(1999/2018) Paradise Lost: Host (remaster) (English)

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Artist: Paradise Lost
Album: Host (remaster)
Release: 16.03.2018
Label: Nuclear Blast

 

Every band has that one album – you know, the one that caused a stir upon its release, but ends up becoming a minor cult classic as years go by. In the case of Paradise Lost, the pioneering Yorkshire Gothic metallers, it’s 1999’s Host, which abandoned metal altogether, taking the synth-tinged sound of One Second (1997) even further. Adding to metalheads’ dismay at the time was the fact that the band had signed to the major label, EMI, and all the members had cut their hair, so Host was seen as a downright betrayal. Unfortunately for Paradise Lost, the album alienated a lot of fans without bringing in much of a new audience, so the overall reception was quite condemning. However, after 19 years, Paradise Lost’s current label, Nuclear Blast, has given Host a second chance by issuing a remastered version so that everyone can (re)discover the record and decide for themselves whether it was a misstep or simply misunderstood.

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Around 6 years ago, having dug through most of Paradise Lost’s catalog, I decided to take a chance and check out the oft-maligned Host as well. Due to the reputation of the album, I didn’t go in with high expectations, despite having enjoyed One Second and Symbol of Life (2002), which were also part of the band’s poppy era. However, upon listening I found that the album was actually filled to the brim with gems and the atmosphere of the music was in its own way even gloomier than on the other records – when you strip the headbang-able elements away, the darkness becomes even more piercing. “Nothing Sacred” is no doom metal, but may just be the band’s most resigned song ever lyrically, and the title-track with its dramatic strings and lyrics about vocalist Nick Holmes’ father’s death is one of the band’s most emotionally captivating songs. Even on the more upbeat tunes like “In All Honesty” and “Deep”, the music has been paired up with anti-religious and accusatory lyrics respectively, which gives them a slightly sardonic feel. The only song I don’t find particularly interesting on its own outside the album is “Wreck”, but even that one is too good to be called a filler.

Electronic music is a challenging genre in terms of production – as technology and sound design develop, many keyboard patches and electronic drum (machine) sounds get dated after a while. However, the cutting edge production of Host still holds up in 2018 and does not take your mind immediately back into the late 90s, and since the band followed their own muse instead of hopping on a bandwagon, the music itself remains likewise relevant. There are guitars, but instead of metal distortion they’ve been run through various other effects. “Permanent Solution”, “Behind the Grey”, and “Made the Same” are all good examples of punchy songs that could be easily reworked in a heavier fashion. On the other hand, “Harbour” and the ballad “It’s Too Late” represent a bare and fragile side of Paradise Lost they haven’t explored much since then, and the string arrangements and female backing vocals add to the feeling of soft melancholy.

I’m a little cynical towards remasters in general, because far too often the dynamics of the original recording are sacrificed on the altar of loudness. Luckily that isn’t the case this time, as Jaime Gomez Arellano (the producer of the latest couple of PL albums) has for the most part turned up the bass frequencies a bit and given the music a fuller and warmer sound with more oomph. This is a remaster done right! I can’t see this version changing anyone’s opinion on the album though – a heavier-sounding remix with more emphasis on guitars might’ve done that, but I love the album in its original form already, so I have no complaints. However, for collectors’ and diehard fans’ sake, it would’ve been nice if the remix and live tracks and the leftover instrumental “Languish”, which originally appeared as B-sides on the “So Much is Lost” and “Permanent Solution” singles, would’ve been included on a bonus disc.

 

Although the detractors like to call this era of the band ‘Depeche Lost’, the album is actually rather unique and I haven’t found anything that sounds quite like it. Instead of going back to their classic metal sound (as they eventually did), the fivesome kept their heads and made an album completely on their own terms, which is why this can’t be called a sell-out. To use a Rush analogy, to me Host is Paradise Lost’s Power Windows (1985) – both are ambitious and well-produced albums with the perfect balance between hooky songcraft and experimentation with synths, and I rank both highly among the bands’ respective discographies. Host is still my second favorite PL album behind the legendary Draconian Times (1995), and it was one of the albums that served as a gateway to electronic music for me, so I have a special relationship with it. I’m not even the biggest fanatic out there though, as rhythm guitarist Aaron Aedy once revealed in an interview that a fan had offered them a hefty amount of bucks for performing the record in full, but the band didn’t want to do it for the money, so they declined. Lead guitarist and composer Greg Mackintosh has also brought up the idea of a crowdfunded side project release that would continue along the lines of Host; whether that ever comes to fruition remains to be seen, but hopefully this reissue will at least spark the band to revive a few of these songs on stage at some point.

Rating: 10/10, 5 stars

Tracklist:
1. So Much Is Lost
2. Nothing Sacred
3. In All Honesty
4. Harbour
5. Ordinary Days
6. It’s Too Late
7. Permanent Solution
8. Behind the Grey
9. Wreck
10. Made the Same
11. Deep
12. Year of Summer
13. Host

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