Last Sunday, a mate text me. It was the sort of text that a geek loves. “I know next to nothing about The Almighty” it said. “Where do I start?”
I reeled off about eight replies without stopping, and concluded: “the reason I love them so much, is they grew with me from 15 years old”.
There’s one other band that did that too. Paradise Lost.
I’d have been slightly older when I got the cassette on the front of one of the music magazines with a couple of tracks from Draconian Times on, but good lord I loved them. I worked backwards. Gothic and Shades of God from the early 90s were the heaviest records I liked (still true to this day) and after recording one of my absolute favourite songs of all time in ’97 (“Say Just Words”), they re-emerged a couple of years later with a proper synth record, called Host.
This band, this Host if you will, is a kind of continuation of that. Gregor Mackintosh and Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost are here, with a record that sounds like ‘99’s Host updated.
On the press stuff for “IX” Holmes reckons that it would have been easier to release the record (so different was it from PL stuff) as a side project, as it would – in his words – have saved “a lot of silly bother”.
Maybe, maybe not. Speaking personally, I love blurring the edges, I hate neat boxes. I hate only liking one thing. I’ll like whatever I like.
And I love this.
From the acoustic opening of “Wretched Soul” this is a wonderful record. One that, when you strip away all the talk, could have only come from these two. The way the strings merge with Holmes’ voice here is quite stunning.
The full on 80s synth romp on “Tomorrow’s Sky” is better than anything that’s on the Slow Readers Club record (also out on the same day ironically), and there’ll be those that balk at it, those with their patches on their denim jackets who only want to put their horns up in the air. Sound. This isn’t for them.
“Divine Emotion” comes in on the back of a fragile piano line, and these are less songs as soundscapes. Vast, open, and going anywhere they want to. But all with that vocal style that Holmes has perfected. It’s quite something.
As ever, it feels like you are dealing with some catharsis. Even on the more strident ones like “Hiding From Tomorrow” it feels like you’re forced to confront your own demons with this as the conduit, so that when you get to the pulsing, incessant claustrophobia of “A Troubled Mind” it is genuinely unsettling, and when the hook line “honesty through pain” hits, it feels like you are all alone. Cast adrift.
One of the things that happened when I began exploring other music once I’d discovered PL getting on for 30 years ago, was I found bands like New Model Army and The Mission, and there’s more than a touch of that here, but especially on the overt goth of “My Only Escape”, while the discordant, nightmarish synth on “Years Of Suspicion” blends perfectly with Mackintosh’s guitar – and it’s worth saying here that whilst this is very much a synth driven album, the guitar is excellently used, and the live drums on three of the songs from Jaime Gomez Arellano (who also produces) add to the sonic colour.
Nothing here is too long either. “Inquisition” is the lengthiest at almost five minutes. It’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian, barren. “without fantasy, my hands are tied” offers a hook, but what this is dreaming of who knows?
There’s something haunting and unsettling about “Instinct”. “There’s nothing you can do”, intones Holmes on this one, and at one point it threatens to go full on rave, and there’s a feeling of hopelessness, desolation even that evokes Paradise Lost at their best.
It ends with “I Ran” – a cover of “Flock Of Seagulls” and Holmes says something interesting about it. “I’d always loved the song, but I could never admit it….”. And there’s maybe an element of that in most of us. I love Maiden, but I also love country, I love Stiff Little Fingers but I also adore Yes. The point I am making is that the older I get, the less I give a shit.
There’s a reason this website is called Maximum Volume Music: it’s so I can put whatever the bloody hell I want on. Forget the rules. The best stuff comes from doing what comes naturally. That’s probably why “IX” is comfortably the album of the year so far, then.