Monday, November 14, 2005

Music Review: "Dark Light" by H.I.M.

Dark Light is the latest release from Finnish wunderkinds H.I.M., and it is a killer. The hotly awaited follow-up to 2004’s Love Metal is a sonic masterpiece that contains all the trademark H.I.M. stylings – emotive, lamenting vocals, eerie keyboard sounds, heavy guitar riffs and a pumping attack from the rhythm section.

Produced by Tim Palmer (U2, Robert Plant), the band has refined it’s goth/metal sound into a collection of sometimes catchy songs without sacrificing their gusty edge.

Before I get into the songs I must send a shout out to Stew from the U.K. Stew is a highly respected field technician in my wage slavery organization with an unofficial Master's degree in hard rock analysis. I hold a similar credential in the latter category, and when we first met it was a musical cultural exchange program. Stew introduced me to H.I.M., Nightwish and Ten, while I upped the ante with acts like Riot, Westworld and Symphony X (as well as re-introducing him to his fellow countryman Glenn Hughes’s fabulous solo career). Stew, this post is dedicated to you. Thanks a million mate!

The Songs:

1. Vampire Heart – The lead track is a heavy dose of vocalist/songwriter Ville Valo’s favorite tactic of juxtaposing love and pain. Guitarist Linde powers his way thorough the song with a brutal tone as Burton’s keyboard work provides a light background for contrast. The rhythm section of Mige on bass and Gas on drums is solid as a rock.

2. Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly – The first single is a more deliberately paced track fueled by Valo’s pain. Linde plays a nice signature riff throughout while Burton takes a more understated keyboard approach on this track. Mige and Gas do another solid job of keeping the feel moving.

3. Under the Rose – The pace picks up again on this track, powered by Linde’s riffs and Burton’s moody keys. Mige and Gas keep a solid beat as Valo’s contrasting imagery drives the lyrics “I’ve been burning in water and drowning in flames/to prove you wrong and scare you away”.

4. Killing Loneliness – This catchy song is my pick for the next single if anyone important out there has stumbled on to this blog. Burton’s trademark keyboard textures and piano drive the melody as Mige holds the bottom down with a fuzzy bass line. Linde throws in some dirty riffs to keep things honest while Gas pounds away on the drum kit. Valo comes up with some terrific images in his lyrics here: “With the venomous kiss you gave me I’m killing loneliness / with the warmth of your arms you saved me I’m killing loneliness/the killing loneliness that turned my heart into a tomb”. What else can you say?

5. Dark Light – The title track is a deceptively light sounding song that almost feels happy, mostly due to Burton’s keyboard work. Valo comes as close to crooning as he possibly can. The middle section shows Burton switching back to eerie mode over Linde’s growling riffs and Gas’s heavy hitting.

6. Behind the Crimson Door – This pumping track shows how easily the band can go from quiet to nasty in a heartbeat. The song is infectious in the way the band plays off of each other. Valo pulls it all together with lyrics like this: “We hide behind the crimson door while the summer’s killed by fall”. This song would be another good choice for a single.

7. The Face of God – A tribal sounding beat courtesy of Gas and Linde starts this track before things get quiet, then rev up again into a mid-tempo lament by Valo: “I’d take my life for your kiss, and lose it all to take you across the abyss, Love’s a shadow on the wall with the face of God.” The middle section features a heavy riff from Linde while Gas and Mige hold the sinister sounding beat. The song has an ominous end with Valo growling “The face of…God…”

8. Drunk on Shadows – This song is full of starts and stops punctuated by some heavy riffs from Linde. Gas hits the kit hard as Mige’s bass pulsates throughout. Burton guides the song through the middle with a gloomy feel.

9. Play Dead – This song is the closest thing to a ballad on the CD, and features some of Valo’s most heartfelt lamenting: “I play dead to hide my heart until the world gone dark fades away / I stay dead until you heal my scars and say goodbye to fate”. Linde throws in a few power chords over Burton’s light keyboard touches.

10. In the Night Side of Eden – The CD’s “epic”, this song is a slow grinder that has several changes as the band charges through. Linde keeps things heavy with his riffs and lean lines. Gas and Mige hold the bottom as Burton chimes away on the keys. Valo wails and whines as if in a conversation with himself and the band slams away in a heavy groove until the brutal fadeout. Valo ends by growling the line: ”Forever we are, forever we’ll be crucified to a dream.”

11. Venus (In Our Blood) – The dark mood is lightened a bit on this track as Linde plays a power riff over an acoustic background while Burton harmonizes on the keyboards.

12. The Cage – The final track is powered by a collective groove that slows and re-starts. The middle section finds Burton providing an orchestral feel with his keyboard sounds over Linde’s riffs. Gas throws in some nice fills as Mige pumps away.

All in all, the band is in excellent form. Producer Tim Palmer definitely got the most out of these guys. Valo sounds so heartbroken at times that you want to find him a therapist. Linde played fewer solos on this CD than on any previous outing, but his riffs play well against Burton’s superb keyboard work. Mige and Gas don’t do anything daring, but when they are given room to move they know how to deliver the goods. This is an A-Plus CD. Nice work guys!

Special Note: The last two tracks appear on an Internets special offer that I snapped up. It cost a few extra bucks (Number 581 of a 20,000 press run), but it is well worth it. The “official” domestic release contains the first ten tracks only.

Even Specialer Note: H.I.M. will be appearing at club Avalon on Lansdowme Street in back of Fenway Park in Boston this Thursday the 16th. I hope to schlep down there, and, if I survive the night I’ll post a review of the show. I hope to see some of you there!

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