Host - IX
The origins of Host, the new project featuring Paradise Lost vocalist Nick Holmes and guitarist Greg Mackintosh, do not trace back to their 1999 album bearing the same name but instead to the West Yorkshire music clubs of the mid-to-late 1980s. While Holmes and Mackintosh were already certified heavy metal fanatics (“metal thrashing mad” as Holmes equates), they were equally drawn to the New Wave and Goth music scenes. The pounding rhythms, sublime melodies and undercurrent of darkness drew them in, creating immediate earworms and a desire to delve further. Holmes and Mackintosh’s soon-to-be burgeoning career as pioneering Gothic doom metallers in Paradise Lost may have cast this fix to the side, but the sounds and aura never left them. In fact, it only grew stronger with each passing decade.
Mackintosh finally put plans into motion during the pandemic for a venture that would merge his penchant for sound design with the moods and atmosphere of 1980s dance-pop and Goth. The project was originally a solo pursuit until he asked Holmes, his longtime Paradise Lost songwriting partner, to join. “Host” was selected as the name as a tip of the hat to the aforementioned album that found Paradise Lost in an unprecedented period of experimentation that eschewed their metal roots and also challenged their fanbase in ways like never before.
“We always stood by Host as an album,” says Mackintosh. “This project is not totally connected to that album, but some of the ideas are extrapolated. We’re taking the basic premise and trying it out now. And, really, it was something fun and interesting for us to do. We’ve been doing Paradise Lost for a long time and got an itch to try something different from where PL is now. I could take PL down this route again. Who knows? It may happen if we live long enough, but I
thought, ‘Why not now?’ I had the time to do it.”
“In hindsight, it would have been easier to release the Host album in 1999 as a side project,” adds Holmes. “It would have saved us a lot of silly bother. Side projects back then were unusual. Only certain people got away with it. But the Host project is different from Host the album. It’s got an ’80s vibe and it’s more vocal-driven. That album was a long time ago. We’re coming from a different place with this.”
Their debut foray, IX, is an eclectic, stirring collection of songs that forges a unified front of darkness that is interwoven with orchestration and textures. Complemented by carefully placed guitar lines, the album is yet another realization of Mackintosh’s songwriting intuitiveness and restless creative spirit. To create the songs on IX, Mackintosh relied on the approach of starting
with a piano line. His self-described “simple” chord sequences or piano lines were then volleyed To Holmes for vocal ideas. Once the pair found a direction, Mackintosh embellished each song with lavish but haunting soundscapes — often blurring the distinction between guitar and keyboards.
“In 1999, the technology wasn’t easily afforded to do something like sound design,” he says. “You could do synthy stuff, but not like you could now. I was reasonably accomplished by the time we did the album Host, but it was a totally different game with Akai samplers and two megabytes of memory. I’ve been into sound design for the last ten or fifteen years. My son did sound design at university. I helped him with a project where he was asked to create music for a
film where you’re sailing on a boat down the river. It opens into the sea, you see a lighthouse, travel past it and go down the coast. He had to paint the picture using sound. Those same principles are part of this Host project.”
Holmes and Mackintosh are joined by Paradise Lost producer/engineer Jaime Gomez Arellano, who provided drums to three of the album’s songs and reprised his production role. The absence of traditional drums and PL’s trademark wall of guitars afforded the pair newfound flexibility when composing. The songs revolve around a programmed beat, a keyboard line or even a volume swell — all with the purpose of bringing about a central idea within a familiar, streamlined format, whether it’s the poppy “Tomorrow’s Sky,” arching, melody-laden “Hiding from Tomorrow” or the synth-drenched “Years of Suspicion.”
“Sometimes you don’t want a format, but sometimes you want it to go to a certain spot,” says Holmes. “‘Tomorrow’s Sky’ is a classic example. It goes wherever I want it to go. I love that kind of song — it’s my favorite on the album. It goes to show you can’t keep down a good song. It’s like ‘A Forest’ by The Cure. I liked the song when I was younger but couldn’t show it because I was already a metal guy. If a song sticks in my head after one listen, it’s a testament to the person who wrote it. That’s why I like this kind of challenge.”
The IX running order concludes with a cover of A Flock of Seagulls’ seminal 1982 hit, “I Ran.” The Host version, of course, flips the original on its head and transforms it into a dark, restless number that feels cold and barren. Holmes came up with the idea — Mackintosh admits to not hearing the song since the ’80s despite its popularity. He then cut the tempo in half, dropped in new guitar lines and added some synth flourishes, thus transforming one of the most identifiable New Wave songs. “I finally listened to the song and thought we could do something really good to it,” says Mackintosh. “I wanted to make it more cinematic and darken it up.”
“I always thought ‘I Ran’ was great but never admitted it,” laughs Holmes. “I think I was playing the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City video game and heard it. I was being bombarded with ’80s songs while playing the game and thought, ‘Fuck, I remember this!’ It’s always last minute when we do covers in PL and it’s usually something from that decade. They send me back to being a kid.”
The Host project is emblematic of the enduring songwriting partnership between Holmes and Mackintosh. (“There are no rules when we write,” quips Holmes. “We’re very different in many ways, but we have a real thing where we click with certain music.”) Their shape-shifting career in Paradise Lost has unearthed countless groundbreaking moments that lesser bands have failed to duplicate. It was only natural, then, that the pair explored new territory by paying homage to a time that shaped them as musicians — and people.
“I’m stuck in those clubs in the mid-’80s,” says Mackintosh. “I can’t get out of them. To me, it’s something that occasionally comes around and is in vogue or out. It doesn’t change for me. It’s always there to some degree. So, I do this for enjoyment. It’s a privilege; it’s my hobby to be able to put this stuff out and have someone take it seriously. Just that’s enough for me.”
-David E. Gehlke