The year 2005, for a lot of people, was probably the first year they'd heard of this band. That year's release from the Finnish lovesick quintet, 'Dark Light', was the first to really catapult HIM from being an niche obsession for the tea-sipping Europeans and into the light for mainstream American audiences. Unfortunately, the album as a whole was underwhelming and the sort of audiences that flocked to it weren't your beard-wearing, goat-slaughtering hard-edged metal types. Rather, HIM ended up making its name as money-spinning commodity for the mallcore generation.
Two years down the track, and thankfully things are taking a step back towards righteousness for the Finns. 'Venus Doom', if I'm to believe what Petal Hammer and all the other used-to-be-metal magazines are saying, is the creative product of front man Ville Valo's steps down the dark roads of depression and alcoholism. If that's true, then frankly I wouldn't mind much if he had to go down that road a few more times because said creative product here is, indubitably, a remarkable step up in quality songwriting and overall heaviness from its predecessor.
One of the things that really got this reviewer to actually like the band is moments from 'Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666' and 'Razorblade Romance' where, cheesy-as-hell lyrics aside, the band took great steps to create a thick and syrupy, yet comfortably dark kind of gothic metal atmosphere. 'Venus Doom' kind of throws back to that mood, but actually right from the word go it rather oversteps the mark and finds itself almost encroaching upon the grounds of doom metal. HIM has captured the atmosphere better before than this, but it's never sounded quite so thick and heavy.
The album opens with three great songs, "Passion's Killing Floor" being my personal highlight of the album. The melody is great, the riffs are heavy and catchy, and for a brief moment the pace slows to a crawl and Ville lets out a most delightfully desolate-sounding growl. Sure, this band ain't Disembowelment, but they actually are starting to take a few steps in that kind of direction and that is just fine by me.
The remainder of this LP chugs along in familiar HIM hard-rock/pseudo-metal fashion, with the notable departures being "Sleepwalking Past Hope", a ten minute epic, and "Cyanide Sun", a fantastically airy-sounding, morose way to close the record. They definitely stand out from the rest of the album, and it's these departures that keep it from slipping into being a cavalcade of mediocrity.
I'm also quite happy to report that guitar solos take a little more presence on this album than they have on some of HIM's recent efforts. Sure, they're nothing incredible, but they're expressive enough and are never an unwelcome sight. Ville's vocals are lacking the girly high-squealing eccentricities of HIM's days of yore, but makes up for it by showing his range on the lower end of the register at a few points. The album's also done a few favours with lyrics that are actually quite a bit less cringe-worthy than the norm. That's not to say this album doesn't cover its fair share of the oceans of cheese, but at this point, a HIM album without hilariously overdone lyrics would be kind of like having Predator without Arnie in it.
In closing, 'Venus Doom' has surprised me immensely by not being radio-friendly pop rock tripe. It's not great, but it's a pleasant slab touchy-feely gothic metal, and it'd be unreasonable to expect any more or less than that from this band. Kudos.