or years, HiM have been peddling their exciting, intense, and yet hugely accessible goth-rock to loyal fans in Scandinavia, and indeed, Europe as a whole, to ever-increasing returns. 2003’s descriptively-titled, and excellent Love Metal introduced them to a whole new legion of fans, propelled by a sequence of excellent singles and high-budget, moody videos.
Buoyed by this, all stops have been pulled out. Recorded in the US and released worldwide, the lead single to their newest album, Dark Light, “Rip Out The Wings Of A Butterfly” even went top 10 in the UK. No doubt, anticipation is high, and the album will probably satisfy many listeners. It will also come as a disappointment to others, because the overwhelming majority of it is average. Where they once could have mined their albums for hit after hit in their native Finland, here, the highlights are few, and even those are not anywhere near as towering as on previous albums.
I wouldn’t for a minute claim that they’ve sold out, compromised their ideals, worked with “mainstream” producers and changed their style. They haven’t—it sounds like a perfectly natural progression. It’s just not that good a collection of songs, which following their strongest album, is mildly disappointing. Too much of Dark Light, even its best songs, sound like retreads of former glories.
What works? “Wings Of A Butterfly” blends a sneaking riff, an appropriately meaningless lyric and a typically doom-laden vocal from Ville Valo to excellent effect. “Under The Rose” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Love Metal, mixing pop hooks with gothic dark and stadium rock light. The title track’s mix of woozy, spacy washes with slightly toned-down guitars draws focus to its unusually lightweight, but strong pop melody—HiM working smarter, not harder.
“The Face Of God” is a fantastically preposterous, portentious title, but it packs lifeless lyrics and a dull throb and empty space where its fist-pumping hooks should be. “Play Dead” has the power-ballad sound down pat; from the meticulously-arranged backing vocal swoons in the chorus, the slow shudder of the guitars, and just a sweep of string and keyboard, but the song itself is unmemorable.
And that’s the problem; beyond the ridiculously overblown theatrics and atmospherics, HiM’s previous albums contained fantastic, immediate pop songs like “Soul On Fire,” “Poison Girl,” “The Funeral Of Hearts,” or “Right Here In My Arms” cloaked in black; here there’s less to dig into beyond the surface texture. And the sole epic here, the six-minute closer “In The Nighside Of Eden,” seems almost half-hearted in its resignation.
The record sounds great though; the guitars still crunch, if without the same ferociousness of earlier albums, and the addition of more swirling keyboards means that the loss of density and intensity is mitigated by some interesting sonic subtleties. While the drop in adrenaline has left room for some good ideas, they’re not fleshed out well enough, and with the lack of a single flat-out rocker, there’s nothing to get excited or exhilarated over. Before this album, they seemed to be marching towards worldwide success, now, it’s hard to tell what’ll come next. Hopefully it’ll be an album that takes some of the expanded palette and merges it with some of their former bluster and pop smarts.