Love Metal

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.

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

Tears on Tape- HIM

TearsontapeRelease Year: 2013

Rating: 8.5/10

Though many people may not think so, this is one of the most anticipated albums of the year. At least for hardcore HIM fans it is. Not hearing anything from the band since 2011, fans were wondering if their favorite band were ever coming back. But now their eighth studio album is here and longtime fans will be pleased to find the band returning to their roots. The album is a bit softer than their previous release, but it has that classic HIM sound and feel; some of the songs even harken back to the fan favorite Love Metal. But there is a good mix of the old and the new on this record.

Unlike most of HIM’s albums, this one begins with a short instrumental called “Unleash the Red.” It’s this haunting, warbling music that gets creepier as the song goes on, but it’s contrast by the middle where there is some bright keyboard thrown in that makes it sound hopeful, but still sad. It may not be much, but it’s a great way to set up the tone and feel of the album. The album then moves into the heavy hitting track “All Lips Go Blue.” This is the classic HIM sound at its finest. It has the harsh, aggressive crunchy guitars that the band has become known for along with Ville’s sweet sounding vocals that make your heart melt. And as usual, the song mixes the themes of love and death. The song really reminds me of something that could be found on their albums before Dark Light. It’s a great song that gets you pumped for the rest of the record.

Big booming riffs make a comeback on the track “Love Without Tears.” The hard hitting guitar riff and melancholic lyrics like “As the light across the room flickers/Its dying song waiting for a/reason to go on” makes it sound like something that could be found on Love Metal. Also, this track really displays Ville’s vocals really well. On this album he sounds really good, especially when hitting the high notes and you can hear them the best on this song. He just sounds so sorrowful, especially during the chorus. It’s a song that really pushes the melancholic sound of the record. It seems that the band wanted to make sure there was no filler here because each song is amazing and intriguing.

The record as a whole is solid, without a single disappointing track to be found. Even though the songs here are a bit slower and moody than the ones found on their previous album, they’re still gripping and there are still energetic tracks to keep the album moving. The piano riff on “Tears on Tape” sounds so tragic that it’s enough to make you cry. It also makes it the softest and most vulnerable track on here, especially with Ville’s crooning vocals. “No Love” on the other hand, is full of hardcore energy and aggression. It has this heavy, kick ass guitar riff that gets you headbanging. One of the heaviest songs on the record is “W.L.S.T.D” or “When Love Starts to Die.” Not only does it have some of the most heavy and damning guitars on the album, but Ville’s low baritone vocals makes him sound downright evil. The song also has some really poetic lyrics. Lines like “I prayed to hear again that serpent song,/Wishing it be over” are haunting and sounds like something from Gothic poetry.

What’s interesting about this album is that it features quite a few instrumental tracks, something that HIM hasn’t really done before. Personally, I think instrumental tracks are tricky. Some are just boring, others get dull after two minutes, and others just suck. But all of the instrumental tracks here are really good, not only because the music is haunting, but it also reinforces the dark, somber tone of the album. Songs like “Trapped in Autumn” and “Lucifer’s Chorale” have these odd mixes of unsettling background noises along with dark or at times bright sounding music. Another plus for these tracks is that they’re only about a minute long. It’s enough to make you wonder where the song is headed next, but it ends before it gets repetitive or dull.

If you couldn’t guess from the album title, the theme of cassette tapes runs through the album. Even though they’re only mentioned outright on the title track, there are small references to them throughout the record. Most of the time, the songs will end with a lot of feedback, followed by hissing and popping, as if it’s being played off of an old cassette. This is best heard on the closing track “Kiss the Void.” Here the music is muffled and there are lyrics, but there are so many effects on them, you can’t understand what’s being said. As you start to wonder where the song is going next, it abruptly stops and you can hear the tape being ejected. It’s a really cool effect that ties up the theme of the album nicely. It’s an interesting and fitting end to the record.

Overall, the album gets 8.5/10. This album is a return to form for the band. The songs here manage to mix their classic sound with some new musical elements. The record shows that HIM haven’t lost their touch for melancholic songs with lots of imagery involving love and death. Also, this record shows how much they’ve grown not only as musicians, but as songwriters as well. Without a single disappointing song to be found here this is sure to be one of the biggest albums of the year.