GOTHIC NEW WAVE SYNTH-POP: The time afforded by the pandemic’s 18 month to two year kibosh on touring has not only resulted in a variety of thoughtfully written, deep sounding, and meticulously produced works, but also experimentation out the wazoo. Give someone enough time and opportunity to do something outside of their normal sphere and they will. In the case of Paradise Lost’s Greg Mackintosh and Nick Holmes—the former openly admitting Host exists because “I had the time to do it”—they redirected some of their downtime back towards a combination of the band’s late 90s diversion and their mid 80s youth spent skulking in the corners of local new wave and goth clubs when they weren’t skulking in the corners of local rock bars and metal venues.
Recall the complete departures of Paradise Lost’s One Second (1997), Host (1999), and Believe in Nothing (2000), which saw the West Yorkshire rippers transforming from gothic/doom metal slowpokes to sullen, black light dance floor worshippers indebted to the likes of Depeche Mode, Erasure, Gary Numan, and Nitzer Ebb while tapping into and running concurrently to the successes of familiar mainstream names like Portishead, Massive Attack, and Tricky. Those three records may have been sharp left turns away from what the band had established with Gothic and Draconian Times, but it was an era of indulgence that not only proved successful (One Second remains the band’s best selling album) but also an opportunity to see how the other half lives during the recording of Host, which was done in a rural castle and had the band inviting numerous guests to perform and be fed by the private chef who was employed by them at the time. So, as bizarre as it might seem for Paradise Lost’s mainstays to deviate as such (especially considering the recent roll the band has been on, as well as the number of side-projects on the books), for them, the motivation might be less of a detour and more of a reference to an extravagant experience wasted on wasted youth.
Mackintosh says the listener shouldn’t attach much connection between Host and Paradise Lost. This is easier said than done when two members make up the core of both bands and they reference their most notorious major label release with their moniker and sound. And herein is where Host lies: gothic, new wave, synth-pop that sounds like rejigged and remastered outtakes from 80s super hits. This is especially evident in “Tomorrow’s Sky,” which reeks of Tears for Fears at their most popular, in “Wretched Soul,” which taps into a thick strata of orchestration and a subdued take on New Order, and “Hiding from Tomorrow,” which has Depeche Mode written all over it. The rest generally paves its path via chilled out atmospheric layers of keys and guitars, electronic sequencing, and heartbeat rhythm patterns carried (or driven) by Holmes’ vocal phrasing.
The hurdle here is that, beyond the above mentioned few, the majority of the songs fail in possessing the anthemic quality of those songs that fill club floors on 80s nights, with most feeling like a collection of mediocre deep cuts as opposed to “hits.” There’s a telling and indicative sign to the overall muted effectiveness of Host’s style that comes in the way the duo takes A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away)” and neuter the song’s dynamic fun. Granted, it’s a cover, and making it your own is part of the process, but when injecting your own personality into a classic makes it a staid epigone of the original—an original song/band/sound you’re heavily inspired by in the first place—the result is a cautionary tale for those stepping into IX’s world. ~ Kevin Stewart-Panko