Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes talks 'Draconian Times' 25th anniversary reissue
In a year that has been relentlessly hellish, music fans long denied the vital lifeblood of live gigs can’t help but feel a certain wistfulness for an era long past. And apart from the killer venues now gone the way of the dodo and the goth/alternative clubs and dive bars that were once a feature of every town centre, one of the best things about the wild, pre-internet heyday of alternative music was browsing record shops for albums and demos in their physical form. Of course wicked vinyl and CD versions of our favourites can still be found by the most determined, complete with shiny, pristine little booklets filled with listings, lyric breakdowns and little nuggets of insider info as well as glossy, brooding photographs of the band, but with the plethora of streaming platforms out there and much of it free to boot, owning hard copy music is becoming increasingly rare. Without physical records, it also takes a special effort to appreciate elaborately designed album artwork. And yet the most infamous designs from the height of heavy metal that range from the sophisticated and highly artistic to the amateurish and sloppily executed - while still somehow filled with naïve charm - persist with great fondness in our collective memories as much as the music itself.
Gothic metal luminaries Paradise Lost, who never offer anything less than the whole package, have tapped into these sentimental yearnings with a not unwelcome 25th anniversary reissue of their standout, genre-defining 90s classic, ‘Draconian Times’ which includes the original compelling cover. Catching up with Dark Matter to discuss the lasting influence of the album and the pleasures of revisiting the past, vocalist Nick Holmes reminisces tenderly about his love of artistry on record sleeves and how it coloured his experience of the music he enjoyed when he was young. ‘When I bought an album, when I saved up the pennies as a child, I would always stare at the artwork to help me make my mind up about the music, and my imagination would run away with the artwork.’ He is very aware that we consume music differently nowadays. ‘I don’t think people digest artwork the same as when we did when we were younger. Now it’s more about the instant hit of the music. I don’t think the album art is even that important to many people. But we come from the vinyl generation. When I was a teenager, if I saw that a lot of time and thought had gone into the artwork I would appreciate the music more. Even if I thought the music wasn't very good, I would give it a second chance based on good artwork, I wouldn’t instantly rush back to take it back to the record store.’
The original and vividly colourful, slightly hallucinogenic design that wraps around Draconian Times is intriguing and eerily esoteric enough to complement the rich complexities of the music, and for fans of the band looking for some bonus material as well as the sweet sugar rush of nostalgia this bumper gift to music lovers includes the full album plus bonus material never released before, as well as a 24-page artwork booklet with new liner notes, musings on lyrical themes and memories from the band. A real collector’s piece, it’s available as a special vinyl edition plus a deluxe CD. According to Nick, the importance of good presentation is not to be under-estimated and has always featured heavily in the band’s work. ‘A lot of it’s about the artwork and how we represented it - we were always really big fans of nice artwork and nice packaging. Anything linked to Gothic architecture, woodprints, etc. We always liked that and incorporated that into it. When you look at the artwork, straight away it gives you an idea of where the music’s coming from, where the band’s coming from. A lot of bands didn’t really care that much about artwork. But we were constantly on the lookout for good artists, a lot of the time who didn’t even normally do album covers for rock or metal.’ Nick certainly hopes the reissue will have fans salivating. ‘Look out for it - there’s some different coloured vinyl, there’s some unreleased demos which I hadn’t even heard until a few months ago. I had forgotten we did it! It’s exciting, there’s stuff we definitely haven’t released before on there.’ He adds, rather poetically, ‘It was like brushing the dust off my memory.’
Aside from gushing over the design, Nick recalls how the original release of ‘Draconian Times’ was a landmark moment for Paradise Lost. ‘We were kind of building up for hopefully quite a good album after the ‘Icon’ album because there was a good buzz about the band, we did a hell of a lot of touring with some big bands we thought we’d never play with and then we went straight into doing that album, and everything just kind of fit into place. Then it came out and it was a really big album for us, perhaps our most successful. The production is very much of its time, a very ’90s production, you can listen to a lot of releases from that time and they have a very similar kind of drum sound, and similar look in the photographs, so it just kind of fitted nicely in at the time. Everything just kind of gelled, it was a good one for us. But there was no internet then, so you didn’t have any way of judging how successful something was until you got on to a stage which was in itself really nice because if you walked on stage and there were a couple of thousand people freaking out it’s like wow, we didn’t realise it was doing this well.’ Strangely enough, the success of the album is perhaps also down to the way it coincided with a time when trends were led by what was picked up by TV networks. ‘We used to get a lot of European television coverage through the Headbanger’s Ball, there wasn’t a lot of TV coverage or channels then so people knew us even if they thought we were shit!’ Nick also believes the album got a lot of attention because of a persisting interest in the British music scene. ‘The UK has always had an influence, especially back then, a hangover from the new wave of British heavy metal perhaps. We were doing very well in the UK and I think that echoed over into Europe as well. The Germans in particular have always been very loyal to us. Germany has always been a great place for us to play, it’s always been the real place for heavy music.’ Not to mention the golden age of print journalism. ‘We were also in Kerrang quite a lot. We got some great support from the magazines.’