HIM

Venus Doom – HIM

 

Release Year: 2007

Rating: 6/10

Everyone has that one album they tried to like – this is that album for me. I gave this record so many chances thinking it might have been me; maybe I was too quick to dismiss it. Maybe it’s one of those albums that gets better with age. I could be completely wrong about the LP, like I was about Scream, Aim, Fire. But after revisiting it once again, my feelings have not change. I still think this is the band’s worst album despite their good intentions.

The album seems to start off on a good note with opening tracks “Venus Doom” and “Love in Cold Blood.” Hearing the heavy crunchy guitars, energetic beat, and familiar themes of love and death, I thought maybe I was wrong about the LP. But then the big issue kicked in with both tracks: changing gears midway through. On “Venus Doom” after the standard guitar solo, the music slows down to a light lullaby while Ville Valo puts on his deep throat vocals to sound menacing. The whole thing just doesn’t work and feels corny. On the latter track, right when it should end the band picks up the pace and rock out, which doesn’t add anything to the song aside from making it longer. Unfortunately, this issue pops up constantly throughout the album.

So many of the songs like “Passion’s Killing Floor” and even the strong “The Kiss of Dawn” suffer from musical changes. For some reason, the band decides to shift gears and switch up their playing. The problem is it rarely does this smoothly. It often comes off as abrupt making the song as a whole disjointed. “The Kiss of Dawn” is actually one of the better songs from the album, but unless you’re listening to the radio edit, a light muted melody is tacked on at the end. It doesn’t fit in with the song and just makes it longer than it needs to be. It’s such a disappointment because you’ll be rocking out to the song and suddenly it’s like another track is playing when it’s still the same one. It ruins the flow of the music and makes the song dull.

Then there’s “Sleepwalking Past Hope,” which is ten unbearable minutes of slow, soft music, lilting vocals, and lots of melancholy. Like so many of the other tracks, it starts off well with a somber, haunting piano riff that lures you in. But before you can get into the song distorted guitars replace this music making you wonder why it even started with the somber riff at all? It continues with the heavy guitars for about five minutes before it switches tempo and slows down again. After that, a wild solo pops up out of nowhere trying to wake you up and make you remember you’re listening to the song. The entire thing is so entirely drawn out. Did it need to be ten minutes? No fucking way. There is no justifiable reason why the song needed to be so long. All it does it does is bore you before the thing ends. Some bands know how to make lengthy songs that are exciting; HIM is not one of those bands. This album also has their shortest song “Song or Suicide,” which is so short it just feels pointless.

There are a few times when the band gets it right, like on the catchy “Bleed Well.” This is standard HIM all the way: heavy guitars, light melody, and images of love and death. It’s just so satisfying to hear, especially after all the other poor tracks. There’s a memorable guitar riff that opens the song, followed by Valo coyly singing “You had demons to kill,” which will melt you if you used to (or still) crush on him. Another good track is “Dead Lover’s Lane,” which sounds like a leftover from their previous effort Dark Light. It’s another one that sounds like classic HIM and even has a shift in sound during the bridge, but this time, it’s actually good. It flows really well instead of sounding like two different songs.

I really tried to like this album, but no matter how many times I listen to it my feelings are the same. Even if the band didn’t suddenly change tempo in the middle of the songs, it would still be a weak album. Most of the songs are okay at best, otherwise, they’re a little too familiar. And anyone who’s been following the band before this will most likely miss the keyboards, which they swapped out for more guitars. Sure, maybe it is their heaviest album in terms of some of the music, but it doesn’t keep listeners from losing interest. It also has some of their cheesiest lyrics that sounds like they’re taken from a bad goth poem. It’s time to face the truth; I just don’t like this album.

HIM: And Love Said No vs XX – Two Decades of Love Metal

Release Year: 2004

Rating: 8/10

When HIM announced their return to music in 2012, they celebrated 20 years together by releasing an all new greatest hits compilation. The thing is they also released one back in 2004. Is one better than the other? Well, it really depends on what you’re looking for. And Love Said No: 1997-2004 has all their singles up until that point and even includes the new track “And Love Said No.” The latter release is more complete containing “all” of their singles from 1997-2010, meaning fans can find the best songs from later albums like Dark Light and Venus Doom. This one also features a new song, the lackluster and pretty dull “Strange World.”

