Summary: The band everybody loves to hate is back, two years after their disappointing US debut, with an album rumoured to "blow your speakers".
The Finnish love metal band HIM is easily one of the most hated as well as one of the most loved bands in the world. It's ridiculous how
passionate everybody is about this band. Whether they hate it or love it, they do it with passion. At one point, they actually won "Best Band",
"Band You Used To Hate But Now You Love" and "Band You Used To Love But Now You Hate" in the Metal Hammer's awards - as well as being runner-ups
in the "Worst Band" category.
And now, luckily for the lovers and unfortunately for the haters - they are back.
Venus Doom is the band's second Sire release, and their sixth studio album in total. Prior to this the band has gone from being an underground heavy metal band to being Europe's most famous gothic pop band to being a mainstream gothic rock band to becoming the band everyone loves to hate in the US. And they owe a lot of the hate (as well as love) to skater and CKY crew member, Bam Margera. His constant whoring of the bands infamous logo - the heartagram, combined with his frequent use of the band's music in his CKY movies and projects has made it very hard for Americans to take this band seriously. And who can blame them really?
Not two years ago the band released the first Finnish album to sell gold in the United States, Dark Light. Though the album sold fairly well in the US (over 500.000 copies), and received quite some attention - many were disappointed. And no one was as disappointed as the hardcore fans from Europe. While being a fairly solid album, Dark Light was concluded to be a pathetic attempt to conquer the American charts rather than a new sound. The too clean production and the lack of guitar solos combined with the cautious vocals was indeed a major disappointment to the fans of their previous album, the genre defining Love Metal.
However, it's not 2005 anymore. And HIM is back with a brand new album, which according to Ville Valo - "will blow your speakers". At every chance he has got, Valo has stressed how heavy this album was going to be. It's going to be like Master of the Puppets, it's going to be like Black Sabbath, it's going to be this and it's going to be that... Well is it? Hell no. This is in no way HIM's heaviest album. But it's definitely heavier and dirtier than Dark Light (if that's an impressing accomplishment or not - I'll leave for you to decide). Mikko Lindstrom's cutting guitar solos are back. There's quite a few heavy throw-downs. There's a ten minute plus psychedelic jam session in the middle of the album. And - hey, guess what - Valo even shouts at times!
The album starts out with one of the best tracks. A sharp and edgy guitar riff combined with upbeat and heavy drumming and a driving bass line comes pretty damn near to blow my speakers, just like Valo promised. This lasts for just fifteen seconds though, till it suddenly dies out in favour of a piano and Valo's distinct voice. In over that calm soaring voice and the comfortable piano comes that upbeat melody unleashed on the listener at first, but with a much less edgy guitar, creating a fairly catchy alternrock-like drive that flows nicely till the heavier but perhaps even catchier chorus kicks in. Following the chorus you get an unexpected dark and massive throw-down, and around now you're probably thinking - "oh yeah... this is the shit".
"Venus Doom", the opening and title track is definitely very hard to follow. It gets even more apparent that though the vocals are fairly nice, they lack the energy and diversity that Valo's world famous for. There's no more impressing falsettos, deep crooning or loud screaming. But thanks to even more heavy and cutting chord progression, they somewhat manage to keep up the high quality and energy found in the title track on this second track, "Love in Cold Blood". The verses are admittedly a bit apathetic and sloppy, but the guitar work on the the intro, outro, chorus, bridges and two solos really save this track along with Valo's rich multi-layered vocals on the chorus. The consistent guitar work does not only play the most important part in making this album worth listening to, but its clever and unexpected little maneuvers is essentially what makes Venus Doom a much better album than Dark Light.
But sadly, these two tracks are two of the album's three best tracks. The mid-part of this album is nowhere near the energy and unexpected twists of the two first tracks for the most of the time. "Song or Suicide" is essentially Valo playing the same riff many times on his acoustic guitar whilst mumbling some mumbo-jumbo. "Passion's Killing Floor" and "Dead Lover's Lane" are both too predictable and tame compared to the opening tracks. "The Kiss of Dawn" could easily be put in the same category, if you cut out the interesting outro and the guitar solo. "Bleed Well" is a tad more interesting than the beforehand mentioned four tracks, thanks to the appealing intro, the unexpectedly tranquil verses, Valo's tacky semi-scream before the guitar solo and the actual solo. Unfortunately the chorus is, while a bit catchy, very cheesy and Dark Light-ish. It just sounds like you've heard it all before. And whilst on the topic of Dark Light-ish tracks, "Sleepwalking Past Hope" could very well been the best track on this album if it wasn't for the first half of it sounding ridiculously much like "The Nightside of Eden" from Dark Light at times (especially the vocals). If you however would remove the first five minutes of this track, you would have HIM at their perhaps very finest. This is one of the few times - if not the only time, all of the instruments blend together like a divine symbiosis where just everything sounds right.
Thankfully, to end this album, we have its finest track (if you don't count the latter half of "Sleepwalking Past Hope" as a track of its own) - "Cyanide Sun". This brings back memories from the great album closers of rock'n'roll, such as "Only in Dreams" (Weezer - Weezer), "I'll Let the Light Shine on You" (My Midnight Creeps - Histamin), "Bar Italia" (Pulp - Different Class), and HIM's own "Love's Requiem" from Love Metal. The guitar isn't dominating the sound as much here as it is at the other tracks, but this isn't because of a sudden drop in quality - but because the other instruments are almost up to the guitar's high quality for once. "Cyanide Sun" is the heavy, dark goth band we got to learn and love on Love Metal. A track that makes the album worth buying, without a doubt. This somewhat optimistic tale of the last caress of the corpse of love proves that all members of this band are capable of great things, once they really succeed.
So to come to some sort of conclusion: Venus Doom is a rather good album with its ups and downs. There are four obvious highlights ("Cyanide Sun", the title track - "Venus Doom", "Love in Cold Blood" and the latter half of "Sleepwalking Past Hope") that makes the rest of the album seem very pale and anonymous. In addition to this, most of the tracks are quite after the book (verse/chorus/verse). But thankfully, these four highlights which I speak of, are some of the finest moments in HIM's career.
To sum it up:
- The vocals lack the intensity some fans were hoping for, but still possess that special Valo-nerve. And it's good to hear Valo shouting again.
- The drumming has never been too impressing on any HIM album. They do what they're supposed to do, but never really shine.
- The bass has always been very melodic and easy on the ears. On this album it sometimes succeeds greatly with its purpose, but sometimes it's near unnoticeable.
- The keyboards provide this album with an atmosphere and some unexpected calm parts. But Puurtinen is a great pianist and could perhaps been taken more advantage of.
- The guitar is 80% of this album. Really dominating. Lindstrom gets to prove his diversity and skill on this album, consequently making it a much better album than Dark Light.
HIM is still one of the best mainstream rock bands out there, and this is a great album.