Welcome back, Ville Valo! It’s been 10 years since Finland’s “love metal” heartthrob has put out a new album, the last being HIM‘s swansong, Tears on Tape and here are six sweet things HIM fans will love about Neon Noir.
Our beloved deep crooner crept back into the musical spotlight back in 2020 with the release of Gothica Fennica Vol. 1, a three-track EP featuring “Salute the Sanguine,” “Run Away From the Sun” and “Saturnine Saturnalia,” all of which also appear on Valo’s brand new LP. More than formidable, it demonstrated that even without the members of HIM behind him, his signature style was still as recognizable as it ever was before.
“The reason for the EP was to test the waters, to see if people are still interested in the kind of racket I make, and also to check and see if there’s labels who might be interested in putting this stuff out,” Valo told Loudwire in an exclusive interview near the end of last year.
“[The lockdowns were] quite depressing, quite dark … Everything was uncertain, regarding everything here. There were areas in Finland that were closed off, you weren’t able to drive outside of the city, it was like being in a dystopian sci-fi film. I thought it was so depressing that the only thing I could do was to continue to keep on making music,” he reasoned.
If you’re the type to find a silver lining in any situation, then Valo’s decision to concentrate on new music early on in the pandemic is a sterling one.
For HIM fans, there’s plenty of ways to connect the dots to Ville’s former band as well as fresh new dynamics that were never present within HIM’s sound. Nevertheless, here’s six sweet things HIM fans will love about Neon Noir:
1. It’s like a reunion with an old friend
Ready to feel old? HIM’s final album was released 10 years ago. With Ville Valo going a full decade without making a “love metal” style LP, listening to Neon Noir feels like a warm reunion with an old friend. And like catching up with a high school bestie, Valo picked up right where he left off.
The man’s voice still sounds as fantastic as ever, his vampyric lyrics on love and loss sit in the same vein as his work with HIM, and although Neon Noir takes a softer instrumental approach than Ville’s old band, the music evokes the same emotions as when Bam Margera reality shows ruled MTV. Damn Ville, it feels good to catch up. —Graham Hartmann
2. “Baby, let’s take the scenic route through Hell”
If you’re gonna be trekking through Hell, you might as well stop and smell the sulfur, right?
While this is a really nice lyric from Valo that finishes off the second verse of opener “Echolocate Your Love,” it’s about so much more than that. It’s that we’ve missed this dangerous and dark sense of romance in heavy music ever since HIM split up.
Love is the most intense emotion and, unless you’re a real asshole, the most important one. So many facets of love are lost in music as much of it tends to focus either on puppy dog type feelings or breakup heartache. Valo challenges you to revel in the darker shades of love, helping you realize that even when things go sideways, it’s always going to be the thing you pursue the hardest. —Joe DiVita
3. Those familiar, warm tones
It’s not everywhere on Neon Noir (“Baby Lachrimarium” would be robbed of its heavenly quality with rumbling, buzzsaw low end), but on the more driving tracks (“Salute the Sanguine,” “Neon Noir” — the two most HIM-like songs), that familiar bass sound that helped define HIM’s sound is back in action, all lying underneath those weighty guitars.
It’s like a soothing hug — those low frequencies massaging your feet as the subwoofer pulses through your floor, potentially disturbing a downstairs neighbor in the process. —JD
4. ‘80s vibes in the best way
Okay, okay, the nostalgic ‘80s aesthetic has pretty much run its course in popular culture, but when you’re an artist so deeply in love with the ‘80s as Ville Valo, the decade’s influence can not be separated from one’s DNA. Even if you’re sick of hearing “Blinding Lights” or seeing Tron-style animation on every YouTube channel, the ‘80s influence of Neon Noir will still please your palate.
The synth riffs in “Echolocate Your Love,” “Salute the Sanguine” and “Neon Noir” are just too good to cast aside, and I don’t care who you are, anything that gives you Lost Boys vibes can’t be bad. The point is, Ville Valo isn’t using ‘80s aesthetics to chase trends. HIM’s music always paid tribute to those synth-driven, melancholic and romantic ‘80s classics, and the band’s balance of those dynamics was always inspired. Neon Noir is no different. —GH
Holy fuck do I love “Loveletting.” One of the softest and most beautiful ballads Valo has ever released, “Loveletting” is the musician’s best standout single since “Heartkiller.” The track really shows off Valo’s producing prowess, and its gentle instrumentation blends perfectly with an anthemic chorus. Ville also explores his full vocal range throughout the song… well… his “I’m no longer smoking cigarettes” vocal range.
The “Loveletting” music video is also a triumph, representing Ville’s embrace of the “black sheep” within himself. Ville has stated in numerous interviews that he’s always felt like an outsider or an outcast — something plenty of his fans can certainly relate with — and in this decade of increased isolation, the message of, “I don’t fit in, but that’s okay,” is an important one. Though it’s one of Ville’s sadder songs, “Loveletting” feels like the umbrella for one’s black sheep. —GH
6. There’s good news if you love “The Path” and “Sleepwalking Past Hope”
HIM’s longest songs were quite doomy in their approach, if not totally mirroring what one usually thinks of as doom when it comes to heavy music.
These slow, plodding tracks that offered plenty of room to get lost in a dream haze are awfully hard to come by with Valo. Here, the nearly 8-minute closer “Vertigo Eyes” sends the record off in a similar manner to “The Path” on HIM’s 2003 album Love Metal.
Neon Noir takes us through some bright and upbeat spots with some big new wave overtones, but it ends just the way anything with Valo should — not on a chipper note. —JD
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