Digital Versatile Doom review
Although I’ve enjoyed a great deal of HIM’s output over the past decade or so, and watched the postmodern Lord Byron persona of frontman Ville Valo with a great deal of fascination, I must confess I’ve never seen one of their live performances before the release of this DVD... but I can say now I’m really eager to sample the live HIM experience. That being said, I wasn’t prepared to see the brooding, death-obsessed king of gloomy romantic rock look so damned happy. Whether that’s a testament to his newfound sobriety, a particularly inspired flashpoint in the band’s creative journey, or just my lack of experience with Valo’s onstage persona, I was genuinely surprised to see modern rock's moodiest crooner smiling so much.
Recorded during their appearance at L.A.'s Orpheum Theatre November 14th and 15th, 2007, Digital Versatile Doom is the band’s first official live recording, so they chose to mark the occasion with a very classy DVD package that includes a companion CD of the concert, as well as a limited-edition set with a photo flip-book.
Classy, in fact, may be an understatement – the elegance of the Orpheum is beautifully captured in the twin-fold digipak artwork, from the massive crystal chandeliers to the gold leaf-encrusted arches, and the same pristine photography extends to the elaborately mounted concert footage. After a black & white prologue shows the band members taking the stage (as the “Blood Theme” from the TV show Dexter plays in the background), the image fades into the sumptuous colors of the auditorium, from the massive backdrop featuring the Venus Doom cover art, to the golden railings and stained-glass ceiling fixtures, to the deep blue and red lighting scheme.
With a wink and a mischievous grin, ever-present cigarette in hand, Valo launches the band immediately into new track “Passion’s Killing Floor” amid an explosion of cheers from the packed house. Without missing a beat they slip into “Wings of a Butterfly,” which, while not a favorite of mine, is much more compelling performed live than in the studio version from Dark Light. But it’s with fan favorite “Buried Alive by Love” that the band really hit their stride; Valo's voice warms up to shoot through his wide dynamic range, from guttural rumbles to high-pitched screams; Mikko Lindstrom's crunchy, deep guitar riffs tear through space, with the occasional theremin lilt from keyboardist Janne Puurtinen to add color. They follow with their well-known cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” which has never sounded more haunting (“So sad, isn't it?” Valo remarks with a wry smile).
In case we'd forgotten HIM's penchant for ominous, doom-flavored metal, the group dives headlong into the dark and foreboding mid-tempo number “The Kiss of Dawn” (driven by an excellent bass riff from Mikko Paananen, a sweet Lindstrom solo and more ghostly keyboard licks) before returning to pop-rock mode for “Vampire Heart,” in which some of their strongest piano-driven breaks add sparkle to Valo's velvety baritone.
Using his cigarette as an effective prop (and re-starting a couple of times due to a case of the giggles), it's here that the freshly energized Valo begins to actively engage the audience – first for an assist on the perpetual crowd-pleaser “Poison Girl.” But the strongest response comes during what is still the band’s most beloved hit, “Join Me in Death”... I still can hardly grasp how such a sad song could be so catchy.
“It’s All Tears” showcases excellent skills from Lindstrom – who by this point is on fire with manic energy – and Valo's subterranean vocal crawl during the chorus. This is followed by the superbly epic “Sleepwalking Past Hope,” clocking in at nearly eleven minutes and arguably one of the most impressive old-school rock tracks this band has ever performed. Things cool down momentarily for the heartfelt ballad “Killing Loneliness” before shifting into high gear for the rock-tastic “Soul on Fire,” both of which really showcase the singer’s range and power.
Solid performances of “Your Sweet Six Six Six” and “Bleed Well” follow, and “Right Here in my Arms” serves as a fine summation to the evening, giving drummer Mika Karppinen a powerful moment in the spotlight as Valo again interacts giddily with the crowd, who finish every line for him. After thanking the audience for their own vocal contributions, Valo sends them off with the melancholy encore “Funeral of Hearts” from Love Metal as the Orpheum's disco ball scatters fairy-lights across the fans' ecstatic faces. It's an incredible visual, and ends the show on a magical coda.
Aside from its companion CD (which includes all the same tracks except for “Right Here...”), the DVD contains a fair amount of extras, including a cute segment focusing on the five winners of the “HIM’s Biggest Fan” video contest and their journey to Seattle to meet their idols. It’s a nice piece and shows the band at their most laid-back and comfortable. There’s also a gallery of candid photos, most of them featuring Valo mugging and pulling goofy faces with adoring fans – images which stand in stark contrast to the enigmatic persona that most have associated with the brooding Goth icon.
In another unprecedented feature, Valo holds forth on a wide assortment of topics during an intimate 45-minute interview, revealing a great deal about his childhood, his creative process, and most significantly his battles with drug and alcohol addiction – having successfully pared down his vices to cigarettes (lots of them), he jokingly expressed concern over what to do with his hands onstage once he manages to ditch the cancer sticks as well. Despite a few annoyingly framed shots, it's an excellent interview and an unvarnished look at what makes a talented artist tick.
Though a bit pricey (considering the music content is nearly identical between the two discs), this sublime presentation is worth a few extra bones. It’s a beautifully filmed and technically superior recording, and fine example of a band that draws strength from their audience to make their already passionate material even more compelling. It’s worthy of repeat listening as well as viewing.
Reviewed by Gregory S. Burkart