Ville Valo

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.

Playlist: Rock Duets

Sometimes a duet is the best thing in the world. Other times, it’s a disaster. But it always leaves memorable stories. There’s something about two huge musicians getting together to create music that’s thrilling and exciting. Pop music is full of countless duets, but they don’t seem as popular for rock music. They certainly exist; they’re just not as abundant as they are in pop music. So let’s look at some of the most notable and popular duets in rock music. For the purpose of this playlist, a duet is a song where both artists have an equal amount of time on the track.

“Close My Eyes Forever” – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne

This is probably the most famous rock duet. The song, which apparently came about as an accident according to Sharon Osbourne, was the third single for Lita Ford’s self-titled debut album. With sappy lyrics and a blazing guitar solo, it’s no different from the many power ballads of the era. Ozzy’s haunting vocals do add an eerie touch to the song, but it’s still pretty cheesy. Though I love Osbourne, I never liked this song. It’s too slow for my tastes and is just corny. Then again, I’d be hard press to find one power ballad from the 80s I actually like. Still, this single stands out as one of the most notable duets in rock music.

“Love Interruption” – Jack White and Ruby Amanfu

The music world went a little nuts when Jack White announced a solo album only a year after the White Stripes ended. The debut single “Love Interruption” wasn’t what people expected. There were no roaring riffs and White screaming over screeching guitars. Instead, the song is mellow, subdued, and a bit cynical. Though White could’ve easily carried the song himself, the addition of Amanfu’s smoky vocals adds an understated sensuality to the song. Something about her voice adds a raspy, soulful nature that would’ve been missing otherwise. I actually think it’s one of the strongest tracks from Blunderbuss and serves as a reminder love isn’t always pretty.

“Dancing in the Street” – Mick Jagger and David Bowie

Two of music’s iconic artists, what could go wrong? To be fair, the cover itself isn’t that bad. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it’s fun at least. Yet, the music video will go down in infamy. It’s unbelievably bad. Jagger exaggerates everything from his facial expressions to his seizure inducing dance moves. Bowie remains cool though it looked like he left the house in some wild pajamas. And don’t forget the scene where Jagger chugs down a soda while Bowie sings. It’s probably one of the worst videos of the 80s. Hell, even Family Guy said it was the gayest music video in history. Thinking about it, there are moments where the two singers get a little too close for comfort.

“State of Shock” – Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger shows up again for a better collaboration with Michael Jackson. Recorded for The Jackson’s album Victory, the song is a raucous and kind of spastic team up with the rocker. The song was originally meant to be a duet with Freddie Mercury for the Thriller album, but scheduling conflicts kept the two from working together. Jagger was called instead and it ended up being his biggest hit away from The Rolling Stones. It’s one of those unexpected hits from Jackson’s catalog, but it’s one of the finest examples of pop and rock colliding. Later on, Jackson said he Jagger sang off key, while Jagger called Jackson “lightweight.” Anyone else think the Freddie Mercury version would’ve been epic?

“Good Times” – INXS and Jimmy Barnes

When two talented vocalists come together, they often try to outshine each other. That’s not the case here. For their contribution to The Lost Boys soundtrack, INXS teamed up with singer/songwriter Jimmy Barnes on this cover of The Easybeats song. Michael Hutchences’ smoldering vocals pair exceptionally well with Barnes’ bluesy, rock-tinged voice. They actually work together to give listeners a thrilling experience. The two sharing vocal duties along with the high energy music supporting them, it’s everything you want a good rock rolling song to be. It has a similar good time vibe as Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Listening to Barnes’ vocals, you have to admit it’s reminiscent of rockers, like Robert Plant.

“Hunger Strike” – Temple of the Dog

Temple of the Dog started as a way for Chris Cornell and members of Pearl Jam to deal with the death of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood. Their debut album did exceptionally well with this song being their biggest hit single. The track features Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder on vocal duties. When two of grunge’s most notable and talented vocalists get together for a song, you know it’s going to be good. And that’s exactly what you get with this powerful, emotionally driven tune. Both artists get time to share their unique vocal styles, Vedder being gruff and raspy and Cornell’s higher range. It results in a song that’s beautiful and haunting.

