Last week, HIM’s fellow Finns The Rasmus released a career-defining album that pretty much nailed their distinctive sound as well as they could hope to do. Ville Valo’s bunch of miserable men no longer have that luxury, however – they did that last time.
Since Love Metal summed up the band so perfectly in 2004, Dark Light needed to be the beginning of the next chapter for the goth-rock superstars, a crucial release in determining the band’s future. So no pressure, then…
The good news for fans is that they’ve largely succeeded. HIM have always been very deliberate about their overarching brand – they’d give Iron Maiden, or even the Wu-Tang Clan a run for their money on this. Just like its predecessor, Dark Light evokes the powerful sense of identity and cohesion that has allowed the band to shamelessly rip-off all manner of classic rock moments yet always sound like themselves. And if you want to know what it’s like, well it’s all in the title.
So it’s Dark. Yup, they’ve taken all the stoner-rock riffage on Love Metal, gone a little more doom-laden with the guitars and added plenty of horror-movie atmospherics to boot. Vampire Heart kicks off with a menacing intro, like Alice by old-school goths Sisters Of Mercy being played on a toy piano, and closes with a monster of a riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Cathedral record. The intro to Under The Rose could almost be Seventh Son-era Iron Maiden, and again it’s a surprisingly heavy number in places.
There are also more creepy atmospherics and extended outros that, in context, make the album seem much more than the sum of its songs. Vampire Heart, Under the Rose, In The Night Side of Eden and the title track all take their time coming to a close – just long enough to relish the atmosphere.
Face of God, in particular, is not one for your iPod if you’re walking alone through a darkened forest (as you do) as it’s steeped in that “behind you!” menace throughout. As Ville explained to musicOMH last month, it evokes the feeling of being stalked by the undead Bee Gees. Scary.
The album is also Light. The uptempo, poppy, emotional side of HIM has been stretched. However contradictory this may seem given the aforementioned extra heaviness, this makes Dark Light easily HIM’s most accessible album to date.
Play Dead and Dark Light are both classic lighters-aloft ballads, the latter reinterpreting the Twin Peaks theme with a disarmingly sentimental piano motif – a pretty good bet for a future single release. The jolly, twiddly riff from (Rip Out The) Wings Of A Butterfly and the hook to epic closer In The Night Side Of Eden also bring out this dreamy, wistful side of HIM’s music, constantly countering the darker edges.
This should all make for an album of contradictions, but it doesn’t, thanks to the third element – the HIM sound itself. Once all the light fills and dark riffs are done, the actual songs are classic HIM – all Bon Jovi chuggy guitars, soaring choruses, random goth lyrics that may or may not mean anything at all, and Ville Valo’s trademark irreverent humour.
21st century goths clearly have a greater sense of fun than their 1980s counterparts, thanks in no small part to the dry Finnish wit that might account for that nation’s current dominance of the genre. After all, which other band would end both their best album to date, and its most epic tune’s d�nouement, with Valo seemingly burping out a reprise of the chorus? And still manage to get musicOMH.com to recommend it?