Monday, October 08, 2007

CD Review: Venus Doom by H.I.M.

Nearly two years have passed since Finnish gloom gods H.I.M. released Dark Light, and they have gone back to the sound they had on 2004's Love Metal, only harder and more raw. The band personnel remain intact: Ville Valo on vocals, Linde on guitar, Burton on keyboards, Mige on bass and Gas on the drums. Tim Palmer is once again the producer, but this time, Hiili Hiilesmaa, who produced Love Metal, is back on board as the co-producer, which may account for the band re-asserting its heavier side.

The songs:

Venus Doom – Starts out fast, heavy and raw with Valo belting out the words with his usual breathless urgency. About halfway through, a guitar solo is followed by a bit of quiet with only the sound of a music box to accompany Valo’s deep voice before the song kicks back into gear with some nice keyboard effects to go with the guitar feedback as the song ends.

Love in Cold Blood – A bit slower and more deliberate, with multi-tracked vocals on the choruses. A nimble-fingered guitar lead breaks things up, then leads it all back to the main melody for a few measures until the outro kicks in to the end with wah-wah fueled guitar, heavy drums and bass with shimmering keyboards adorning the soundscape.

Passion’s Killing Floor – Another mid-tempo track , this one begins with a repetitive guitar riff with some soft keys laid on top until the verses and infectious choruses take over (“My heart’s a graveyard baby / and to evil we make love / on out passion’s killing floor….). Then, the song slows into a dirge-like riff for a few beats until the main melody kicks back in. This song would make a great single if not for that small blemish.

The Kiss of Dawn – And speaking of singles, this is the first one off the CD. It begins with a choppy guitar riff and heavy bass and drums as Valo drags his words out slowly before the chorus (Reachin’ for your shadow drowning in…the kiss of dawn / touchin’ the pain that you left me with…at the kiss of dawn…). A quick, chaotic, effects-driven solo churns things up, then the main melody returns for a few measures before things quiet for a bit before slowly revving back up as the song fades out over Valo’s lamentations and Linde’s feedback.

Sleepwalking Past Hope – This ten-minute epic starts with some soft piano followed by a distorted pick scrape that goes right into a heavy riff helped out by the drums and bass before Valo limps in. The choruses about love and love lost cry over Burton’s piano notes. About three and a half minutes in, the guitar riff changes for a few beats until the solo chews its way through, powered by the drums and bass. Approaching the five minute mark, Valo mumbles his pain to the bass and light piano for a few measures until the guitar and drums grind their way back into the mix. At 6:30, the tempo shifts into overdrive as Linde launches a short solo that leads back to the pain of the main melody. As we approach the eight-minute mark, a new guitar riff takes over, accompanied by some spacey keyboards and almost latin-sounding percussion as Valo cries over the maelstrom. Simply a masterpiece!

Dead Lovers Lane – Another mix of soft keyboards, heavy guitar, pulsing bass and heavy drums to Valo’s lyrics of warning (Fear has a name…written on unhallowed ground with dead leaves…those words never fail to feed the hunger that feeds and needs above love’s grasp…). Midway through, after a short flurry on the bass, Linde takes a short, fiery solo that ends quickly to some light piano before a crunching guitar riff asserts itself to bring the main melody back before the song ends.

Song or Suicide – A 70-second bit of Valo’s longing accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar. I won’t print a lyric excerpt. Instead I’ll just hope that Valo isn’t really this depressed!

Bleed Well – Starts out with fire and quickly digs a heavy groove. The verses and choruses are punchy and to the point with the whole band in the pocket. A little more than halfway through, the riff changes with some keyboard counterpart before a nimble solo that degenerates into feedback as Valo yells it out to the end.

Cyanide Sun – Starts with a slow, heavy, Sabbath-like guitar riff with an eastern-sounding tinge. Valo comes in quietly as the rhythm simmers underneath. After a few verses and choruses, Linde and Burton supply a psychedelic feel with heavy bombast before sudden acoustic quiet accompanies Valo’s almost crooning outro.

The differences between Venus Doom and Dark Light are quickly apparent. The same applies to the comparison with Love Metal. Venus Doom's songs are heavier and longer than was the case with Dark Light, and the poppy atmosphere that guided that CD is all but gone. In addition to the grinding heaviness, the songs take on a jam-like feel in some places as the band is clearly trying to stretch out. I think this may be Hiilesmaa's influence at work.

As the individual performances go, Linde really steps up on this CD. Instead of simply playing riffs as he did on Dark Light, he takes a lot of lead breaks and throws a lot of fiery wah-wah fueled licks around as if he feels that he'd better get it all out now while he can. Gas hammers away on the drums, and shows a bit more dexterity than on some of the previous outings. Burton is his usual spectacular self, providing a surreal atmosphere, and Mige holds the bottom down as tightly as ever. Valo, the master of gloom, does what he does best, whether it is by whining in an almost breathless manner, or by growling in his lower register to evoke his dark images. This CD is more than a return to the heaviness of Love Metal, it has surpassed it with a good deal more swagger as this band is solidly locked in.

The bottom line is that this is a terrific collection of songs that any H.I.M. follower should love. I can't wait to hear how they pull it together on stage, as they will be appearing at the Worcester Palladium on Sunday October 21st in what promises to be a killer show.

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