Release Year: 2012

Rating: 8/10

Yes, the latter release is supposed to be more complete and in some ways it is, but it’s missing three songs previously found on the 2004 LP: the title track, “Close to the Flame,” and “Solitary Man” all of which were released as singles. You would think that if the goal was to have all of their singles on one release then these wouldn’t be missing. Aside from this and the addition of their later material, the albums are almost the same. All the popular songs from Love Metal and their previous albums are included on both, though XX only has the radio edits, which is a little annoying. An improvement to the latter release is the inclusion of the original versions of “Your Sweet 666” and “Wicked Game,” which are better than the re-recorded versions that were on the 2004 compilation.

So is one really better than the other? Personally, I don’t think so. They both have their strong and weak points. Of course if you’re a new HIM fan it’s best to begin with the newer compilation since it has most of their singles, but collectors will want to own both anyway. Since they’ve released yet another album, I’m sure this won’t be the last hit collection from HIM. Let’s just hope the next one is truly complete.

 

Uneasy Listening Vol. 2 – HIM

Release Year: 2007

Rating: 7/10

In 2006, HIM released Uneasy Listening Vol. 1, a collection of remixed, live, and unreleased tracks that wasn’t that impressive. The companion album came the following year and it suffers from the same problems. While there are some impressive tracks and remixes, most of the albums falls flat because it sounds too similar to original versions of their singles or are not that exciting at all. If anything it seems like they had a few good songs they couldn’t include on the first release and included them here with lots of filler material.

Whereas the previous disc seemed to focus on acoustic renditions, this one has a lot of demos. While it’s not anything drastically different from the final version, they are interesting to listen to. “Buried Alive by Love” sounds more raw and fast paced than the final version, while “Endless Dark” has a hard rock edge and lots of fuzzy guitars. These tracks also have alternate lyrics, which makes it interesting for fans to hear at least once. Also, Ville Valo’s voice sounds really great since he sounds bright and clear. The demos are nothing special and don’t differ that much from the album versions, but they’re great to hear at least once.

There are also a number of live tracks here, but none of them are that stunning. Songs like “Wicked Game,” “Again,” and “Right Here in my Arms” sound fine enough, but since they’re pretty straight forward there’s nothing notable about them. If anything they don’t sound that different from the recorded versions. At least that means the band are good live performers. There are some live cover tracks that range from interesting to pretty bad. Their version of Black Sabbath’s “Hand of Doom” is faithful to the original and Valo’s voice works really well on the heavy metal track, but the same can’t be said for their cover of Bad Brains’ “Sail On.” While the music sounds good Valo’s voice just doesn’t work in a punk rock setting.

The band also cover Turbonegro’s “Rendezvous with Anus.” Yes, the song is exactly what you think it’s about. It’s definitely a weird track and the band seems to know this as Valo sounds like he’s trying to be sensual in a comical way. It’s one of those songs you never expect them to do and you’re not sure how to feel about it in the end. There are a lot of alternate versions of their songs that are actually really good. “Sigillum Diaboli” is an upbeat, less damning version of “Stigmata Diaboli” and “Soul on Fire (Erich Zann’s Supernatural Remix)” is heavily distorted and has more of an electronica vibe to it. “Pretending (Cosmic Pope Jam) starts off well enough as a rock oriented version of the track, but it goes on way longer than it should. When it hits the seven minute you’re still wondering why it keeps going. It makes you forget everything that you appreciated about this remix.

The best track on the album is “Beginning of the End (Sad Damned Version).” If you thought the original was creepy and haunting, this version amps that feeling up to 1000. The music is more intense and makes everything sound like impending doom. The guitars sound damning and Valo sounds sinister as he sings “A drop of your blood tastes like wine, today.” This new brooding mood and the already tragic lyrics make it sound like bad things are about to rain down upon you.

