''Sing me a song to remind me where I belong….''
There have been so many articles and interviews and album reviews written about Finnish rock icons H.I.M., that there is so little left to be said. Everyone knows, or heard, at least once in their lives, such classics as “Join Me in Death” or “The Funeral of Hearts” and many girls had or still have a crush on the band’s charismatic vocalist, Ville Valo. Mixing melancholy with hard-driven guitars and bad-ass vocals, the Helsinki-based quintet managed to touch the hearts of millions around the world, for over 2 decades now. But unfortunately their story is coming at an end in 2017 after a farewell tour.
As any other rock band, H.I.M. also started small, working very hard to earn their status as rock legends. Although formed in 1991, it was their unforgettable cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” that got them their first solid record deal, several years later. Thus the band’s first full-length album, “Greatest Lovesongs vol. 666”, was released in 1997, preceded by a series of demo tapes from 1995 known to die-hard fans world-wide as “This is Only the Beginning” and the 1996 EP “666 Ways to Love: Prologue”, both of which were released only in Finland. The contains some of the heaviest and darkest songs the band ever produced like “Our Diabolikal Rapture”, “It’s all Tears” or “Your Sweet Six Six Six”, and the atmospheric ballad “When Love and Death Embrace”. With and overall gothic feel to it, “Greatest Lovesongs vol. 666” is the very essence of what HIM’s music is all about.
Because their first releases revealed a gloomy sound, aggressive yet gentle vocals, love-inspired lyrics and had the number 666 (aka number of the beast) in their titles, many people quickly labeled His Infernal Majesty as a ‘satanic band’. But what ‘satanic band’ could sing about love and heartache with so much passion, as Ville and the boys sing on their second full-length album, “Razorblade Romance”, from 2000? With heavy guitar riffs, melodic keyboards, well-written lyrics and brooding vocals, H.I.M. irremediably conquered the European audience winning gold and double platinum discs in Finland, and platinum and 3 gold discs in Germany for the number of copies sold. What I love about this album is the candid way in which Ville wrote most of the lyrics (“Bury Me Deep Inside Your Heart” or “Heaven Tonight”, for example). There is an underlying pessimism throughout the album which can be summarized by the song “Join Me in Death” and a note of heartbreak can also be heard on some songs, but mostly on the track “One Last Time”. All things considered, “Razorblade Romance” is the perfect title for the tragic love-stories of the album.
After this wild success the band went back in the studio to write and produce their third album, “Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights”, which was released in 2001. On this record one can clearly sense how much the band has grown, both music-wise and lyric-wise, since the mid-90’s. Though their sound is more polished and a bit lighter than before, the lyrics, the guitar riffs and the keyboards alongside Ville’s melancholic vocals still resonate with many fans. Songs like “Heartache Every Moment”, “Pretending” and “In Joy and Sorrow” are still played live years after the release of the album, to the audience’s delight. One of the best ballads the band ever put out is “Close to the Flame” and a definite highlight of this album. On the downside, there are some tracks here that sound half-unfinished, and I’m talking about “Lose You Tonight”, “Love You Like I Do” and “Beautiful” – I feel like Ville ran out of patience with the lyrics for these songs. Still, “Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights” is a good, dark album, though not one of their best.
Their history continues with their fourth studio album from 2003 entitled simply “Love Metal”, which featured the band’s world-wide recognizable symbol, the heartagram, on the cover, as well as the magnificent ode to love, “The Funeral of Hearts”. This album is also the best definition for their musical style, that is a fine balance between metal music and sentimental poetry and it is Ville’s job, as the songwriter and heart of the band, to get that balance just right, and he always delivers. All the songs are of top-notch quality from every perspective possible – musically, instrumentally, vocally, and lyrically. Everything just flows together neatly, from the energetic “Buried Alive by Love” to the sweet and melancholic “Love’s Requiem”. And probably this is reason why the band decided to perform the entire album live in Hamburg in 2003 – a once in a lifetime show. Too bad it wasn’t recorded professionally and released as a DVD. At this point in their career, the band releases their second greatest hits compilation “And Love Said No (1997 – 2004)”, which contains a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” (the first compilation being “The Singles Collection” from 2002).
The album “Razorblade Romance” captured the attention and heart of American professional skateboarder and TV star Bam Margera. After meeting the band, directing some of their videos (“Buried Alive by Love”, “The Sacrament”, “And Love Said No”, “Solitary Man”) and seeing them perform in front of millions of fans all over Europe, Bam decided to introduce H.I.M. to the American audience. Hence, he started to promote the heartagram and the band on his shows, and wherever he could. At the same time H.I.M. started to work on their fifth album on American soil and with American producer Tim Palmer (after firing Andy Wallace). What came out is one of the most beautiful rock albums I have ever had the pleasure of listening to: the 2005 masterpiece “Dark Light”. Few know that the title track was actually inspired by a Norwegian book published in 1998 entitled “The Dark Light”, written by Mette Newth, which tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who is dying of leprosy in a forlorn hospital. Despite the gloomy story, “Dark Light” is the first song where Ville’s vocals seem to be happy. Probably because of his engagement to a Finnish TV star, Ville was having difficulties in being a ‘miserable poet’ (as he stated in an interview), reason why the songs, the lyrics and the overall sound of the album are so light and optimistic at times. This has got to be the lightest metal album ever recorded but with some really catchy riffs and nice piano hooks.
On a literary note, I love all the biblical and mythological references to Eden, Hell and some Greek myths in “Wings of a Butterfly” and “Venus (in our Blood)”, while “In the Nightside of Eden” hints to the Hell portrayed by Dante in “The Divine Comedy”. This album made H.I.M the first Finnish act to win a gold disc in the US. It was during this period that H.I.M. made another outstanding cover, “Poison Heart”, taken from the American rock band The Ramones. The band also released another set of compilations under the title “Uneasy Listening vol. 1& 2”, which featured many remixes and versions of their songs.
