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Of Joy And Sorrow

Tonight is HIM’s last show.  What’s a girl to do when one of her favorite bands goes out with a Bang and a Whimper?  She mourns and celebrates, of course!

Bang and Whimper

In March of this year, HIM announced that the time had come for them to move on.  It was done in typical HIM fashion:

“After quarter of a century of Love and Metal intertwined we sincerely feel HIM has run its 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…”

It was a heartbreaking announcement for those of us down with the Love Metal.  As long-time readers know*, HIM is one of my all time favorite bands.  Their music has been a significant part of my existence for pretty much the entire century.  In truth, my love affair with their music is one of the longest relationships of my adult life and one of my most important music relationships ever.

Introduced to me by my ex so long ago I’ve forgotten the exact year, HIM became one of a handful of bands that pulled me out of my post-Art Institute music funk.  I had spent several years after graduating generally disinterested in new music (except for Apocalyptica, the earliest and most important of my adult music “relationships”).  I flirted with passing fancies but never settled into anything serious. This was unlike my usual pre-Art Institute self that fell easily in love with new artists.  The reasons for the funk could be another entire blog entry but suffice to say the music industry takes its toll in myriad ways.  And the biggest toll was the loss (misplacement?) of a pure, uncomplicated passion for music and the artists who create it.

But then along came HIM.  Ville Valo’s crooning vocals and charismatic personality, the band’s energy and talent, and music that was so good and resonated so deeply with me, I couldn’t help but smile while listening to them.  I was hooked and it was back baby!  My pre-college mojo was back!  For this alone, HIM will always hold a special place in my personal story and my heart.

smile HIM

The internet really does have everything!

Musically and emotionally what I will miss the most is the yin and yang of HIM’s music. The balance of joy and sorrow, light and dark, highlights and shadows that are the essence of Love Metal.  Their ability to play with the sublime and the absurd and find meaning in it all.  Beautiful lyrics that are sometimes serious, sometimes camp, frequently both, always with a core of emotional truth.  Even when we are caught up in the maelstrom of love, ripping off the wings of butterflies, or winding up on passion’s killing floor, we smile at the lyrics while we savor the emotion.  With poetic lyrics placed in masterful melodies and arranged into everything from acoustic ballads to full-on metal songs, it’s little wonder HIM attracted fans by the legion.

Love metal cover

There was a small consolation in my loss – they would embark upon one final world tour, aptly titled Bang & Whimper.  Which – praise be! – came through Denver on Oct. 29th.  While final tours are not uncommon, I don’t think I’ve ever attended a “last show ever” with such a mixture of joy and sorrow.  I was beyond happy to see them live one last time.  However, my happiness was tempered by the understanding that this was it.  No more tours, no more new music, no more album anticipation.  Just the bittersweet knowledge that we must enjoy it while it lasts.

The Denver show was definitely all bang and no whimper. This was my sixth HIM show and I admit I was a bit worried about it.  The last two performances I had seen (in 2010 and 2013) were low energy affairs and I was hoping against hope that for this final show they would return to form.  Thankfully they did not disappoint!  High energy and enthusiastic performances were given by the whole band, with singer Ville in fine form and his huge vocal range on ready display.  They pulled out songs I had not personally seen live before (“Gone With The Sin” and “Beyond Redemption“) and many old favorites (I can never get enough of “Soul On Fire” live!).  They ended it all with a crowd-rousing cover of Billy Idol‘s “Rebel Yell“.  All in all, a fitting and wonderful tribute to a fruitful and truly incredible career.  It was also a soul-satisfying way to bid farewell.  I was smiling for days, while tearing up when talking about it.  They would, I believe, approve!

Razorblade Romance Cover

The iconic cover of their breakthrough album

A few songs in memoriam are in order.  After eight studio albums, several compilation albums, and an astonishing array of alternate versions (official and bootleg), it’s rather hard to choose.  Instead of going comprehensive, I’m going with idiosyncratic.  Brevity is the real challenge.  😉

The first song I clearly remember hearing was their cover of Chris Isaak‘s “Wicked Game“.**  Not exactly the easiest song to cover, yet perfect for Ville’s voice and the band’s sensibility.  They’ve done several videos/versions over the years, but here’s the most famous:

“Poison Girl” from Razorblade Romance.  What can I say?  I love this song and I love this video. Not just for the obvious (admittedly I’m not immune to Ville’s physical charms), but because it so perfectly exemplifies this point in their career.  A band on the rise and exuding youthful, cocky confidence has rarely been captured so perfectly.  Enjoy! (There is a better quality version here but I couldn’t get the darn thing to imbed!)

One of the many (and I mean many) things that I love about HIM is their ability play around with their own music, creating and releasing a number of versions, from live to acoustic to wherever their fancies take them.  This includes an amazing version of “Salt In Our Wounds” from Deep Shadows & Brilliant Highlights that completely transforms the feel of the original:

For their sixth album Venus Doom (my favorite and arguably their best), HIM threw out the rule book and did everything from a bare acoustic song to a 10-minute prog-metal masterpiece to the haunting psychedelic lamentation “Cyanide Sun”.  It’s dark beauty speaks for itself:

Though it took a few listens for the seventh album Screamworks:  Love in Theory and Practice, Chapters 1-13, to grow on me completely, it now ranks pretty high on my list.  One of the standout songs is “Ode To Solitude”.  The driving, imperative riff; the casual assertion of “as always, heaven in flames”; the emotive and yet wonderfully ambiguous bridge section (are we forgetting he failed or forgetting the feeling we had?) all help make this one of my favorites.  While there is a not-at-all-official “official” video (quite well done, though), we’ll stick with just the song to avoid distractions:

As mentioned above, “Soul On Fire” from Love Metal is my favorite HIM song live.  While great on the album, it is freaking awesome in person.  Here is a live version from their concert DVD/CD Digital Versatile Doom:

Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage/Light The Torch/HIM Fan) perhaps put it best:

“This is a dark moment.  It’s never easy to say farewell to a constant companion, so I won’t.  This music has not and will not leave my side.  Thank you for every bit of it.  Smile at what you’ve created, gentlemen, and thank you for the ride (Metal Hammer issue 303, Dec. 2017)”

While after tonight HIM may be gone, they will always be in my heart!

For a more complete HIM experience, check them out on Spotify or better yet, if you like what you hear, support Team Love Metal by buying their music.

*Ok, even casual readers.  And anyone who drops by my desk at work.  And anyone who will listen…

** There is a chance that it was actually their cover of Turbonegro‘s classic “Rendezvous With Anus“.  Another brilliant cover of a brilliant song.