Sharing their name with the 1999 album by their “main band” gothic metal veterans Paradise Lost, Host is a goth rock project of vocalist Nick Holmes and guitarist Greg Mackintosh that allows the duo to delve deeply into their shared love of dark, eighties new wave sounds. All through the duo’s debut album IX (Nuclear Blast) — listeners will hear just as many (if not more) allusions to dark synth bands of the time like Depeche Mode, as they will to the group that Holmes and Mackintosh made their names with. The result is a very well-made and fairly consistent album that isn’t breaking any boundaries. 

Though album opener ‘Wretched Soul’ introduces listeners to the album with wintery, guitar strumming a single chord over and over with an almost droning, artificial quality, it’s very much the synthetic beats and electronic textures (quickly entering the mix) that provide the musical basis for this album. Add to this Holmes’ sombre, clear vocals (also bringing to mind Katatonia) intoning a procession of depressive lines about the end, sorrow, having no chance (you know, those typically bleak, gothic topics) and you pretty much have the formula laid out for this album. 


One thing to say for sure, it’s all executed with slick production. The bass is thick and ominous, the synthetic beats are crisp, the guitars (when they emerge from the background) cut through the mix, and occasional synthetic strings push those emotional buttons, while Holmes roams over the top like a doom-intoning shadow. Basically, it sounds as good as many a Depeche Mode album. It’s clear that this is an album that will only sound better the louder you play it.

It’s hard to deny too, how catchy some of these tracks are with certain lines that will get stuck in your head. ‘Tomorrow’s Sky’ sounds like it was designed to be played in a dark, underground Berlin nightclub, while it’s easy to imagine enraptured fans, eyes closed, earnestly bobbing their heads to ‘Hiding From Tomorrow’.


One thing that must be said about the whole record though is you really have to be on board with the dour atmosphere not to get the spell broken by lines like “the days go on and on, the days of standing strong, a pain that feels so long, I don’t belong”. If you have a problem with the most obvious and easy-to-predict rhymes in song lyrics, strap in, because tracks like ‘Divine Emotion’ and the light, techno-industrial ‘Instinct’ really do go to that well with a big bucket and draw deep.    


Still, it’s hard to get away from how earwormy some of these songs are and there are some neat musical moments that stand out, like the guitar solo in ‘A Troubled Mind’ and some cool textures in ‘Years of Suspicion’ that give the album a boost towards the latter stages when the album is starting to overstay its welcome. 


A few lyrical clangers aside there’s nothing bad here, but this is mostly very competently crafted and executed gothic eighties electronic rock that probably has some elements that Depeche Mode hadn’t already conquered thirty years ago (but not many) without really offering something, especially new or forward thinking.   


If that is the vibe you are looking for, then it does deliver and you’ll probably find yourself coming back to this, but for an album that seems to be fascinating with dystopian ideas of identity breakdown and loss of humanity in a world of ever developing technology, this music is all pretty retro in its presentation.  


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7 / 10