ALBUM REVIEW: HOST - IX
PARADISE LOST SIDE PROJECT RECOUNTS GOTH ROCK 80s
A whole season of BBC’s Question Time couldn’t cram in the online debates that rage over Paradise Lost’s discography. That band have gone through a number of phases over the course of 30 years and each particular era has acolytes promoting it as the best. Basically there is a range of opinion about which Paradise Lost period is their creative apogee: the early gothic metal days, the commercial high tide mark of the mid-late 1990s, the accessible metal lite and clean singing of the millennium, the sophisticated rock metal of the 2000s or the more recent return to heavy doom. Album ranking for Paradise Lost is seemingly a full-time hobby for many. No wonder founding members and creative lynchpins, Nick Holmes (vocals) and Greg Mackintosh (guitar, synths) might want to have a side-project to dodge the worst of another online deluge.
While not universally welcomed by traditionalist elements of their fanbase, the ‘clean singing’ slew of albums released from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s contain a treasury of classy, refined rock. It demonstrated that, as well as pioneering gothic doom metal par excellence, Paradise Lost could write sumptuous melancholic 80s pop melodies, the quality of which is irrefutable. Forget the drastic hairstyle and aesthetic changes, the band nailed some outrageously overlooked yet mightily catchy rock that, while not particularly heavy, was among the most emotionally darkest and bravely exploratory in their canon with tunes for which many mainstream established acts would have traded their eye teeth. With PL now reclining back into a heavy doom metal habitat, and with Nick Holmes and Gregor Macintosh each going even heavier with Bloodbath and Strigoi respectively, it was a moot point whether they would return to softer, electronica-laced hues.
The choice of name for this project is a tidy association with the PL legacy but, moreover, the record is stylistically redolent of the Host (1999) and, to a lesser extent, Believe in Nothing (2001) era. While these two albums saw PL incorporate electronica and samples into their front and centre of their sound, it was still pretty experimental and investigating a new style which previously they had only toyed with as garnishing. That was now over 20 years ago and IX clearly exudes greater confidence and self-assurance in its homage to gothic and dark synth pop. Opener Wretched Soul could be an old Host or even Symbol of Life (2003) era outtake with acoustic thrums, Holmes’ hushed, conspiratorial vocal and cinematic effects giving this a sense of tense noir. With a lofty guitar hook at the end it is one of the rockier moments of the record.
The remainder of the album is in electronic rock territory and some of the pop melodies are platinum quality. Irresistible 80s dance beats propel the hypnotic poppy melancholia of Tomorrow’s Sky which has a haunted, dreamy feel and every bit of emotional clout as cranked up doom metal grandeur can muster. There are some really standout tunes like the soaring foot tapper of Hiding From Tomorrow with its lush plaintive chorus and delicious melody or the towering synths and simplistic yet driving beats of the truly outstanding My Only Escape. As well as those reach-for-the-sky high-altitude harmonies, the record also has subdued, intimate gothic dance moments such as the late-night confession of Inquisition or the understated drama of the suspenseful closer of Instinct.
Make no mistake at the turn of the millennium metal magazine critics gave Paradise Lost an absolute hiding for playing this kind of stuff. The criticism was unforgiving in a time when metal bands experimenting was only permissible if it included dreadlocks, ludicrous baggy trousers and ineffably shit pseudo rap. Separated by time and unshackled from the PL brand, Host demonstrates in isolation sheer quality of song writing, spellbinding atmospheres and poignant, thoughtful delivery. It sounds like musicians who know they don’t need to convince anyone why they are doing this. A project of splendid authenticity rather than an eccentric indulgence...it has deceivingly more in common with heavy music than many might acknowledge.
IX was released in February 2023 via Nuclear Blast