While I may have been freshly vibing with the metal and hip-hop infused aesthetics of the aforementioned Nu-metal giants, I was absorbing a lot of new sounds and styles that I had discovered, since my early days of listening to REPUBLICA and ROBBIE WILLIAMS on cassette. OK, OK, the SPICE GIRLS too. I was watching Kerrang! and Scuzz whenever able, and I’d started purchasing Kerrang! Magazine and Metal Hammer, learning about all of these different genres and subcultures; such was the wide variety of heavier or alternative options.
On March 15th, 2003, Kerrang! Magazine issue 946 included a free CD entitled “Revved Up!” and it included a plethora of up-and-coming artists, setting the alternative and independent rock scene ablaze. Ranging from THE ATARIS to ADEMA, and HELL IS FOR HEROES to HOT HOT HEAT... life was good ...life was loud. HOWEVER, on that very compilation album, sitting at track twelve, was a little band called HIM, with a stunningly unique track incorrectly titled “The Heart Of Darkness”. It’s actually “The Sacrament”, which is fucking sacrilege in itself to be fair, but I digress. The genuinely moving romanticism, instrumentation and delivery of this one track alone, made me sit up and take note. This was different, this wasn’t Nu-Metal, this wasn’t any sort of post-rock, this wasn’t even necessarily emo; this was DIFFERENT different...and I was hooked. I HAD to buy this album, I had to learn about HIM. The rest as they say was history. Fast-forward twenty years later, I still love HIM, and this album as much as, if not MORE than the day I first heard it. Join me...not in death, but as we celebrate 20 years of “Love Metal”.
The album opens up with “Buried Alive By Love” and I challenge you to name a more impactful and fitting opening track. There’s a reason why HIM started many of, if not the majority of, their live sets post-2003 with this track, up until their separation in 2017. From the instantly attention-commanding crashing of Gas’ cymbals, leading into that surging barrage of Linde’s riffs and Mige’s driving bass, subtly underlined by Burton’s perfect synth bedding; it lays all of the foundations for Ville Valo’s velvety vocals.
The way he can carry such smoothly crooned verses, before letting rip into these powerful, scorching choruses showcases a man and a band with intent. “Love Metal” was a statement. Valo jovially referred to “Razorblade Romance” as a middle finger to Gothic tropes and cliches, with its bright pink album cover, but this was their “Black Metal”, a la VENOM; this was DEFINING. The gold foil Heartagram, regal in presentation, on a backdrop of Gothic-inspired filigree showcased a band with a purpose. “Buried Alive By Love” hammered home that purpose from the moment you press play and it’s a faultless, dark rock ‘n’ roll masterclass. The fact that BAM MARGERA directed them a music video and got JULIETTE LEWIS on board, only bolstered their star power...magnificent.
While they are known for their riffs and guitar solos, keyboardist Burton is never an afterthought and is as vital to HIM’s sound as his fellow band mates, and this is highlighted on “Beyond Redemption”. The notes are subtle, other than the intro, and they ARE minimal, but they add a distinct depth to HIM’s sound. Granted they are far more prominent on their softer, sweeter, prior album “Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights”; it’s almost a pop album to be fair, but here it’s blended perfectly and enhances the bands overall output. Valo’s vocal crescendo here too is simply sublime; arguably on this album as a whole, he was peak in terms of delivery and production, and he knocks it out of the park.
Speaking of HIM’s softer side, there are tracks here that truly encapsulate the very idea of love metal not only as a niche, tongue in cheek subgenre, but the band as an entity, with Burton again being a key player, in more ways than one. “The Sacrament”, as mentioned in this reviews intro, utilises this simply stunning classical piano led piece of romantic Gothic indulgence, and the melodies build to this crestfallen blend of acoustics and sombre heartache. It’s yearning almost; begging from a broken heart without falling into any Emo tropes, and is simply an elegant piece of music and heartfelt song-writing. This is nothing short of beautiful.
One cannot talk about this album without mentioning “The Funeral Of Hearts”. The song that saw them break into the UK Top 20 singles charts, this was the song that took them from mainland Europe to the UK and beyond. Again, with their Gothic splendour, melodies and darkly romantic lyrics, coupled with hooks, key-changes and wintery back-drop a-la their music video, they thawed many a frozen heart. The pop-production allowed for a true sing-along rock ballad, and it opened many eyes for those who weren’t already aware of their previous records.
Elsewhere, the album is just stacked top to bottom with brilliance. “Circle Of Fear” is arguably the greatest HIM track of all time. The slow build of gentle guitars that gradually ascends into rhythmic percussion, deep baritone vocals, chorus hooks and overall mood is something that can only be admired; this is his infernal majesty at his most sovereign and we bow to it. “The Path” is progressive doom rock at its catchiest... and really teases at future offerings as found on “Venus Doom”. The foundations were set on tracks like this, as Valo indulged in deeper and darker inspirations. The same can be said for “Love’s Requiem”, which closes the album like a cinematic, emotive declaration; HIM mean business, and if you aren’t crying any tears of joy by now, I don’t trust you.
The idea of “Love Metal” may have very well been a tongue in cheek gimmick, a way for Valo to deflect, have a bit of a dig, but in doing so he’s created one of the finest albums of the 21st century. From emerging out of their native Finland, to growing far bigger in Germany over the course of their first three albums, it was this album, coupled with the Jackass popularity through Bam, that saw them expand to the UK and beyond. “Love Metal” was defining by name, as it turns out, but with that gold shiny Heartagram emblazoned proudly on the cover, it was worth far more than its weight. Often ridiculed for not being true metal by gatekeepers, or frowned upon for being romantic or soft, HIM have always been a divisive band, but there is an unquestionable majesty here that demands respect. After twenty years, this album hasn’t lost an ounce of quality, and needs to be celebrated. I could never heart-a-bitch, but you should Heartagram...heed my words... give this album a re-listen.