/november 2005/

"Finland's Goth-metal band set to greet the U.S."

Funny thing about ghoulish, dour or depressed vocalists who front shadow-shrouded bands: They're never what they appear to be.

Take Robert Smith of the Cure. Listening to his most wrenching songs or watching him sullenly wail in concert, you'd think he was perpetually melancholy. Exactly the opposite is true; Smith is genial, chatty, excitable -- he even laughs on occasion.

So it comes as little surprise to discover that Ville Valo -- glam-Gothy guitarist who sings melodramatic songs like "Buried Alive by Love" and "Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly" with the Finnish cult band known as HIM -- is as good-humored and forthright as rock stars come.

"I'm just a normal guy. It's a pleasure to come from the other side of the world and meet people who have been touched by the music we make. I don't think I purposely have to be veiled in mystery. That's too Marilyn Manson, too premeditated," he said.

Yet, for the past few years, veiled in mystery is exactly how HIM has come across. It has become a well-kept secret among devotees donning gear emblazoned with HIM's logo -- the Heartagram, a hybrid of a heart and a pentagram.

HIM -- the letters stand for His Infernal Majesty -- will be at Avalon in Boston on Thursday for a 6:30 p.m. show. On the surface, it seems as though HIM sought to establish underground credibility by enhancing an enigmatic mystique.

"But the thing about creating mystique," Valo counters, "is that it's the people who make it, not the band. It's their perception. That's the only reason we have any mystique in America, because we haven't been here much. That has had people intrigued."

So has the band's faraway roots in a Scandinavian scene noted for its macabre metal. The first song to garner HIM stateside attention, is a metallic take on Chris Isaak's weeper "Wicked Game."

I've read Valo say the song "has that Finnish quality."

"Which is what?" I ask.

"The Finnish quality? I'd compare it to, um, an American doing a three-day binge of cocaine and heavy drinking, then waking up. That's how we feel every day. Our serotonin levels are just a little lower than the rest of the world's.

"It's something we can share with so many people. Especially in Hollywood."

Indeed, for a few years now Sunset Strip denizens carrying torches for '80s hair-metal have been enamored of the leather-clad quintet.

The band felt so welcome in L.A., actually, it opted to record outside of its native Helsinki for the first time, cutting its new album Dark Light at the Paramour, a former monastery in Silver Lake, Calif.

"The idea," Valo explains, "was to write all the songs in super-freezing Helsinki at Christmastime, when it's completely dark most of the time, then come to sunny L.A. Get the best of both worlds."

Issued by Sire Records, the label that once delivered dark forces big (Ministry) and small (Specimen), the gloomy yet glossy set is the first HIM album simultaneously released in America and the rest of the world.

It's also first record that Valo and his cohorts -- sporting monikers like Gas Lipstick and Lily Lazer -- have actively promoted in America.

Meanwhile, the band's back catalog, including such telling titles as Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666, Razorblade Romance and Love Metal, was recently issued domestically, while a CD/DVD combo, And Love Said No, effectively sums up the group's past.

And still most Americans know the band only through snippets aired on Viva La Bam, HIM fan Bam Margera's MTV show.

Or through rough the Heartagram, the band's eye-grabbing icon.

There's little denying the imprint has caught on, given how often it turns up alongside My Chemical Romance T-shirts at shows these days.

If the amount of HIM-related product trading hands is any indication, the band could be on the verge of bigger things.

"A sign of a good band," Valo believes, "is the amount of bootlegs and pirate T-shirts and rumors they generate."

The best rumor he's heard? "The weirdest had to do with a woolen hat our ex-keyboard player gave me. I wore it all the time for about two years, and someone started the rumor that I had cancer and was wearing the hat because I was going through chemotherapy.

Nothing about the occult. Valo's explanation: There really isn't anything so odd about him or HIM's music.

Some acolytes have even groused that though lyrically Dark Light stays firmly in the realm of gloom and doom -- sonically it strays too far into mainstream rock, adopting the polish of Bon Jovi, say, more so than Valo's avowed influences: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, AC/DC.

Valo, however, shrugs off all such criticism.

"My intention was only to make an album that would hopefully have people dancing with tears in their eyes, to cite the '80s pop song.

"But if we've made a bad album, well, I want to make [bad] albums along the way. I want to be like Neil Young. He has something like 40 albums, and half of them [stink]. Making mistakes is the only way to learn, and it's important to be honest and follow your most childlike inspirations.

"If people get what you're doing, then great, but if you're not enjoying yourself, then you've really blown it."

by Ben Wener

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