On its pearl anniversary, we dive into one of the most important metal records of the 1990s alongside one of the men who helped create it.
Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):
Hearing Gothic for the first time is an experience I will never forget. In a way, it’s almost a similar experience to hearing albums like Screaming For Vengeance (1982), The Return (1985), Left Hand Path (1990), or Reign in Blood (1986): once you hear it, you can never turn back. The first time I had really heard about the band and their importance was in Decibel Magazine’s 100 Greatest Doom Metal Albums of All Time issue where Gothic would rank as high as number six. Naturally, I figured I owed it to myself as a doom metal acolyte to check it out.
I made a cursory listen to the title track and didn’t really have a lot to say simply because I was about to leave for a two year LDS mission where I would give up music for those 24 months. But that wailing guitar stuck with me. It hung in my subconscious like a worn tapestry in a derelict monastery. After returning home and diving further into underground metal, I figured the time was ripe to revisit PARADISE LOST’s much heralded sophomore album. It was during that listen where everything changed. The entire album clicked with me as I ruminated on what I heard. The seamless blending of black hearted doom, the pulsating energy of death metal and the sophisticated aura of goth rock was a combination that won me over instantly. In the years since, I have continued to dig further into the PARADISE LOST discography and I can now say that they are one of my all-time favorite bands.
That being said, nothing before or since has had quite the impact that Gothic had. It has influenced not only doom and death metal but also black metal and gothic metal to which the band would pioneer on subsequent releases like Icon (1993) and Draconian Times (1995). However, Gothic is where the magic really took hold of these five Yorkshiremen and turned them into legends. To better understand what happened during that time 30 years ago, I had the utmost privilege of asking guitarist Aaron Aedy a few questions about what was going on before, during, and shortly after Gothic was recorded, released, and toured. Not only will we gain some valuable insight into the process of how the record formed and which sounds played into the creative process, but also how Aedy feels about the record after nearly three decades of existence in the metal sphere. Let’s take a trip back in time to when Gothic was yet to blow the minds of so many:
1991 came in quickly for PARADISE LOST as the band had in a very brief period of time released two highly acclaimed demos (Paradise Lost & Frozen Illusion) as well as debut death doom classic Lost Paradise (1990) to a stunned scene. While most longtime fans adored and continue to fawn over that debut, the band themselves were somewhat disappointed in one small outcome of the album that would carry over into Gothic. According to Aedy:
“There wasn’t a dissatisfaction with Lost Paradise musically, it was just the production really more than anything. The sound we had with the previous Frozen Illusion demo was much, much heavier and we’d have preferred a more refined tighter version of that.”
When one listens to those early demos, you can hear the dreadful atmosphere that pervades those recordings. While I do very much enjoy Lost Paradise, there is a notable uptick in “cleanliness” in the sound of the record that wasn’t carried over from these demos. One can assuredly see the influence Lost Paradise would have on subsequent death metal albums including Darkthrone’s first and only death metal album, Soulside Journey (1991). But at the same time, the PARADISE LOST camp were wanting to tweak their formula just a tad. They wanted to keep some of Lost Paradise’ bone and muscle structure, but the blood, skin, and organs would be much more innovative.
Aedy: “With Gothic, I think we were advancing quickly as players and started to get a grip on what we wanted to do and realized that we could do anything. Logically, I suppose a more death metal album would have followed well, but we like a variety of music. Bands like Celtic Frost showed that you could experiment and that there was no formula, and that’s what we decided to roll with.”
So roll with it they did as songs for the record would be much more reliant on ambience, feeling, and tone. Aedy mentions Swiss extreme metal titans Celtic Frost as one reason to want to expand the sonic palette. Celtic Frost, as we know, released two highly influential albums to the underground metal scene of the 80’s with Morbid Tales (1984) and To Mega Therion (1985). The former was a more straightforward black/speed metal album while the latter took those ideas and pushed them further into experimental territory with string and choral arrangements. However, it was the album after that many would consider as a major blueprint for the burgeoning gothic metal scene, 1987’s Into the Pandemonium. The ideas that Tom G. Warrior and co. would craft on this magnificent release would no doubt prove highly interesting to guys like Aedy and his bandmates. The album is darker and more theatrical in places and it is this kind of influence that would help shape PARADISE LOST's songwriting when they entered Academy Studios in November of 1990 to begin work on Gothic. However, Celtic Frost would not be the only musical inspiration for the band at that time. When asked about other influences, Aedy name-dropped a few bands that no doubt took hold of the Yorkshiremen. He lists:
“... anything from The Sisters of Mercy, Candlemass, Trouble, The Cure and The Cult. There were so many at that time. We also loved Bathory and a host of underground bands so it’s a tough one – those are just a sprinkling, really!”
There is no question that many sharp eared listeners over the years can hear the sounds that would play into Gothic’s birth.
