HOLOCAUST is by right one of the most important names of that big moment in our music that was the NWOBHM. But Holocaust also got something many other bands didn’t, they survived that wave when it passed and walked to a new future. John Mortimer has been able to redifine the sound of the band and give us big moments of joy with albums as a Covenant, Primal or now their new effort Elder Gods. It’s been an honor to interview John Mortimer, alive history of Metal and a gentleman. Enjoy it.
Hi John, Holocaust has been and probably always will be a band related to the NWOBHM. When it’s almost 40 years from your great EP Heavy Metal Mania what are you memories from that time?
I was at High School. I was into various bands…everything from Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin. One Saturday afternoon I heard Black Sabbath’s «Symptom Of The Universe» on the radio and I just knew that I had to be part of that type of music. Not just listen to it but actually create it, you know? When the band first got together we didn’t even play full covers of other bands, only the best riffs to warm up. As soon as I could play two or three chords I started writing my own songs. It was genuinely a surprise when it became clear that other young bands were doing the same type of thing. One of the great memories I have was seeing AC/DC in Glasgow on the «Highway To Hell» tour and Def Leppard were supporting them. It was so obvious that the guys in Def Leppard were the same age as us and it was really encouraging to see them up there on the big stage.
So simple as that. In fact I think many people would agree to say that the song Heavy Metal Mania is one of the greatest hymns in our music. Do you remember how you got the inspiration to write it?
Yes, I have never forgotten that because it was unusual in that it all happened in just a few minutes, lyrics and everything. I didn’t even have an amp, so I was having to imagine the sound of the distorted guitar. In those days most people used to laugh at the concept of «Heavy Metal music», like it was something neanderthal. I felt this intense need to proclaim identity with this music and basically say, «Fuck you!», to the established culture.
And the rest is history… Any bands from that time you had more affinity or you shared more things or experiences?
In those days we were relatively isolated in Scotland and we didn’t have contact with any other NWOBHM bands. I liked most of the stuff that was being released, especially Witchfynde, Mythra and Dark Star.
Your debut album confirmed you as one of the most dominant bands of the NWOBHM. However what made you even bigger is that Holocaust has been moving forward and evolving and growing through time
For me, the spirit of Metal music is radical freedom. I have always refused to be put in a musical straight jacket. The evolution of Holocaust’s music has indeed captured the attention of many sincere fans who have supported us through the years but generally I don’t think the pushing of the boundaries has helped us. There are far too many Metal fans and media people who want to put a label on a band and restrict it… too many people with closed minds. This is ironic because «The Nightcomers» album was really new and different in its time. The music critics hated it back then.
Amazing and something to reflect on, indeed. Albums as Hypnosis of Birds or Covenant are the demonstration that Holocaust survived the end of the NWOBHM and found life beyond that time?
In the UK back then the music papers, magazines and music TV controlled the idea of what was «cool» and what Holocaust was doing then was definitely «not cool». Those albums were the result of pure love to create new Metal music regardless of how few people would hear it. At best we were ignored and at worst the reviewers advised us to stop and said our music was uttter garbage. I did not stop of course.
Fortunately not! Nowadays many bands are back to those roots and we often read about NWOTHM, cloning in many aspects that sound. What do you think of this new movement?
Whatever people want to do is fine with me, but Holocaust would never be part of something as retrospective as that. It just depends what an artist wants to do. It’s great if you want to get into the spirit of the NWOBHM 1979-1983 and generate a magical feeling…great! But what I want to do as a recording artist is explore new realms and claim them for Metal. Having said that, if I am inspired by a straight 1980 style riff then I will do that. Inspiration is everything.
Mortimer has been always Holocaust’s soul&mind, you have the perception of music changing with time? Did you follow any trends after the 80s or just played what you liked?
Music has expanded a lot in the past three or four decades and I have been very open to influences, (everything from Gorgoroth to Gaga), and those influences enter the creative process within me, no question about it
I think we could say that today Holocaust is nearer to a progressive metal band than a heavy metal band, what do you think?
I think labels suck. I don’t ever get inspired by thinking, «Hey, it might be cool to write a progressive piece», or anything like that, so however people perceive the style of a given song or album is fine with me. I just don’t care about sub-categories.
Best news is that we have a new album on the streets, Elder Gods. How long have you worked on it and how was the composition process?
I don’t know exactly how long it was we worked on it. All three of us have to work in full time employment to pay the bills and so the process is a lot slower than it would be if we could do the band full time. The composition process is very different from the old days. In the old days I used to come along with basically finished songs and present them to the band. Nowadays it is a more organic process. I have the essence of something and then the three of us work the whole thing together.
I would say Elder Gods is in terms of sound near the great Primal (2003) but maybe with a more intimist approach, what do you think?
Well, there is common factor of darkness. I see «Primal» as negative darkness and «Elder Gods» as positive darkness. That may be because «Primal» was written and recorded during a truly terrible period of my life. I do love the «Primal» album but I find it difficult to listen to because it reminds me of those days. By contrast, «Elder Gods» was a joy to work on with Scott and Mark and it will always be a joy to listen to.
Yes, it’s curious how the perception of something may be influenced by our vital experiences. What are the lyrics about in Elder Gods?
I assume you mean the album in general rather than the song?
The concept is that the various deities that have been demonized by Christianity, Islam and Judaism were (and are) actual beings of an extra-terrestrial nature, though very much akin to us, as modern humanity is a genetic blend of Cro Magnon and the Elder Gods. Toward the end of the album the attention goes much deeper, prior to any manifestation of individual beings. So, for example, the mythological «Satan» derives from a Sumerian god named Ea, also known as Enki. The «demon» Astaroth derives from the Sumerian goddess Inanna, also known as Ishtar and Astarte. There is also to be found the influence of Aleister Crowley…I find many of his writings truly inspiring and extremely educational.
The cover has an enigmatic and dark atmosphere that marries very well with the album concept and music
The artwork is fantastic. The artist is Andreas Soederlund, who has a total understanding and empathy with the band. Andreas is like a fourth member of Holocaust!
Congratulations to Andreas for the big work. What can you tell us about the line-up these last years? We can talk almost of a one-man-band, Mortimer’s band?
No. That is only how it seems to people who are trying to put the band in an historical context. I have always felt like one of team, but especially so now. The contributions from myself, Scott and Mark are equal. The songwriting credits are «Holocaust», which means equally «Mortimer, Wallace, McGrath»…that says it all. The intensity of the Live shows is far greater these days because of the magic of this trio.
A statement that honors you. After forty years, Holocaust is where you thought it would be when you started in the 80s or it is kind of a surprise or a dream?
I really did not know where the band would go back then and I still don’t. I just know it will keep going.
With your long experience in music, where do you think Metal, in general, is walking to? What do you expect from the future?
It’s the great unknown – and I love it!
Great answer! Last one, are you thinking to do some gigs around to present the new & old songs?
We are playing the Chania Rock Festival in Crete in July and that will just be the old classics because that is all we have time for. In November we have two shows in Holland and one in Scotland that will see a larger, more inclusive set. We hope to announce many more gigs and the more recent material will certainly be played if time permits.
Something not to miss for the many fans you have. Thank you very much, Mr Mortimer, and congratulations for a fantastic career and a great new album. If you wish to add something…
I just want to thank you, sincerely, for your support.