Similar to the previous release, this one isn’t that spectacular. It does offer fans unreleased demos and remixes, but most of them are bland or sound too much like the original. There are a few great songs and cover versions that stand out from the rest of the songs, but the album as a whole is pretty weak. It’s one of those releases that’s more suited to HIM collectors rather than casual listeners. Out of the two, the first volume has a little more to offer fans.

Uneasy Listening Vol. 1 – HIM

220px-Uneasy_Listening_Vol._1Release Year: 2006

Rating: 7.5/10

This collection from the Finnish rockers takes various remixed, alternative, and acoustics versions of their songs, some of which were found on their singles. While some of the material is great and presents a different side to the band, a lot of it doesn’t alter much. Either something very little is changed or seemingly nothing is changed at all making the listener wonder what makes this version so special.

The best material found on the release are the acoustic tracks. Something about Ville Valo with a lone guitar makes for intriguing and sometimes haunting songs. The unplugged version of “It’s All Tears” gives the track a folk feeling with the throbbing bass and weird key arrangement. It sounds like it should be played in a gypsy camp. “Buried Alive by Love” strips the track of its hard rock sound and presents a naked tune with Valo’s powerful vocals on display. The only downside is he sounds a bit strained by the end. Acoustic renditions of “Please Don’t Let it Go,” “For You,” and “Pretending” are all good, but the best one is “Funeral of Hearts.” Not only does this give the listener a chance to hear Valo’s impressive vocals, but it makes the entire track creepy and foreboding, like he’s singing about someone’s doom. These versions really show the strength of the songwriting and how well they work even when most of the music is striped away.

Many of the tracks are supposedly remixed, but end up sounding very similar to their original versions. The only thing that’s different about the Strongroom mix of “Join Me in Death” are re-recorded vocals. I’m not really sure why they felt the need to re-do the vocals, but they sound good either way. “In Joy and Sorrow” adds string instrumentation creating a really beautiful sound, while “When Love and Death Embrace” is nothing but the shorter radio edit of the single. It’s the same story with “Close to the Flame;” the music has been slightly altered, but overall sounds the same. The most baffling remix on the LP is “One Last Time.” There seems to be nothing different from the version found on Razorblade Romance. The muted vocals and the instrumentation are the same. The only difference I found was here, Valo continued singing once the music faded out. A lot of these versions don’t add anything to the songs and almost seem pointless.

While most of the tracks are lacking, there are some really good mixes. One of the best is the disrhythm remix of “The Sacrament.” The song is already beautiful, but this version takes away the electric guitar and hard rhythm replacing it with stringed instruments giving it a classical feel. It sounds even prettier than before and somehow gives it a bigger presence. It’s a well welcome take on one of their best songs. Another good mix is “Salt in Our Wounds” Thusla Doom version. Doom is the perfect way to describe the sound. It begins with heavily distorted music that sounds like violent crashing thunder. The music is very dramatic and adds a darker element to the track that fits right in. The downside is it drags on longer than it should, but it still manages to be better than the original recording.

Whether or not the remixes completely changed the song or barely touched it, they still sound good. This doesn’t apply to “Lose You Tonight.” It actually starts off really well with the track slowed down creating a haunting mood for Valo’s crooning vocals. But half way through things get iffy. For starters, during the bridge grumbling music comes on that sounds like a monster’s stomach growling. If that wasn’t enough to take you out of the song, it ends with eagles screeching and a woman screaming for some weird reason. Add that to the fact it runs on too long and it makes for an offputing track. But for an album that’s pretty lengthy one bad track isn’t a bad feat.

Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. With the exception of one song, most of tracks here sound pretty good, but it almost seems pointless getting this collection since most of the so-called remixes don’t alter much. Sometimes it’s a subtle change, other times it sounds like nothing is different. There are some great remixes that change the mood and tone of the song and when you hear them you wish there were more versions like these. At least the acoustic renditions are enough to save the release. They show a different side to the band and Valo’s voice is on full display. If you’re a collector, this is a nice addition to their discography, but don’t expect anything amazing.