When the band entered the studio to record Gothic, they would be working with engineer Keith Appleton, who up until that point, had never worked with metal bands. Oddly enough, he would later work with bands such as Cradle of Filth as well as the other two bands in the Peaceville Three: My Dying Bride and Anathema. Aedy paints a picture of what it was like working with a man who, despite his lack of knowledge of the scene, was able to give PARADISE LOST what they needed. He says:
“Keith is a consummate and accomplished musician in his own right. Most importantly, he knew how to capture what a band was bringing to him in his studio and the bands he had there were pretty varied...he was perfect for helping a fledgling band such as ourselves at the start of our career in the studio.”
On the previous record, Peaceville Records founder Paul “Hammy” Halmshaw was the man running the mixing board. In David E. Gehlke’s book No Celebration (2019), it was reported by at least more than one member of PARADISE LOST that Hammy kept thumbing through a book on how to produce records. This would definitely add stress to any greenhorn band recording their debut. No pressure in this vein was felt during the recording of Gothic, except for the timetable that is.
Nowadays, bands OFTEN have the privilege of being in a studio for extended periods of time to tinker and experiment at will. Aedy put any notions of noodling in the studio to rest. When asked what songs were simultaneously easiest and hardest to record he states that,
“To be honest, we were only in the studio a few days so when we all went in, we had to be quick – there wasn’t a lot of time to mess about. I think it was recorded and mixed in less than a week. We had rehearsed a lot for it and were ready.”
To anyone that has heard the record, knowing this information makes Gothic’s passages sound even more impressive. One need only hear tracks like Dead Emotion and Falling Forever to see how dialed in each member of the band were at this point. In referring to those tracks from the album, Aedy spoke on how he and Gregor Macintosh were gaining more and more confidence in the sound they wanted from their guitars. He says,
“We always tweaked, experimented and learned more as we moved forward, but that’s part of the joy of what’s possible.”
The possibilities came forth in rivers of ideas: mournful and dirge laden leads, chugging rhythm and most importantly, chaotic yet cohesive soloing. Look no further than Macintosh’s ending solo on Dead Emotion that feels like Tony Iommi fronting Sisters of Mercy. One must keep in mind when listening to this record of how groundbreaking this would be to a very insular scene. Death metal and doom metal weren’t really as big of playground friends then as they are now. Most death metal guys strictly stuck to what they knew: grinding brutality and over the top lyrical content. Doom was very much rooted in the contemplative and morose. Yet, Paradise Lost came into the scene with the knowledge and tenacity to fuse them. Candlemass and Bolt Thrower fans could, and eventually did, find at least SOMETHING to enjoy while listening to Gothic. At times, I’ve often wondered if the band had any idea that this would be groundbreaking for many.
It isn’t much of a stretch to say that this album was a massive departure from an album like Lost Paradise, yet at the same time, we can see small traces of the former while also seeing the willingness to experiment. Aedy says:
“Well, as we were still relatively new, I think evolution was fine to do. There are always some that think you’ve sold out when you go from demo to vinyl but in fairness, there were very few. I think music back then was able to evolve a bit more and still had room to do so – even for the metal scene. People from our scene went off in all directions, finding their own voice, which is great as you should never just emulate those that inspired you to start.”
The proof is in the pudding when you look at the nine tracks that comprise the album.
The opening title track is quite literally a world changer for better or worse. Hell, just hearing this along with the rest of the album inspired Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström to become more serious musicians and move forward with their band, Katatonia. Holmes' vocals paint a vicious yet artistic picture of decay before the female vocals arrive. Many were most likely shocked by the inclusion of singer Sarah Marrion’s soprano delivery but those with open minds were able to distinguish that this would be a benchmark for many bands to come, including Norway’s Theatre of Tragedy, who would popularize the “Beauty and the Beast” vocal pattern for future goth metal bands.
From nearly every live performance I’ve seen on YouTube during this period, Dead Emotion would be the group's opener. Utilizing some of Marrion’s vocals, the band crunch through a Trouble meets Celtic Frost banger that remains one of the album's more exciting and energetic tracks. Shattered is where I believe many PL fans would get a little bit concerned. This is definitely a metal track but the Sisters of Mercy and Cure influence shines through much brighter than the previous two tracks. Holmes leaves his voice in a low register that could almost be interpreted as spoken word. Aedy and Macintosh are in top form along bassist Steve Edmondson and drummer Matthew “Tuds” Archer, providing a solid rhythm section that remains air tight. Fourth track Rapture is quite honestly one of my personal favorite PARADISE LOST tracks and the longest song on Gothic. After a protracted opening section, the band explode into action bringing more of a Candlemassian energy to the proceedings rather than upbeat Trouble or Obsessed vibes. Plus, the bass lines from Edmondson are second to none on this cut.
Eternal is without a doubt the album’s centerpiece. It's a fast and ferocious cut that makes masterful use of the Raptured Symphony Orchestra, which was actually just Appleton on keys. The instrumentation from the band drive home a feeling of anguish unheard of in then contemporary extreme music scene. Imagine Dead Can Dance meets Black Sabbath and Bathory and that's pretty much a fair approximation. This track would also be used as part of a flexi-disc single with future tour mates Autopsy soon after the album’s release.
