Album Review: Host – IX

Host was the title of a 1999 album by Yorkshire goth metal merchants Paradise Lost and by a wild coincidence we are now greeting a band with the same name. OK, so the coincidence isn’t so coincidental… Host consists of PL frontman Nick Holmes alongside guitarist Greg Mackintosh, and the project harks back to that very album.

At the time, Host wasn’t too well received, or at least people didn’t quite know how to take it. Heavily influenced by the pair’s love of synth-y new wave, it perhaps pushed the band a little too far from its darker, goth metal stylings which they veered back towards with 2001’s Believe In Nothing. In hindsight, Mackintosh himself admits that the album may have been better released as a side project, but that was something that only certain people could get away with back in the day. However, these are different days.

I came into the album blind. I actually didn’t know about the background or who was involved in it. I just spotted an email with a promo link drop in, and no further info, clicked through, listened and… Is this The Pet Shop Boys? And I don’t mean that in a bad way. The PSBs were obviously at the forefront of synth-based pop rock with the likes of Ultravox catering to the darker end of the spectrum and both are definite influences throughout IX. The themes are definitely more in line which what we’d expect from Paradise Lost (“Wretched Soul”, “A Troubled Mind”, “Inquisition”…), but this is definitely side project material.

Opener “Wretched Soul” is based mainly on acoustic / clean guitar notes with the keys coming second, but that is in complete contrast to “Tomorrow’s Sky” which could have been released in 1992. Synths and poppy keys abound while a guitar jumps forward for a brief, plaintive solo before the final verse. “Diving Emotion” slows things down and is a definite shoegaze number, while “Hiding From Tomorrow” is about as emotional and heart-string tugging a number as you’ll find on the album.

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Second opinion (Rick): Well, what can you say when two founding members of one of your all-time favourite bands collaborate on a project and cleverly name it after which was at the time a divisive release? The level of anticipation for the debut album IX as Nick and Gregor from Paradise Lost unveil Host is palpable.

The album admittedly feels like a Paradise Lost release with “Wretched Soul” but then switches into goth electro with the wonderful “Tomorrow’s Sky” which is done really nicely. The album weaves between different soundscapes on tracks such as “Years of Suspicion” and “Instinct”, with my personal highlight “Hiding From Tomorrow” really injecting in some emotion.

Overall, I have picked up different things and different times. I like that the project shows other influences that have had the opportunity to be expanded on, but IX still very much has a Paradise Lost heartbeat.

Ending with a cover version is an old trick, and in this case we have A Flock Of Seagulls’ “I Ran”, toned down and made appropriately miserable by two of rock’s most maudlin men. If you even have the slightest happy memories of this style of music, then I cannot recommend this album enough. I let a friend, who is in no way a metalhead but who is a massive Pet Shop Boys fan, have a listen out of interest. His stance: “Obviously in the intervening twenty/thirty years there’s been a lot more melding of rock and synth – even from the Pet Shop Boys – but had this been released at the time it would have been interesting. Although I suspect the fans of the time wouldn’t wear it well!” Interestingly, what put him off the album were the lyrics, which I personally really liked. I guess that’s the Paradise Lost influence coming through.

Before listening to IX, if you’d asked me if I was into synth-rock and bands of that ilk, I’d have shrugged and said “Eh, I guess they’re OK”. And yet I’ve listened to IX more than I think I’ve listened to any other album I’ve reviewed recently (bar one… and that review will be up in a week or so!). It’s just hugely enjoyable. While being new music, it’s firmly rooted in the 90s and drags this eldster back to the era from which it’s influenced. And I’m not kicking and screaming to be dragged back. Rather, I’m giving it another listen from beginning to end…

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IX is out on February 24th

Check out all the bands we review in 2022 on our Spotify and YouTube playlists!

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