My Day with HIM: Seeing HIM for the first time…twice

IMG_20140312_120100_708Ville Valo at JBTV studios 2014

Back in 2006, I was supposed to see HIM live. Me and my best friend at the time couldn’t be happier. We had the tickets in our hands, wondering which songs they were going to do, what Ville was going to wear, how he was going to look. A week later HIM canceled. Needless to say I was crushed and it was something I never forgot. The sting of cancellation would follow me to every concert from there on. But all is now forgiven because I got to see these guys twice when they hit Chicago, both at JBTV studios and later at the House of Blues.

The day started at 11:30 in the morning standing in the lobby of JBTV in awe of all the autographed photos of acts who played there previously. There were signed posters from INXS, Dead Sara, Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band among others. After getting in the studio and waiting around for about 10 more minutes, the band strolled out and my eyes landed on Ville. Yes, he’s even cuter in person. The guys were in good spirits as they played on. They seemed excited and ready to rip through the set for about 100 people. By the way, Ville is super charming in person. He was looking out over the crowd, smiling the whole time, happy to see people having a good time. I swear, so fucking adorable.

The set was only five songs long, but they were all amazing. They did “Buried Alive by Love,” “Wings of a Butterfly,” “Right Here in my Arms,” “The Kiss of Dawn,” “All Lips go Blue,” and an extra long version of “When Love and Death Embrace.” What really surprised me was how awesome they all sounded live. Linde’s solos were blazing and Mige’s energy was turned way up. The stage was small, but he made sure he covered the entire thing. In between songs he would chat with the crowd. Meanwhile, Ville would ask everyone “Everyone good? Everybody happy? Great!” It’s awesome how all the guys came off as people you want to have a drink with. Also, Ville sounded amazing live. He pulled some intense vocal acrobatics. It reminded me of what a talented singer he is. It’s great how even though the crowd was small, he still gave it his all.

Later, at the sold out House of Blues gig, the energy was still high, but since they opened with the same songs they did at JBTV it was kind weird hearing them again. Either way, they still sounded great. The show really got started for me when the icy riff of “Join Me (In Death)” rang out. The crowd went wild as Ville performed his breathless vocals. Really, the entire setlist was excellent. With the exception of two albums, they did a song from almost all their LPs covering their new stuff with some old favorites. Even though they didn’t play “The Sacrament” like I hoped, I was beside myself when they did “For You” and “Wicked Game.” The first is from their debut and is full of gothic gloom, while the latter is their sexy cover of the Chris Issak classic. They’re both songs I count among my favorites and when I heard the opening riffs, my heart melted.

They also did “Your Sweet Six Six Six,” “Soul on Fire,” which started a hectic circle pit, “Poison Girl,” that got all HIM lovers shrieking with joy, and “Funeral of Hearts.” Just when I thought the band gave it their all earlier, they intensified their performance even more for the main event. Yes, Ville was still just as charming. Something about seeing him smiling across the crowd makes you enjoy the show even more. It’s always great to see an artist enjoy performing. They got the crowd so amped up when they left before the encore that they started chanting “One more song! One more song!” Of course they came back for “Into the Night” and another rendition of the gloomy “When Love and Death Embrace.” HIM really brought their brand of Finnish melancholy to the Windy City, as Ville put it.

I had to wait a long time to finally see the band, but it was worth the wait. I really enjoyed the JBTV performance more just because it was so intimate and personal. But it seems that HIM has really improved as a live band over the years. It didn’t get my blood pumping like some other shows I’ve been to, but it was amazing to see and hear some of my favorite songs I’ve been listening to since high school live. If anything seeing them live reminded me of why I love HIM so much. I hope to see them again when they come back to Chicago to experience the charm of their Finnish melancholy.

Complete setlist:

Buried Alive By Love

Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly

Right Here in My Arms

The Kiss of Dawn

All Lips Go Blue

Join Me in Death

Your Sweet Six Six Six

Passion’s Killing Floor

Soul on Fire

Wicked Game

Tears on Tape

Poison Girl

For You

The Funeral of Hearts

Encore:

Into the Night

When Love and Death Embrace