Falling Forever is a grinder for all. Holmes almost in tandem with his bandmates drills home a tale of depravity and isolated dread. It's a brief yet horrific tale that serves as quite the album deep cut. Angel Tears is a small instrumental that feels very much at home with a delayed majesty wailing in and out of the listener’s ears. Eventually, this leads to Silent, one of, if not, the deepest cut on the record. Most of the songs so far have been pretty doom heavy but this one ups the doom quotient by about 6,000. It's a protracted yet never boring number with Holmes bringing in some actual spoken word bits. Final “real” track, The Painless, brings back Marrion for another round of vocal gymnastics with Holmes while Aedy and Macintosh back each with riff after colossal riff. To close, Desolate showcases the band flexing more of their love for Dead Can Dance that rides the album out on haunting strings and horns that leave the listener breathless.
After mixing and mastering duties were completed by Appleton, Gothic would finally see the light of day on March 19th, 1991. With the dust barely being able to settle, PARADISE LOST were enlisted onto a two week European jaunt with California death dealers Autopsy for the infamous “March of the Cross” tour. Aedy remembers the tour well. Metal fans will also be keen to note that at the tour’s conclusion, Autopsy would release the similarly classic Mental Funeral (1991). In regards to the tour and how it went down, Aedy had quite the enthusiastic response. He says:
“That was so much fun even though it was quite cramped. Both bands and all of the gear were in one transit van for three weeks across Europe. However, they were a great bunch of guys and good fun which of course helped. Chris and Danny were an absolute blast and completely got our very dark sarcastic sense of humour that is the norm for dour Yorkshiremen! The budget was fairly low, but it was still a super exciting experience. We learned a lot on that tour. It’s funny I was thinking about this the other day – in total, we only really toured for 6 months at the most for Gothic, as we’d already started writing Shades of God. From the summer of ’91, we were shopping around for a new label for it and we then signed with Music for Nations in Dec ’91 and were ready to record in March ’92. In light of that, whenever I look back through my old memorabilia, it wasn’t until then that I realized the actual logistics of the timeframe for that album and that is why I had little to none from Gothic. However, the real highlight was that tour with Autopsy. They were great fun and superb to watch every night and have a few drinks etc with. Good times!”
In regards to memorabilia, a few of us at Heaviest of Art are very enthusiastic about vintage shirts and band merch. Naturally, I had to ask Aedy about his favorite piece amongst the spread of classic merch from that brief time period. Aedy was quick to say a few that are definitely coveted by collectors worldwide:
“My favourite piece of merchandise from that period is definitely the “March of the Cross” hoodie I have. I had lost it long ago, but Tez (Andy Turner), who was our tour manager at that time, found his a few years ago and gave it to me, so that’s one of the most precious things I have in my archive. Also, the Gothic long sleeve t-shirts with the Christ on a cross from the album back cover with Gothic in brass gold down the sleeves was a great looking shirt. I wish I still had one.”
When all is said and done, the one thing that will always stand out about Gothic is the impact it had on bands, artists, and fans in its thirty year existence. Whether it was bands that immediately started out in the early 90’s or bands and artists now, the influence the album has is immense. I was able to talk briefly with a few contemporary metal artists about the album and here’s what they had to say:
“Chad from Necrot/Mortuous and I really bonded over that record. Everyone else in our friend group stopped at Lost Paradise but there’s something about Gothic that kept my interest.” - Erika Osterhout (Scolex, Chthonic Deity)
“It’s an album that I’ve listened to hundreds of times on pitch black bus rides and every time it’s this fist full of melancholy. It’s a record that has such urgency, and immediacy. I hold it in the same category as I would Filigree & Shadow. It’s top of the class gothic music. Forget the lies, live the reality.” - Derrick Vella (Tomb Mold, Outer Heaven)
This is just a brief portion of the influence that this record has had on so many people in the last 30 years. My own personal discovery of the record is still something that I share with as many people even if they don’t necessarily like goth metal. In my final question to Aaron, I asked him what he thought of the influence the record had on peoples lives, even on people who weren’t even alive when Gothic was released. His words or something that I believe most artists who have released a legendary record will echo as well:
“This is the most stunning thing as well as the most humbling. It proves the point that music endures. Music is a beautiful escape. It evokes memories and times for all of us and even though I wasn’t born when Beethoven wrote Moonlight Sonata, I’m still transferred to another place when I close my eyes and listen to it. I thank you and others for enjoying it and everyone who’s been part of this amazing journey with us. There is a beautiful feeling that playing your own music does for you, but true joy is in the sharing with others who love it too.”
In this way, Gothic has been a record that will continue to give as long as people are willing to experience an aural adventure and transport themselves like how Aedy described. Music and its properties are rooted in our emotional subconscious and using these sound waves, in whatever form they may come in, to unlock our emotional core is something that we can always turn to in joyous and horrid situations alike. This is what many have found in the outstretched wings of Gothic’s unparalleled legacy. PARADISE LOST may not have known its eventual impact when they entered the studio, but after three decades of changing trends and stylistic variations of themes, Gothic has remained like a Pauline cornerstone for the weary and downtrodden. In the immortal words echoed by Vella of Falling Forever: forget the lies, live the reality.