According to Ville Valo, lead vocalist for Finnish rockers HIM, "It's very hard to sing about sunshine and ice cream and birds in fast cars." So he doesn't even try. Instead, song titles like "Cyanide Sun", "Dead Lovers' Lane", and "Song or Suicide" populate his band's latest CD, Venus Doom. "I'm a miserable bastard when it comes to writing music," claims the singer, calling on his cellphone from the outskirts of Detroit. "I love melancholy music, and I love the darker aspects when it comes to, like, popular music. I've always been a big fan of [Black] Sabbath and all that, so obviously they've been a big influence on me, and I wanted to write music that would have a similar kind of gloomy atmosphere to it."
The 30-year-old Valo discovered his affinity for the darker side of rock as a kid, when he heard a few bars of Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" while watching John Carpenter's Halloween. "It's playing on the radio in the very beginning of the movie," he points out, "when Jamie Lee Curtis is smokin' a joint with her friend in the car. They only played it for like 20 seconds, but I loved the melody, and I had to find out what that song was. So I waited until the end credits, and then I went into a local library and recorded it on cassette, and then later on I bought the album."
HIM covered B.O.C.'s haunting afterlife ode on its '97 album Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666, and two years later it scored a breakthrough hit in Germany with the similarly themed single "Join Me in Death". Like "Reaper" before it, that song drew flak from folks who believed it glamorized suicide.
"Some people thought that it's an invitation to kill yourself," Valo recalls, "which it's not. For me, personally, it's about feeling that life's treating you like shit, and wondering about how much you have to love somebody to actually give everything you have–even your own life–for that particular love. I was pretty young when I wrote it, so I was just wondering about life and love in general."
While the lyrical bent of HIM tends toward the gloomy, the music on Venus Doom is actually quite upbeat, drawing on everything from '90s alt-metal to '80s glam-pop to '70s guitar-rock. Imagewise, the group may go heavy on the dark duds and black eyeliner, but its sound is far from goth. That hasn't stopped the pale-faced night-creature crowd from latching on to the band big-time, though. "We have lots of goth fans," Valo notes, "and we have a lotta rock fans, and a lotta skater kids, and everybody in between. So that's very good for us."
Indeed it is–to the point where HIM has become the first and only Finnish band to achieve gold status (500,000 units sold) in the U.S. Valo does point out that the band's been together for about 15 years, and has taken a while to achieve such success. "But I'm really happy that there's always new challenges and surprises around the corner," he says.
Looking back, Valo credits another Finnish group, Hanoi Rocks, with inspiring him to keep working hard on his music. "Hanoi were always influential as a band," he says, "but they never sold many records, I don't know why. Now they're touring again, and they're really, really good."
In 2003, HIM released an album called Love Metal, which featured a gold "heartagram"–a cross between a heart and a pentagram–on the cover. The group has trademarked that yin-yang symbol, which Valo created the day after his 20th birthday, and has taken the "love metal" concept to heart.
"When we started out, a lot of people had a hard time deciding which category we belonged to, because we had the sort of Sabbathy thing, but at the end of the day we're singing love songs. It wasn't goth and it wasn't rock and it wasn't metal–it was something in between. One of the first songs we ever played was 'Wicked Game' by Chris Isaak, where we put all the really fuzzy, heavy guitars on it, so I guess love metal just sounded good. And you actually have to be a proper man to be able to say that you like love metal."
HIM plays the Croatian Cultural Centre on Friday (November 9).
Link: HIM official site