Paradise Lost – one of Britain’s most beloved purveyors of death/doom metal and a band that have spent the majority of their career receiving plaudits from fans and critics alike – found themselves at the height of their career in the mid 1990’s. With their star in the ascendancy they decided to mix things up a bit, starting with the Full-on Gothic direction of One Second in 1997, and then forsaking metal altogether with their following album, 1999’s Host.
An album which saw their extensive fanbase disappear virtually overnight and take the best part of a decade to win back. Now that seventeen years have past, it’s high time this much maligned album was reevaluated and see if it deserves a second chance.
Lets cut straight to the chase, Host was a huge fucking departure for the Halifax doomsters. Anyone who had followed Paradise Lost to this point would have been well aware that this band were never afraid to experiment – whether that meant incorporating female vocals and ditching the guttural’s – but you could could always count on them for bowel-rupturing riffs and ‘wah’ drenched solos.
So what the chuff was going on here? Within a minute of sticking on the first track, “So Much Is Lost”, the riffs were noticeably absent and was that Nick Holmes crooning? Surely not! Still, he pulled it off admirably but as the album progressed the severe lack of bone jarring riffs Gregor Makintosh and Aaron Aedy were known for were noticeably absent.
So, what actually was left with from the band that we knew and loved?
The answer to that is precious little but Host is home to a damn fine batch of songs nonetheless. This is still a maudlin collection of tunes – things hadn’t changed that much in the world of Nick Holmes – and this album has quite possibly some of the most depressing lyrics to ever emerge from his pen. In a 2007 interview Holmes was quoted as saying “From Host through to Believe in Nothing, we really kind of didn’t know where we were going. We were really in a dilemma”. It shows. Just a glance at the lyrics for Host indicates a man, and a band, struggling to realise where they fitted in with Holmes bemoaning “all of my life is changing, always some rearranging” and my identity, my identity is not real” on the painful “So Much is Lost”.
Musically, the album is still as dark as you would expect but without using traditional formulas. In place of traditional riffs the music pulses and throbs with a relatively subtle use of programminng and processed beats. The guitars are still there, they just don’t rage in the usual way and are layered with effects with producer Steve Lyon – famed for his work with Depeche Mode – keeping the sound dense and claustrophobic throughout.
Some people would have you believe that Paradise Lost sold out with this album but in fact the opposite is true. If they had wanted to sell out they could have released another Draconian Times or One Second, 2 albums which had elevated their careers to new heights. Instead, they made the music they wanted and the ‘metal taste-makers’ could be damned! However, the new style of music – combined with a new, cleaner-cut, image – was just too much for some. As heavy metal fans we like to think of ourselves as being risk takers and open to new things but nine times out of ten we turn our backs on bands that take chances and the backlash against Paradise Lost was especially brutal.
So, is Host a heavy metal album? The answer to that is a resounding ‘not in the fucking slightest’ but then it was never meant to be. What it is, is a damn fine rock album full of very good songs. It’s never going to win a poll for their greatest album but it’s far from their worst, a prize that goes to the risible Believe in Nothing.
If you have the album, do yourself a favour and dig it out, open your mind and dive into what is potentially a ‘lost classic’; the slack on this one has been considerably cut!