Three albums into their career, with healthy combined sales of 2 million, HIM felt it was the right time to define a couple of things. Define HIM - the band. Define the music, already commonly known as love metal. And, last but not least, figure out the deeper meanings behind the mighty Heartagram!
You hold the results in your hands, in the compact form of "Love Metal". One and a half years worth of exploration and soul searching, as well as the time-honoured tradition of 'working one's ass off', has gone into these ten songs.
"There we were. Gas a hopeless Slayer addict and Burton completely hooked on Tchaikovsky. Mige getting high on Brian Eno and Linde tripping on Jimi Hendrix on a regular basis. Me, I was curing my hangovers with shots of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison."
The 'me' being Valo, vocals and songs. Gas on drums, Burton on keyboards, Mige on bass, Linde on guitar. Collectively they are known as HIM.
"We had no idea where it would lead us in the end. Whether it would turn out to be silly psychedelic music or the meanest motherfucker of metal known to man," Valo grins. "But it felt really good. We just incorporated all the elements that came naturally and took it from there. With pretty mediocre success, of course..."
That last tongue-in-cheek shot reveals that Valo & co. are content - in fact they are immensely proud of their fourth album. Just listen to that new kind of urgency that's so evident on songs like "Buried Alive by Love" and "Soul on Fire"! The deep dark groove of "Sweet Pandemonium"! The sheer spiritual qualities of "The Sacrament" and "Circle of Fear". The innocent beauty of "The Funeral of Hearts". The purgatory that is the epic finale, "The Path". Consider love metal defined.
"It's the love of the Summer of '67 getting crushed by the metal of the post-Altamont world," Valo offers with a sly smile. "And everything's happening right here, right now! In 2003."
The making of "Love Metal" was a two-dimensional thing. The album was produced and recorded in Helsinki by Hiili Hiilesmaa, producer of the very first HIM album back in 1997. Hiilesmaa is noted for his work with mostly pretty uncompromising metal bands (Sentenced, Moonspell, Amorphis, Theatre of Tragedy...), and easygoing as he might be on the outside, in certain respects he runs a tight regime. Nobody survives his sessions if failing a serious attitude check!
"What has always fascinated me about Hiili is the manic way he approaches recording. The guy is nothing else but metal's answer to reggae's Lee 'Scratch' Perry! The Mad Scientist. One who always dares to experiment with things that others dismiss off-hand as crazy or laughable."
The second dimension came about through a transatlantic move. Next stop was Scream Studios, Los Angeles. Birthplace of Nirvana's "Nevermind", Faith No More's "The Real Thing" and countless other latter-day classics. The album was mixed there by Tim Palmer whose work, especially with U2, caught Valo's attention. A bit of a surprise, this one?
"Yes and no. U2's music as a whole isn't really my thing, that's right. Then again they have songs like "One" and "With or Without You" that are very close to the thing I try to achieve, you know, melodically, lyrically and feel-wise. But always with my own, shall I say, David Lynchian twist to it," Valo reveals. "Tim did a beautiful job unearthing all those hidden treasures within our music. I could just sit back wearing the fly glasses that Bono had left behind at the studio, and listen to the music sort of unravelling before my ears."
So it was as if a piece of Helsinki winter madness had been thrown onto Venice Beach. Or perhaps a case of LA smog vs. the midnight sun (with a few English showers thrown in for good measure, given the fact that Mr. Palmer is indeed a Briton). Light and darkness clashing. Whatever the case the different elements complement each other beautifully. The end result is a vibrant concoction of in-your-face riffs, heavy beats and sweet soulful melodies.