The Edmonton Journal
/April 2010/

HIM enters a new musical chapter

By Alan Sculley, Special To The Journal
April 12, 2010

Well ahead of the release earlier this year of HIM's new CD, Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice, the album was generating debate among fans about whether the album -- more upbeat and poppy than the darkly hued, gothic-tinged earlier HIM releases -- represented a betrayal of the group's musical identity.

HIM frontman Ville Valo said he wasn't surprised at the initial reaction, and by the time of this recent phone interview, he had a ready response for those caught off guard by Screamworks.

"Well, it's the age-old question of have they sold out, or are they poppy?" Valo said. "When that question arises, I always say Iron Maiden are poppy. They've sold about 170 million records. That makes them a popular band, a popular rock band or heavy metal band, whatever they prefer."

To Valo, there was a simple explanation for the evolution of HIM's sound on Screamworks. It captures the sound that inspired the band at the time.

"The best way for a band is just to follow their gut instincts, make the album they believe in, be inspired whomever they're inspired by at the moment and go with the flow.

"I was trying to find the missing link between Depeche Mode and Guns N' Roses, or A-ha and the Cult, bring the sort of European melancholy, a bit new-agey early '80s synth-pop edge to full-blown rock 'n' roll. I think that we succeeded really well in that."

Valo said he understands that some fans will always identify HIM with one of its earlier albums.

He noted that the first Kiss album he heard was the 1984 release Animalize, which came well after albums like Alive and Destroyer, often considered signature Kiss albums. But to Valle, Animalize is the definitive Kiss album.

"That was my introduction to Kiss, so in a way that's my favourite album," he said. "Usually the one you heard the first, that's your favourite album. So in our band's case, some people have heard an album called Razorblade Romance (released in 1999 in Europe and 2002 in North America) first, and that makes it the special album for them. We're not trying to compete with that album. We're trying to compete with ourselves and trying to make our current emotions translate as well as possible through sonic means."

Screamworks is different enough to qualify as a stylistic departure for HIM, which also includes guitarist Mikko "Linde" Lindstrom, bassist Mikko "Mige" Paananen, drummer Mika "Gas" Karppinen and keyboardist Janne "Burton" Puurtinen.

The more upbeat and poppier feel represents an especially sharp contrast with the group's previous CD Venus Doom.

That 2007 CD seemed like a natural next musical step for the group, which formed in Finland in 1991 and gained major stardom in Europe before many people in Canada and the United States even knew the band's name.

The dark mood of Venus Doom reflected the times for Valo, who was struggling with alcohol addiction before and during the recording of that CD. In the months beforehand, Valo was drinking upwards of two cases of beer a day, and he was still drinking during the recording.

But once Venus Doom was done, Valo took control of his problem and checked himself into rehab in Malibu, Calif. He's been in much better health since.

Valo, though, hesitates to say whether being clean and sober was responsible for the more upbeat sound of Screamworks.

"It doesn't go like that. It's just when you sit down with the guitar, it's not like the first thing that you write will be exactly the same as what you just did. And then your personal life and everything affects it. And usually you purge your ideas into music and it reflects where your head was at that moment. This time, there was kind of a sense of hope and good things happening. So I think that translated into the energy of the album.

"One thing's for sure is I didn't spend so much time in bars and pubs getting messed up," he said. "I did have the opportunity of working double or triple on this album. I really worked hard on the music. I think it paid off. It made me feel really good because I thought that since I'm getting sober, I like to go from one extreme to the other, I'll put all of my energy, everything I have, into the album and see if it pays off."

Whether HIM fans get the same tingly feeling from the new CD remains to be seen.

HIM is touring in support of Screamworks, and Valo said the group's song set could evolve depending on how fans respond to the new songs in the live setting. But so far, a decision to drop a few older songs from the set in favour of Screamworks songs is having a big effect on the group's live set.

"It's way harder than I thought, to drop your old babies, and especially with the new album be a bit more in-your-face and uptempo. All of a sudden it makes the whole set more rock 'n' roll.

"We've had tons of albums that are pretty moody and pretty like mid-based, so with this new stuff it's going to be way more energetic. I'm kind of praying. It's a scary thought to make your most energetic record when you're over 30."

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