweden, but I couldn’t because of the lockdown. Then, I booked a ticket and still couldn’t go because something else happened. I managed to get over in November of last year, but it dragged the whole process out more than it would have from a writing point of view. But it’s always nice to have more time.
What was the original plan and how much did it get shifted?
It was probably the same as anybody else’s really—it just added two years on to everything. It’s the same as Paradise Lost, we’re touring for the Obsidian album, but it was released at least a year and a half ago or something. I can’t even remember (laughs).
Was there a lot of tinkering with the songwriting? Did the final versions of the songs change much from their original versions?
I wrote a good bulk of the songs with Anders [Nyström, guitar] where I did the vocals and lyrics, and a lot of it was based around getting the vocals edited and down, which means a lot of firing versions back and forth to each other until we were both happy with them. Musically, he did the whole thing and I’d do the vocals, and if it needed anything to fit better, then we’d do that. As far as Jonas’ [Renske, bass] songs, you don’t hear anything from him for a while, then you get hit with a complete song, with vocals, lyrics, and everything done. So, when I get in the studio, I sing it like he’s done it with very little difference most of the time. Our new guitarist Tomas Åkvik came in and wrote the first song “Zombie Inferno,” which is quite a good introduction into the band.
“THE WHOLE ORIGINAL POINT OF BLOODBATH WAS TO TIP THE HAT TO THE OLD MASTERS OF DEATH METAL”
In the song “Putrefying Corpse,” is there a vocal tribute to Entombed’s Clandestine and L-G Petrov via its timbre, tone, and phrasing?
Ah, you’re just hearing things (laughs). We’ve got [Napalm Death vocalist] Barney Greenway singing on the middle section of that and he comes in two times. The part is a real D-beat, Napalm punk riff, and that song was very edited from the original to make it work with the vocals. We got Barney to do it because it really suits his voice and adds an element of power to it. But music-wise if there’s anything else that you think sounds like anything else, it’s probably on purpose, I would imagine. The whole original point of Bloodbath was to tip the hat to the old masters of death metal—that’s why the band started in the first place. On this album, we’ve gone back to that more, particularly more than the last one.
In what ways and where are you hearing those tributes?
It’s just the old school sound. With death metal now, the younger bands have a lot more different influences than what we had. There are a million bands now. We had about seven bands when we were first listening to death metal (laughs). It’s the old classic Sepultura sound, old Death sound, the Florida bands, and there’s a real classic nostalgia to that, how the songs and riffs are written. You rarely hear that with new bands unless they’re deliberately trying to be retro. Plus, between 14 and 21 years old, that was probably the best time of my life. It hasn’t really gotten any better since then and it’s unlikely to get better at this point (laughs). At that period of time, we were all massive fans of death metal. It was a new thing that was just coming out. It blew our minds and had a massive impact, and with such a passion for it, even if you walk away from it for a little bit, it’s going to come back and get you at some point in your life. That’s what happens with people when they get older. They start thinking about when they were happiest and start going to gigs again.
“WE WERE ALL MASSIVE FANS OF DEATH METAL. IT WAS A NEW THING THAT WAS JUST COMING OUT. IT BLEW OUR MINDS AND HAD A MASSIVE IMPACT”
Do you ever stop and think about being a 50 year old dude who’s singing about zombies, corpses, “Malignant Maggot Therapy” and “Tales of Melting Flesh” and having a good time doing it?
I love it! It’s like a musical version of Creepshow to me. I love all the tropes and never get bored of that stuff. As soon as I think I’ve had enough of zombies, I’ll see a new film and be like, “Oh, that’s amazing,” or even if it’s a crap film, I just like zombies full stop. I was so much a fan of horror movies as a kid that it naturally progressed into music that way when I started listening to Black Sabbath. It went hand-in-hand with heavy metal and then the whole satan thing when Slayer started up. I just loved it and it ticked all my boxes.
What’s the appeal of zombies over other monsters?
It’s because if they’re coming for you and you can’t talk them down, can you? You’re not going to be able to talk them out of it. If it was a guy in a bar who took a disliking to you, you might be able to talk him down, but if it’s a zombie, you’re not going to be able to. I like that they only have one thing on their mind and that’s to eat. I have a friend who is terrified by them. He’s in his 50s and is still terrified by them. He doesn’t even like to talk about them. The concept of them coming out of the ground is such a great concept. I like vampires as well, but they’re not as good for lyrics (laughs).
