/February 2010/

Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice

Reviewed by: Jeremy Aaron (02/12/10) HIM - Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice
Record Label: Sire/Reprise
Release Date: February 9, 2010

I remember hearing that stadium-filling opening riff to HIM's single "Wings of a Butterfly" a few years back and thinking that megastardom was imminent for the band. Though they maintain a legion of rabid fans, big time success in the mainstream never fully came to pass. Perhaps with the whole vampire craze still in full-swing, the stage is set for a breakthrough for the pallid Finnish quintent. However, their latest batch of morbidly sappy "love metal" tunes-- released just in time for Valentine's Day!-- sounds bland and inoffensive musically and seems to lack the strength and immediacy necessary to thrust the band into the limelight.

Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice, as it's clumsily titled, is HIM's seventh full-length, and it offers little beyond the recycled somber, and often laughably melodramatic, themes and the polished, melodic and rather limp-dick take on metal they've been rehashing for more than a decade. It's unquestionably a smooth, professional rock record, but it's utterly predictable in almost every way. At the few moments when it does "surprise" (vocalist Ville Valo lapses into falsetto and tough-guy yelling more than expected), it's probably not for the better, anyway.

"Let's fall apart together now," Valo sings at the start of "In Venere Veritas", the album's kickoff tune and one it's hardest rocking songs. It has the quintessential doomy riff processed to a leathery finish and the ominous imagery ("zipping Cupid in a bodybag well-worn, next to the mausoleum he was born in"), that are hallmarks of the HIM oeuvre, and it might have made the best choice for a lead single, though the actual single "Heartkiller" carries very similar qualities.

Inevitably, given the band's sentimental bent, the album is rife with power ballads. "Scared to Death" and "Dying Song" (shocking song titles) add shiny keyboards to their silky Monster Ballad melodies, and "Disarm Me (With Your Loneliness)" even adds a Bon Jovi-ish guitar solo (cheese fittingly draws influence from cheese). The latter's lyrical turn "The promise of heaven pushed us right back to hell, turning three sevens into three sixes again," reflects just how out-of-his-way Valo goes to shoehorn references to death, hell and "the beast" into the songs, often in awkward ways.

Songs like "Love, the Hardest Way" find HIM at their most effective musically. With their "gothic" pretexts, it feels most natural when they employ creepy-sounding keys, their guitars evoke that sense of foreboding, and Valo sings in a smoky baritone. The song does have some facepalm-worthy lyrics about "the devil counting teardrops in the rain," but I guess you can't have it all. "Ode to Solitude" also has an appropriately haunting atmosphere, but the rest of the album is riddled with questionable decisions, like Valo's transformation to near screamer on parts of "Shatter Me With Hope" and "Like St. Valentine", which comes off forced, or pretty much all of "Acoustic Funeral", which by the way, isn't even acoustic.

If I lived completely under a rock, I'd say Screamworks, and HIM in general, would hit Twilight tweeners straight in the heart with its dark, dismal and dire themes, but the more mature crowd would see the excessive sentimentality as almost self-parodying. However, in my travels this past week, I actually saw a twenty-something guy (who otherwise looked like a regular dude and wasn't gothed-out or anything) wearing a Heartagram shirt, so perhaps the band's appeal is more widespread than I would otherwise estimate. So maybe it's best to sum it up this way: HIM's fans, whoever they might be, will almost surely lap this stuff up, as it's right in line with what they've been doing for years. If you're someone who's found a guilty pleasure track or two on previous albums (which is where I'm guessing a lot of people fall), you'll probably find the same here. And if you can't stand them or anything they do, this isn't going to change your mind. Not one bit.


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