Heavy, gloomy and progressive Venus Doom is a daring move from an wilful band whoíd rather waste good ideas that play it safe.
The smokescreen is so thick that it would be foolhardy to try and cut it with a knife, well if you canít win then join them. I light up and step inside manager Seppo Vesterinenís Helsinki-based conference room. I feel sorry for the reporter who is up after me because I donít think he smokes, yet.
Hi, says the source of the smoke Ville Valo and lifts his legs on the table, - Nice that you could come again! Here Iím sitting with seven kentís in my mouth and Iím talking about cigarettes not the band, there arenít even that many of them.
In the next room someone is playing HIMís new song Passions Killing Floor on a computer. We have paid assistants working for us, whose job it is to listen to our music and say nice things about it to us, Valo grins. I suspect heís pulling my leg.
Earlier that day in Lauttasaari Helsinki Music Company - record companyís offices I almost choked on a croissant when HIMís new album Venus Doom blasted out into my ears, heavy, gloomy and diverse. The follow up to Dark Light isnít avant-garde of course, but itís not the kind of record that youíd expect from a band that is guilty for many commercially successful breakthroughs. Venus Doom isnít sucking up to anyone.
Thanks. Many of the melodies and tone structures were very pretty when we started to work on the songs, they were very much pop. I wanted to make the scarier. Not too nice but the kind that has some edge to them, Valo explains.
One of the great things about music is that every time you make a record you discover a new method of working. Back in the day when I got my first checks from royalties I bought a synthesizer. First thing I did with it was the riff of Join Me because I hadnít ever played with it.
This time I had the feeling that fuck the gay keyboard riffs. We wanted that the keyboards in Venus Doom would be in a similar role than on the first album and Razorblade Romance. Then I found this fucking amazing Telecaster, put on the fuzz and started to bang out. There became the basic feeling for VD.
Valo, the drummer Gas and bassist Mige started working on the song ideas on their training place and Valo concentrated on the guitars. We were playing without singing in the spirit of Cathedral, Sabbath and Type O Negative. 90% of the riffs on VD I have improvised while we practised and Iím really proud of a couple of them. I like to create on the spot. I donít like to record 30 riffs and then listen to them over and over again, even if Tony Lommi does that.
Father Lommi would give his blessing to the riffs especially when their frequencies vibrate somewhere deep in the circles of hell. HIM is tuned so very low at times and deepest into the dark waters dives the vocalist Valo, who has recorded new footnotes to his voice range.
Bam Margera once told me at an after party that I should sing lower because it would sound cool. I thought that Ďyeah I shouldí because nobody else is doing it in heavier music. The 69 Eyes is pretty poppy as well and Peter Steele doesnít sing that low anymore. That kind of singing fits well to the mood of VD.
VD is the darkest HIM album. In places itís as dark as a frost bite caused by nuclear winter. Sometime before this interview I bought a tabloid mag where the reporter told that he had read in another magazine that Ville Valo is suffering from depression and that itís reflected on the new album. Is it true?
The same article claimed that Revolver is a British rock-magazine. That says a lot about the professionalism of that person. If one uses dry humour in an interview and says that the album was created in deep depression and then laughs on top of that, doesnít that tell of something else than depression?
What is the gloominess about then?
Well yeah, you canít write albums this sad while eating sausages and ice-cream and laughing. Art is born out of suffering and depression. Iím a big fan of Edward Munch and Timo K. Mukka. Of course you have to suffer but itís joyful suffering sort of a cleansing ritual.
Is it painful to return to the unhappy feelings when you listen to the album?
No, because itís about catharsis. Itís good to pour out the feelings you canít tell the reporters in Luostari. Listening to it feels surprising and thatís the way best music affects you. Itís always surprising to see the whole in stead of the details you had been concentrating so hard of. When you are recording you live in your own black bubble and canít see the big picture.
Iíve always been depressed, but when you are seriously depressed you canít create anything. One can write about it afterwards if one wishes to do so. But thatís the same thing as sitting on your hand letting it get numb and the jerking off with it. Nobody is interested in that. Except sailors.
So even though VD has its own dark shadows their creator isnít looking at them with a frown?
On VD HIM pushes cuts corners in a way that invites to use the word progressive. The record has meandering songs but the structure is solid. Even the song Sleepwalking Past Hope doesnít feel like it lasts for ten minutes.
Fucking glad to hear that. But a lot happens in it. There is the midpart tempo shifts and action. The motto of this record was that lets waste good ideas. If we made a good riff we put it in a song only twice and put an even better one after it. That way the album became more eventful.
Did you have a need to prove that HIM can be more than just 1/8 notes banging verses and exploding pop-choruses?
Maybe at some point, if there was it was in SWPH where we wanted to prove something to ourselves. When we finished that it felt naturally finished. The whole VD is made based on feeling and without thinking too much. The mixing process was just done with stream of consciousness as the method.
Done on purpose or not, VD proves at least that HIM isnít a prisoner of its own mannerisms.
I had the same feeling. Itís nice that we created without thinking an album that is at the same time a complete mess but has coherence. Although a lot happens on the album itís not just messing about but it has a logic to it. I just listened to Jethro Tull at home and started to play. The first record, Love Metal and VD are the warming up of the most progressive side of HIM. I wonder if I should do a record next with just one song, a sequel to Tullís Thick as a Brick.
Under the complex changes and heavy riffs there is always a chorus to be found. Like you wanted to show that you could have made a pop record if you had wanted to.
I like that sort of music. Melodies and choruses that you can hum along to. Everything doesnít have to be super-complicated.
On VD HIM bids fair well to Love Metal and leaves that to the copycats and wannabees- at least for now. The bands new, at one end more feminine and at the other heavier than before, style needs a name. Lets call it Venus Doom.
No lets call it Gay Doom. Gas said that Love Metal is out, HIM plays Gay Doom. Thatís alright with me.
On the other hand VD is a sort of a return to the roots. GLV.666 depute had similar song structures.
I think that VD is more like back to the future. It has similarities with the first album in the way that the song structures arenít so straightforward, but when we were doing the album I kept thinking: Ďwhat would have made Lee Dorian proud?í he acquainted me to the secrets of Doom. I played demoís for him and he told me all the tricks.
From a business point of view VD doesnít make any sense. What did the record company think of this artistic solution, where a band that just sold gold in The States (which isnít a small merit these days) takes away most of the poppy elements from their album? Today I heard at the record company a comment like this. ĎVD is HIMís classic album but when it comes to radio play we have had to think things a bit longer.í
The record company didnít stick their noses into anything. They liked everything we did, even the ten minutes long SPH. They didnít speculate anything. We had the liberty to do the album in our own time and everything including the song order fell into place automatically.
We donít care what song from the album plays in the radio. Music business is constantly changing, so thinking about things like that is like being the main character in Fight Club and hitting yourself in the face. Itís not important, as long as some song plays somewhere at least a couple of times.
So the equation is very simple in the end: if VD flops horribly, weíll tour like hell. If it does well, weíll tour even more. Then we can see how deep into depression you can drive yourself so you can make something new and wondrous again.
I think I can sense a hint of dry black humour in the midst of the tobacco smoke.