On the topic of songs, who’s that singing with you during the choruses of “No God Before Me?”
It’s me and Jonas, actually. I think we did a bit of that on the demo, but when we got in the studio we said, “Why don’t we stretch this out and put some choir type stuff in there?” I did a few clean takes, Jonas did a couple. Actually, I think everyone had a go at it and we mixed it all together into one big doom choir kind of thing.
And when did you make the move from Peaceville to Napalm Records?
Anders and Jonas dealt with all that side of things. I was aware it was time to move labels, but they came up with the best deal. I’ve probably met some of the guys from the label in the past and so far it’s been great. They’ve been supportive, they’re into the band, and the music, and that’s important to help with things.
A big question that’s been going around after your festival gigs is where is [drummer, Martin] Axenrot?
I haven’t actually seen him for three years. I think there was an issue with the Coronavirus and he couldn’t tour with Opeth because of it, and it’s spilled over into Bloodbath. When we did the new photo shoot, there was some sort of issue with it as well, so he didn’t come along to that. But he’s still in the band. He’s not exactly one for social media anyway, and once in a while I might get a text from him. So, I’m in the dark as much as anybody else.
“HE’S GOING TO DO A POST OR SOMETHING TO SHOW THAT HE’S ALIVE, KICKING, AND STILL IN THE BAND, BUT IT’S DIFFICULT TO ANSWER THAT WITH ANY CERTAINTY.”
When you say “issue with the virus” does that mean he couldn’t travel because he wasn’t vaccinated?
It was that, initially, and he had a thing about not wanting to be around anyone. Which is fair enough because a lot of my friends didn’t like to go out even when they could purely based on the fact they were worried about it. Even then, I’m still guessing because I don’t really know. Apparently, he’s going to do a post or something to show that he’s alive, kicking, and still in the band, but it’s difficult to answer that with any certainty.
Who’s been filling in?
Waltteri [Väyrynen] from Paradise Lost, but he had done a bunch of Bloodbath gigs even before the pandemic. When we had gigs that coincided with Opeth shows, obviously Opeth was his main thing, so we’d get Waltteri to fill in.
Has the downtime caused by COVID resulted in discussions amongst you guys about the fragility of this industry, taking being in a different touring bands for granted, and whether you’re going to approach things differently as things get back to normal?
As far as taking it for granted, that’s something I haven’t done for an incredibly long time because I know it can be taken away very easily. Things can change in the climate very quickly. You can be at the top of the bill and all of a sudden you can be at the bottom. I leaned that a long time ago, so I really do not take it for granted. In that respect, nothing has changed that much. For me, personally, it was a case of waiting. We have quite a lot of time off anyway when we’re not touring, playing live, or writing, so we’re used to being home and being with our wives a lot, so that aspect was okay. But there was certainly more than one point where we were thinking, “How long is this going to go on?” Plus, I’ve had a couple friends who became very, very ill with it. I’ve got another friend who died during the pandemic, but I think that was a result of a loneliness issue during the lockdowns. With my friends who work in music, the people who were hit the hardest were the guitar techs, the crew members, and the people who work behind the scenes. It hit them more than anyone else. I know a lot of those guys, and they didn’t know what hit them, so it’s nice to see them out working again, that things are picking up for them, and people are happier.
“THINGS CAN CHANGE IN THE CLIMATE VERY QUICKLY. YOU CAN BE AT THE TOP OF THE BILL AND ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU CAN BE AT THE BOTTOM.”
During the lockdown period was there anything you discovered about yourself or any new interests you picked up?
Weirdly enough, I started doing some building around the house and was lifting this heavy thing into my cellar and fucked up my back. I heard something pop and thought, “What the fuck was that?” The next day, it was, “Oh, my god.” So, I’ve spent a year and a half trying to figure out what’s going on with my back. It’s a bit of an old man complaint, but I’m still fucked. I’ve been in and out of doctors, scans, and specialists, so whenever I could go out of the house, I was going to the doctor’s. My wife is absolutely tired of hearing me whining about my back pain, but that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing. I’m usually very much into running. I like cycling and fitness, and this has slowed that down to almost a halt. And that’s pissed me off because I haven’t been able to exercise much, and if I don’t, I go mad. I want to get back to running as soon as I can, but baby steps with that.