Talk Show Host: 045: Paradise Lost

While the release schedules are often clogged nowadays with anniversary re-issues, remasters and other ways to get us, the listeners, to shell out cash again for albums we already have, it isn’t often that what might be termed overlooked or controversial albums come in for the lavish re-issue treatment.

So colour me surprised earlier this year when it was confirmed that Paradise Lost’s most controversial album – Host, an album that seems to have coloured and affected their entire career trajectory since – was getting such a release.

At the turn of the nineties, Paradise Lost emerged from West Yorkshire with a gothic-tinged, doomy metal sound that was quite unlike any other band at the time, although they had labelmates and kindred spirits in My Dying Bride and Anathema in particular, all of whom explored similarly doomy realms but all went in radically different directions over time.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Paradise Lost, though, was that they alone of these bands signed to a major label, EMI – quite what EMI thought they could do with such a dark-themed band would in hindsight make for interesting reading – and the first release through their new label was Host in 1999. It could be said that the financial backing that resulted from the deal allowed the band a creative freedom that they’d never seen before – and the result was this entirely unexpected, if you read the press or heard the many bleatings from fans at the time.

But the thing is, Paradise Lost using synths was hardly new – they’d been in the credits of every album back to Shades of God, and by the time of the glorious One Second, they were prominent in the mix and in the sound, so really Host was just another step down the route they’d already followed, but perhaps the dialling down of the guitars was what got everyone so annoyed.

My view on this album was rather different. I was going through a hellish time in 1999 when this album was released. My life in London – and my future at University – had fell apart entirely, and I somehow scratched an existence through the year before giving in and fleeing back north to West Yorkshire just after the millenium – it was a decade (almost exactly) before I returned to live in my now home city.

So the bleak elegance of this album – I’m not sure the band ever sounded this bereft of hope – fit perfectly with my own mood at the time, and I listened to this album on repeat, for months, and indeed it is still an album I listen to regularly. So I was a little confused as to the fuss around it.

This remaster, too, doesn’t do too much with it. There are no remixes, no “in hindsight, we could have done this better another way” reworkings, the band have simply gone back to the original songs and tweaked elements with better technology available, and every single song just sounds cleaner and crisper – Permanent Solution in particular (the heaviest song on the album by a mile, kinda mechanised industrial rock, and the song that probably inspired the dismissive Depeche Mode-clone comments about the album) scythes the air out of the speakers – while It’s Too Late in the updated form is absolutely devastating, the mournful strings sound much fuller, and the despair in Nick’s vocals are only made the more clear by Shereena Smith’s backing vocals sounding better than ever.

The other thing that this re-issue reminds is by dialling down the guitars, how much this revealed the excellent songcraft at the heart of the band. There are a whole host (sorry) of memorable songs here, two of which (Nothing Sacred and especially Behind the Grey) have among the best choruses Paradise Lost ever wrote.

Interestingly, though, the band gradually returned back to guitar-based songs – the most recent albums being almost a return to the style they were exploring in the early nineties – and the more electronic songs from this period (with the exception of the near-ever present Erased, from the following Symbol of Life – an exceptionally catchy song, as it happens) quickly vanished from their live sets.

But nearly two decades on from the original release of Host, the band appear keen to make amends around this album, and see it reappraised. I was able to talk to Greg Mackintosh from the band over e-mail to discuss the album, and his thoughts on it now. Needless to say, thanks are due to him for taking the time out to talk. on Facebook In light of the reaction that Host got at the time, it seems an interesting decision to remaster and re-issue it. Was there a desire to encourage a reappraisal, and maybe give it a fair hearing?

Greg Mackintosh Well, it’s taken nearly 20 years, but it seems it’s actually OK for people to like this album now. Which also fell in line with us getting the rights back to the album, so doing a remaster seemed the natural thing to do.

So Much Is Lost Remastered Lyric Video
So Much Is Lost Video
Permanent Solution Video Did you pay much attention to the press and fan comment around the album at the time, and how did it colour your thoughts around the albums that followed – or was moving back towards a more guitar-based, doomy sound a natural progression in the end?

Greg Mackintosh No. We didn’t pay any attention, which really is evident when you take into account how far Host was from the trends in heavier and alternative music at the time. We definitely just did our own thing regardless of the consequences. The move back to a heavier sound has been a very steady one over quite a few years. What were your feelings around the album as you worked on the remaster? Did you hear the album differently yourselves?

Greg Mackintosh It just reaffirmed my opinion that it’s a really strong album. The remaster brings out a lot of detail that maybe wasn’t so evident in the original master. Even by PL standards, the lyrics to this album are extraordinarily bleak. Was this a reflection of your mindset at the time?

Greg Mackintosh I think so. We felt isolated from the scene and very out on our own. Also Nick had recently lost his father, and I know that played a big part in the bleakness of the lyrics. Over the nineties, your sound of course went increasingly electronic. What bands were you listening to at the time, and were there any bands in particular that were helping to tilt your sound in that direction?

Greg Mackintosh Dead Can Dance were a huge influence on PL in every era. People said Depeche Mode, which is true but it was actually Alan Wilder‘s project Recoil that was more of an influence on Host. Curve, Portishead, and PJ Harvey were things that I also remember quite liking at the time. Are there any plans to play songs from this album live in future? I’ve seen PL a number of times over the past decade (and slightly longer), and I can’t recall ever having heard a song from it live.

Greg Mackintosh We played a couple of songs from it up to a few years back. I have no problem playing something from Host live, and it probably will happen at some point. PL fans seem to be a diehard lot (and very vocal in their views at times). How much do you think they’ve contributed to the longevity of the band?

Greg Mackintosh Yes, we’ve been very lucky in that respect. I think because a couple of our albums over the years like Gothic and Draconian Times hit at exactly the right time for the scene, a lot of people grew up with those records and stuck with us. It’s not an easy ride being a PL fan, with our penchant for experimentation, but I think a feeling runs through all our albums that is hard to quantify. Finally, is there a particular release (or releases) in your back-catalogue that you are most proud of now in whatever way? Or are there any releases that you question your choices at the time now?

Greg Mackintosh I think Shades of God is our most overlooked work. Probably because it was sandwiched between Gothic and Icon. Believe in Nothing is the album where we felt rudderless, like we didn’t know what we wanted and I think that shows.

The re-issued Host is out next Friday

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