Greg Mackintosh of Paradise Lost: Anti-religion, anti-materialism and Medusa

Paradise Lost challenge us to gaze unto to monster that is our present, and our future.

Pioneering British gothic-doom metal band Paradise Lost are set to release their fifteenth and heaviest studio album, Medusa this September. In the stormy days leading up to this epic release, founding guitarist and composer Greg Mackintosh called in to Metal as Fuck to explore what Medusa represents about modern society, finding new ways of writing, and Paradise Lost’s full return to heavy doom metal...

Medusa is one of the heaviest offerings from Paradise Lost in recent years, how have you approached the creation of this new album? “I guess the idea to do such a doom-metal record came because…on the previous record, The Plague Within, the very final song we wrote for that record was called ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ and it was a very, very slow doom-y song. We just really loved how it turned out, we hadn’t done a song like that in quite a while, and we loved how it turned out, and playing it live was really cool as well, so that kind of gave us the impetus to do a full record of that kind. But obviously, its not that easy when you come to write it, because you can’t just write slow for the sake of it, it still has to have the right amount of light and shade and it still has to feel good, and it still has to flow well. So yeah…we changed the way we write songs on this record. We changed from a more linear version of writing to a very random style. I came up with an idea from an interview I read with David Bowie, where he used to write his lyrics by writing down a lot of words on pieces of paper, crunching them up and just throwing them on the floor. I thought… that would be really cool if you could do that with, like, audio. So the way I approached this record, I’d write a couple of riffs which may or may not end up in the finished song, and send them to Nick [Holmes – vocalist] who I work with, and get him to do as many different vocal styles as possible - like gruff deep-throat voice, melody lines, harmony lines - and send them back to me and then I’d snip everything up into tiny pieces and build like a jigsaw piece, and it turned out it was a really intuitive way of songwriting, where you can have maybe ten or fifteen versions of one song at any given time, and it’s a really fast way of writing, really intuitive way of writing, keeps the creative juices flowing, keep you from stagnating. I’ll probably continue to write this way in the future, to discover this kind of song. So it only took us like six months to write this record, where it usually takes us about a year to write a record. Any yeah, the recording process was similarly done in a way, we were just experimenting with sounds, and once we got the sound, we recorded it, and that’s what you hear … so none of the process was overthought really, kind of done on the ‘”vibe”, you know, on the cuff, so to speak. And yeah, it has a kind of retro sound, which might sound weird to the uninitiated.”

Does Medusa hark back to the early days of Paradise Lost? Is this a ‘back to roots’ album? “Well, I think because it’s the same people, apart from the drummer, that recorded and wrote a lot of the early stuff, it will have that kind of sound there, to some degree, also yeah we did incorporate some of the influences from the very early days of Paradise Lost, but we also tried to inject new elements as well, and also everything we’ve learned over the years, about songwriting, about melody, about dynamics, so yeah even though this song is definitely harking back to those early days, we couldn’t have done a record of this quality back then, because we didn’t have the skills, I guess. Not just the playing skills, but the knowledge, the things we’ve picked up over the years, not just musically but through life, you know, and it I think that also adds to the mix to a degree.”

Medusa certainly invokes some of Paradise Lost’s recurring themes, of nihilism, the emptiness of material possessions and blind faith… “Definitely. Definitely. These are themes that we’ve always touched on. But I think as we get older, your viewpoint shifts. Your ideas don’t necessarily change, it’s just the angle at which you look at them changes, you know, the way become more aware of your mortality, the way that you see the world, the way you see family, the way you see civilisation, and nature, and various other things, they all come into play. The song, ‘The Longest Winter’…the idea for that was sparked because we read an article on the Chernobyl disaster where they said that nothing would grow there for thousands of years but already nature is taking back – trees are there, animals are there – and then all of a sudden, humanity decides ‘oh okay, seeing as there are animals there, we’ll run some hunting parks in there’, so it’s kind of like, we’re our own worst enemies, you know.”

There is a strong message of the meaninglessness of material possessions on Medusa, is materialism more of a factor nowadays than in the early days of Paradise Lost? “Yes, completely. You become more aware of it as you get older too because you get judged by what you have and you even judge yourself by what you have, rather than what you’ve achieved or how happy you are. That’s kind of a sad state of affairs, as you can see someone, and judge them on their footwear or their phone, or their car…it’s tragic really… You could be a multi-millionaire on a yacht and be miserable. That’s not success.”

To pry a little deeper here, do you think that materialism is a modern form of religion? “I think it is part of it, yeah definitely. Because I am anti-religion – I think the world would be a better place without religion, I really do –other things would come in to replace that [religion] just because of the way man is. Mankind has this need to be part of a larger group, to be part of some cult, and the cult of materialism is no different, you know, the way everyone needs a tribe…it’s tribal in a way. I guess that’s what the roots of religion were, this human need to be part of a group. Fortunately, I don’t feel that need. I’m quite a solitary person. I guess I have it easy [laughs] but if you’re the type of person who does need to be part of a larger group, then yeah, there’s always going to be something there, whether it’s religion or not, something that replaces it.”

Well, I suppose modern religion is more political than spiritual… “It’s all about control, and money, and power, which makes it a political movement.”

Certainly, the same fire still burns for Paradise LostMedusa is a doom-laden, solemn and heavy album, and definitely no less antireligious passion now than in 1988… “Yeah well, it just defines you as a person doesn’t it? We are lucky enough that we can express our thoughts and ideas through an artistic medium. It’s like getting it off your chest, having a good scream or rant or something, but we get to do it on record.”

Medusa is out 1 September 2017 via Nuclear Blast.