HOST - IX (Cover Artwork)


IX (2023)

Nuclear Blast

HOST is a new project made up of Nick Holmes and Greg Mackintosh, both of legendary UK goth metallers, Paradise Lost. Should you not be familiar with them, Paradise Lost are one third of the famed ‘Peaceville 3’ alongside Anathema and My Dying Bride who, in the late 80’s and early 90’s are credited (by some) to have either birthed or perfected the gothic metal sub-genre. So this record comes with a pretty hefty pedigree. But it’s hard to not ask simply “why?” when a duo already working together in another band, decide to forge their own path. Arguably even more so when they’re over 30 years deep into that initial project. The most obvious answer is because those people have an itch that needs to be scratched. That is certainly the situation with HOST. And in case anyone was wondering, the name of the project is a tip of the cap to the Paradise Lost record of the same name that most closely approaches the style and sonic intent of IX.

To be clear what that sonic intent (and output) is, there is a gloomy sensibility to these songs. But that does them a disservice. The gloom is wrapped in an ultraviolet casing, subtly radiating pulses of programmed beats, interspersed with Holmes’ baritone and sparingly-used strings, keys and acoustic guitars. So we’re not talking synthwwave here so much as NIN or Depeche Mode. Which I know is lofty company, but they’re the acts that spring to mind when I think of those who have managed to meld these constituent ingredients into cohesive, memorable songs. And songs like “Hiding From Tomorrow” are nothing if not memorable and cohesive. I suppose my primary critical concern would only be that the highs rarely reach the stratosphere and the lows are tempered by the music’s inherent style. This does mean it lives in the mid-range more than a lot of acts making music adjacent to this, but that does allow it to occasionally fall into the hypnotic bracket which is also a very nice pocket for HOST, apparently.

What feels most odd when listening to this record is that it didn’t get made earlier. Clearly both contributors have a great love for this style of music, but the zenith of the 80’s retro love-in has arguably passed us now in favour of the next stage in the retro roundabout (the 90’s). But I’ll focus more on exactly what this is for a minute. The music that HOST makes is borne of musicians who are comfortable and confident in their abilities, who have honed those abilities over years of gothic metal, occasional bombast in the name of emotional effect, and an innate grasp of the dynamics needed for impactful, long-form songwriting. But the songs that HOST make are not long form. There’s no song longer than 5 minutes out of the 10 within this record. There is little to no suggestion of metal and any bombast is wrapped up in processed beats, new wave synths and Holmes’ largely reserved delivery. Arguably the most affecting moments are the musical passages immediately prior to, or after, the more overtly hook-based aspects of the songs. And the hooks are plentiful.

The fact that Holmes and Mackintosh were going through their own musical awakenings when new wave wave was actually happening is not lost on me. And I think it lends this record an extraordinary air of authenticity. If you like Blaqk Audio but find it a touch contrived, if you like The Black Queen but find it too wilfully sexy, if you like Carpenter Brut but find it a bit too day-glo? I think there could be a record here that you didn’t know you wanted but you’ll be really glad exists. It’s a bizarre contradiction of a record. It’s neon doom. It’s long-form songwriting packaged into 4-minute synth-pop songs. It’s an 80’s record made by 2 lifelong metal dudes that uses nuance, structure and a patchwork of sounds to create something cohesive. I’m not sure how they’ve done it, but they’ve definitely done it well. A word that springs to mind, that may be isn’t synonymous with this kind of music is elegance. Grace, even. But this has both of those in spades. I hope plenty of people do end up hearing this, because although there is scope for it to fall between two stools (metal guys not making metal / 80’s synth pop that isn’t luminous enough) there’s a whole host of people (no pun intended) for whom this could be an absolute home run.