From this point on, Ville’s alcohol problems started to get out of hand and affect his on-stage performances. His life was a continuous rock’n’roll party, taking Kiss’s lyrics ‘I wanna rock and roll all night and party everyday’ to the letter and to the extreme. Nevertheless, from the chaos of his life, Ville managed to bring to life another incredible album – “Venus Doom” (2007), a dark, gloomy collection of songs that remind the fans of the band’s original sound. The guitar and the drums are heavier than ever, Ville’s vocals are more aggressive and powerful than on any of their previous releases and the general sound of is more doom-ish. Even the lyrics are bleaker than before. The main theme of the album is sorrow, the pain caused by the losing of a loved one (see “The Kiss of Dawn”). Ville Valo really outdid himself vocally here going from soft, sweet vocals (“Song or Suicide”) to some borderline screams (“Dead Lover’s Lane”) to creepy low singing (“Venus Doom”). The cover of the album is actually a painting by artist David Harouni, which Ville bought while in New Orleans, and which served as his muse during the production and recording of this album.x2007 HIM.jpg
Ville’s wild years of drinking and partying from dusk till dawn took a toll on him, reason why the frontman took some time off trying to pull himself together for his friends and family but mostly for his number one passion – his music. And you can clearly see how good he feels on the band’s only live DVD from 2008, “Digital Versatile Doom”. Needless to say, this live concert is one of the best in the band’s history and Ville is the best version of himself he has been in a long time.
After a well deserved hiatus of two years, H.I.M. unleashed their seventh studio album “Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice” in September 2010. Lyric-wise, this album may just be one Ville’s best works to date. Also this is the first album to feature some actual screams, alongside Ville’s sweet vocals, synths and optimistic, almost happy, lyrics. Though not as dark and heavy as “Venus Doom”, this album still bears their trademark mixture of pop and metal (“Heartkiller” or “In the Arms of Rain”). One of the strangest H.I.M. songs ever, featured on this album, is “The Foreboding Sense of Impending Happiness”, a wonderful sonic experience, having a very Depeche Mode vibe to it. As always, the lyrics talk about love (“Love, the hardest way”) and relationships (“Katherine Wheel”) and the yin and yang of a love affair (“Scared to death”). From a vocal approach, “Ode to Solitude” has got to be Ville’s absolute best performance, though the whole album is a statement of the Finn’s vocal abilities. There are two other versions of this album: “SWRMXS”, which contains house and trance remixes of all the tracks and the wonderful “Baudelaire in Braille” which contains the acoustic versions of all the songs. In 2012 the band marked 20 years of making music by releasing yet another compilation of greatest hits, entitled “XX: Two Decades of Love Metal”, which opens with a soulful rendition of “Strange World”.
With their eighth and final full-length album, “Tears on Tape”, from 2013, H.I.M continues to rock and charms its faithful fans, gaining new ones at the same time. Continuing the tradition started with “Screamworks” of doing something they haven’t done before, “Tears on Tape” is the first album on which the band uses an intro (“Unleash the Red”) an outro (“Kiss the Void”) and two interludes (“Trapped in Autumn” and “Lucifer’s Chorale”). The intro is the actual sound of a cassette (tape) being placed in a cassette player and the play button being pressed and this really brings back memories of a time when tapes were used in the music industry. The songs are pretty easy-going and enjoyable all the way through, even a bit pop-oriented at times. On a theatrical note, the lyrics and video for “All Lips go Blue” remind me of the Swedish movie “The Seventh Seal” (1957) especially the scene where a knight plays chess with Death on a beach. As far the origins of this album are concern, Ville stated in several interviews that it was written and conceived as a tribute to all the idols that inspired him to play music – Black Sabbath, Roy Orbison, Cat Stevens, Neil Young. “How I see it is that they shed a few tears on tape in their day and the blood, sweat and tears they shed on that tape gave us a reason to carry on and pursue our passion which is music. It’s like an ode to music and an ode to our idols.” (Loudwire, published April 30, 2013). And what an excellent ode it is indeed.
After the Tour of the Middle Aged (2015), the band hitting the road again this year for the Bang & Whimper Farewell Tour at the end of which H.I.M will disband (tour dates can be found on http://heartagram.com/ but most of the dates are sold out, already, so hurry up to get your ticket). Fans all over the world (myself included) were heartbroken when the news surfaced on March 5th 2017, but they will continue to support the band, and rock out to their music. Ville Valo commented the following regarding the split:
“After quarter of a century of Love and Metal intertwined we sincerely feel HIM has run his unnatural course and adieus must be said in order to make way for sights, scents and sounds yet unexplored. We completed the pattern, solved the puzzle and turned the key. Thank you”
To celebrate the internationally successful band that is HIM, photographer Ville Juurikkala organized a special photoshoot with the band earlier this year, documenting the preparations for the Farewell Tour. The unique collection of photos is exposed at the Helsinki Art Museum until July 3rd, under the title “HIM: Right Here In My Eyes”. If you have the chance to visit it, don’t miss it. More info at this link.
I am sure that, even though there will be no more HIM after 2017, the band members will continue making music: guitarist Mikko “Linde” Lindström, bassist Mikko “Migé” Paananen and keyboardist Janne “Burton” Puurtinen can dedicate more time to their project Daniel Lioneye; drummer Jukka “Kosmo” Kröger will focus more on his other bands Maple Cross, Verine and VIHA. And Ville Valo will undoubtedly continue as a solo artist or will appear as a guest artist in various collaborations.
Thank you for the music and the memories, HIM (1991 – Forever)
Ville Valo: https://www.facebook.com/villevalovirallinen/