Whatever you may think about HIM – joke band, has-beens, rip-off merchants and so on and so on – it’s hard to deny the very essence of their hard rocking joy. XX: Two Decades of Love Metal compiles nearly twenty (twenty!) years of the Fin’s self-branded love metal and it’s clear that their passion and whole-hearted belief in their woe-filled selves never diminished. Starting life as His Infernal Majesty, HIM soon abandoned such obviously dark tones for a direction that leant a little more towards the doomed love songs of yore whilst upholding the inherent rock and roll nature of their chosen genre – check Type O Negative, Danzig et al for musical comparison – and the hype machine really started to rumble circa 2003 and the release of the bands somewhat seminal Love Metal record. Cue vocalist Ville Valo living a terribly rock star-like lifestyle that was well documented in the press and HIM’s career seemed on the verge of collapse with the almost forgettable odes heard on Dark Light and Venus Doom – although the tracks chosen from these two works that appear on XX are certainly extraordinary highlights. Thankfully, HIM took all of their internal issues and external critique in their stride and it was recently announced that the provisionally titled Tears on Tape was in production. Huzzah!
It’s here on XX: Two Decades of Love Metal that the song-writing skill of Valo and his silky, breathy voice comes to the fore. HIM have to hand a massive back catalogue to choose from and their picks for this compilation are pretty much what any discerning fan would want to hear on the, generally, much maligned best of record. One new track is thrown to the wind in the form of “Strange World,” a cover of a song by the artist Ké, and it's one that sits perfectly at ease with the nineteen lamentations that follow.
The stadium bombast of “Wings of a Butterfly” compliments the steady crunch of “Kiss of Dawn” whilst the gentler beats of “Gone with the Sin” curl around the heart with the promise of despair. The absolutely massive “Buried Alive By Love” – the song that really got HIM noticed – hits early but by no means does that mean that XX lulls afterwards. Each of the subsequent movements of utter hopelessness at the very prospect of love and it’s ultimate demise punch with an immediacy most bands would kill for. HIM though, manage it juuuuuuuuuuuuust fine with a natural prowess for darkly anthemic hymns to loss.
The bands most well known cover, “Wicked Game” (originally by Chris Isaacs) tingles with a heady anticipation and steers XX towards the closing pain of “Heartache Every Moment” via a devastating “Killing Loneliness” and a sweetly poignant “When Love and Death Embrace.” HIM have never really gone away, and long may they reign as masters of the despondence of love metal.
8.0 / 10
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