“Stand by Your Man” – Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister

Ever wonder what it would sound like if two punks ripped apart the Tammy Wynette classic “Stand By your Man?” That’s what Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister for a single in 1982. The song is almost unrecognizable with gritty, blazing guitars making a ruckus while the two scream out the lyrics over the noise. Oddly enough, it works. It’s one of those weird covers you would never expect two rock legends to even consider. They breathe new sinister life into the country classic that makes you want to head bang. O. Williams and Kilmister teamed up again for “Jailbait,” which appeared on the Plasmatics album Kommander of Kaos. Listening to these two, it’s clear they were truly one of a kind.

“I Ain’t No Nice Guy” – Motorhead and Ozzy Osbourne

When two of hard rock’s most iconic and legendary figures team up, you expect something epic beyond belief. That’s not the result of this duet featuring Lemmy Kilmister and the Prince of Darkness. Rather than getting together for a kickass track that would melt your face off, the two sing a ballad instead. It’s a slow, somber song made for radio airplay. It actually became a huge hit for Motorhead’s tenth album March or Die. It’s a decent song and features a slow burning solo from guitar hero Slash, but it won’t hit that sweet spot for most metalheads. It’s just so unexpected for the rockers. What’s even more surprising is seeing Ozzy with a five o’clock shadow in the video. Yikes.

“A Tout Le Monde” – Megadeth and Christina Scabbia

This song originally appeared on Megadeth’s sixth album Youthanasia and quickly became a staple for the band. At the time of its release, it garnered controversy for its music video. MTV banned it claiming it promoted suicide, which Dave Mustaine was quick to dismiss. The band re-recorded the song in 2007 for the album United Abominations with Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil. Aside from some slight alterations, like a faster pace, there;s not much difference aside from Scabbia singing an entire verse showing off her vocal chops. The song keeps its sentimentality intact along with its hard hitting sound and slightly aggressive mood. Many may prefer the original, but this re-recording is a great blend of old school and new school.

“Walk This Way” – Run DMC and Aerosmith

These days the world of rock and rap often combine for both awesome and questionable results. But back in the 80s, the two were seen as exclusive genres that should never cross paths. Run DMC and Aerosmith broke that barrier with this duet. When it was released in 1986 it blew everyone’s collective minds. Not only did Run DMC cover this classic rock track, they even got Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to join them. The song is still amazing to this day and remains one of the best mash-ups ever. It, of course, would go on to inspire other rock/rap collabs, such as Jay-z and Linkin Park (remember when that was a thing?)

“The One You Love to Hate” – Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson

Two heavy metal giants, both who are considered the best vocalists in the genre, team up for this roaring track. Recorded for Halford’s debut album Ressurection, the song features Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on vocals. You’d expect to be beyond amazing and the most bad ass thing you’ve ever heard. In reality, it’s okay. It feels more like a Dickinson track since his voice overpowers everything and Halford is stuck on back up duty. It’s a pretty standard metal song with soaring vocals, blazing guitars and a lot of aggression. It’s not bad; just not very remarkable.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” – HIM and Sanna-June Hyde

On HIM’s debut album, the band provided a haunting rendition of the Blue Oyster Cult classic. This version brings out all the darkness and grim view that’s implied in the lyrics. And frontman Ville Valo’s baritone vocals provide are a perfect match. Adding some brightness to the track is Finnish actor Sanna-June Hyde. She provided guest vocals for this track and “For You” early in her career. She’s not necessarily the best singer but her voice surprisingly well with Valo’s. There’s also something eerie about their voices. Still one of the best covers of this song.

“Under Pressure” – Queen and David Bowie

The thought of Queen and David Bowie doing a song together sounds like a dream. This amazing collaboration resulted in one of the best songs of the 80s. It’s an undeniable classic; pairing Bowie’s mellow vocals with Freddie Mercury’s dramatic bravado leads to a beautiful sonic experience. And try not to get chills during the bridge when Mercury pleads “Why can’t we give love/give love/give love?” The song became a huge hit for both artists and remains their most notable. Of course, the riff would be stolen by Vanilla Ice in the 90s, who claimed it wasn’t the same song.

Which is your favorite rock duet? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

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.