01. Wretched Soul 02. Tomorrow's Sky 03. Divine Emotion 04. Hiding From Tomorrow 05. A Troubled Mind 06. My Only Escape 07. Years Of Suspicion 08. Inquisition 09. Instinct 10. I Ran
When PARADISE LOST released their seventh album in 1999, a lot of people lost their shit. For some, it was a bold move, enshrining the daring ethos that had taken the Brits from the esoteric doom of their early years to the mainstream-conquering bombast of "Draconian Times". For others, "Host" was — even after the eclectic forward step of "One Second" two years earlier — an abomination; objections to which could be largely reduced to "Why do PARADISE LOST sound like DEPECHE MODE?" With hindsight, both sides had a point. But while moving into more electronic / alternative territory might have been one step sideways too many and upset a few metalheads, it always made perfect sense in the context of the band's evolution.
Gothic rock, post-punk and the dark side of the alt-rock realm had always informed PARADISE LOST's music, and therefore it makes just as much sense now that Nick Holmes and Greg Mackintosh should return to the sound that kicked over the applecart 24 years ago. Defiantly naming themselves after the album that caused all the trouble, HOST is the sound of the duo's electro-goth mojo reawakened.
If there was a legitimate criticism to be leveled at "Host" — anguished comparisons to SISTERS OF MERCY notwithstanding — it was that its songs often failed to live up to the ambition of the project as a whole. More than two decades later, Holmes and Mackintosh have become better songwriters in every conceivable way, and "IX" is as much a showcase for that as it is for their love of synthesizers and reverb.
Opener "Wretched Soul" is stunning: built on a persistent, electronic throb, it stalks and crawls with mounting tension, an icy Holmes vocal hovering amid sumptuous strings and stuttering static. "Tomorrow's Sky" is an unapologetic, rubber-trousered goth-disco banger, with Gary Numan's fingerprints on its collar and a timely whiff of synthwave lurking in the background. "Hiding From Tomorrow" winds around a Giorgio Moroder sequencer riff, before mutating into a futuristic stomp redolent of David Bowie's quasi-industrial period, with crashing guitar chords momentarily shattering the glassy-eyed, robotic façade. When the chorus hits, it's pure morbid gold.
Anyone still bitter about 1999 should probably avoid "A Troubled Mind", primarily because it does sound quite a lot like DEPECHE MODE, but also because whiny, bitter people shouldn't have nice things. Once again, Holmes's vocal is an object lesson in less-is-more: a simple melody, expressed simply, but with endless authority and conviction. A lavish avalanche of ghostly choirs and mechanistic beats, "My Only Escape" offers glimmers of hope and surges of desperations; "Years Of Suspicion" verges on the heaviness of Holmes and Mackintosh's day job, but via thick, noirish atmospherics, dense, tribal drums and bursts of spiky, clangorous guitar. The infernal dream pop of "Inquisition" and the incensed techno-rock of "Instinct" bring up the rear, before a genuinely great cover of A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS '80s smash "I Ran" brings the automated, wipe-clean curtain down.
To call this anything other than a victory would be madness. While PARADISE LOST continue to make some of the best and heaviest music of their career, HOST are a timely reminder that the best ideas are always worth giving another chance. Those ideologically opposed to such things will hate this just as much as the original "Host", but resistance seems even more pointless now. Time to goth up, people.
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