HIM: the metamorphoses of Ville Valo
New DVD package shows development of Finnish rock group
By Jussi Ahlroth
Ville Valo looks just the same in a video shot in 2004 as he did in one that was produced in 1998. This is worth mentioning because in between he has managed to affect a number of different appearances.
The new, and impressively extensive DVD collection of the Finnish rock band HIM examines much more than Valo’s hairstyle, the amount of makeup he uses, and the woollen cap perched on his head as means to follow the development of Finland’s most successful rock band.
The change in style that can be seen in his promotional videos reveals, in a condensed form, the badly-failed attempt of the band and its cooperative partners to find a visual expression for the music of HIM. Meanwhile, the live concert recordings reveal a tightening of the sound, and the simultaneous liberation of the music.
The DVD is packed with an impressive amount of material. However, fans have nearly all of it on VHS, or as files downloaded legally or otherwise from the Internet. But now everything is in a single package, with good picture quality and excellent stereo sound.
There are a total of 19 promo videos and 30 live recordings. It has all three promo versions of Wicked Games - the original low-budget romp directed by keyboard player Antto Melasniemi, the dark, comforting and typically German snowfall version, and the strip joint parody, of which only a censored version could be included on the DVD.
The menus were drawn up with style from HIM recordings with a graphic appearance that has been typical of the band's output for years. There is not much material behind the pieces themselves - a couple of interviews and newspaper stories. As for the hidden lures, it is easy to find at least the most obvious.
Most of the HIM promotional videos have been rather strange. The most tragicomic were the ones directed by John Hillcoat. Join Me in Death is like a Disney ice show, and the corny ghostly aspects of In Joy and Sorrow, and the glowing juice glasses in it, make the viewer squirm uncomfortably.
The notoriously expensive Pretending by Kevin Godley is just incessant spinning around with no vision.
The final low point is Funeral of Hearts, directed by Stefan Lindfors, which is packed full of confusing Arctic gnome mysticism. The interview of Lindfors and Valo in the hidden extra material gives a good picture of what went wrong. Lindfors followed his own "visions".
The best of the old videos is Right Here in my Arms, directed by Pasi Pauni, whose style has been followed in the present decade by Bam Margera, an artist who has finally succeeded in producing videos for HIM that manage to look like the band itself. In three videos, Buried Alive by Love, The Sacrament, and Solitary Man, Margera used as his basic idea "the band and a girl". In And Love Said No Margera did something different, but he did not give up his other mannerism - his infatuation with manor houses and castles.
The live recordings reveal a progression of a band whose sound becomes incrementally more compact. The band that played on the German Viva Overdrive programme in 1998 was bursting with self-confidence, but still lacked control of its own sound.
During a concert to promote a new recording in Hamburg in 2003, the band was quite different, and it was not just a question of changes in the group’s composition.
The high points of the live recordings are the sentimental pieces that do justice to Valo’s voice.
The most courageous expressions take shape in a completely new way as of 2003. In a recording made in Berlin, Mige Pennanen’s rumbling bass convincingly carries Soul on Fire. The sounds of the gig are where they should be, and the band plays its new pieces that work well on the stage in a lean and hungry manner.
Also included are two pieces from a gig played by HIM at Helsinki’s Semifinal club shortly before the First of May 2003. The atmosphere in the minuscule, sweaty club is tight, intimate, and the photography and editing is pleasantly coarse. All of the seven Semifinal gigs were recorded, and one would have liked to see more of it.
The most recent item included is material from a New Year’s Eve gig at Helsinki’s Tavastia Club in 2003/4. At that point, the band is already doing different variations of its pieces on stage.
The icing on the cake is a recording from the Provinssirock festival of 1999 in the middle of a sunny day: a shirtless and furious version of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. Another delicious moment is the booming cover version of Black Sabbath’s Hand of Doom.
Limited Edition also contains another disc HIM vs Bam, which focuses on the cooperation between HIM and Bam Margera, the professional skateboarder made famous by the TV programme Jackass who is, perhaps, the world’s most passionate HIM fan.
This is where one can see the drunken raving, fart humour, and wacky recklessness for which HIM has become famous, in addition to the music. In this one, Ville Valo lets down his carefully cultivated image, revealing a guy who laughs at ridiculous things, and who speaks in a slurred voice when drunk.
But his woollen cap nevertheless stays on.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 18.4.2005
HIM: LoveMetal Archives, Vol. 1, Limited Edition. Two DVD discs. Sony-BMG. EUR 23.99
More on this subject:
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish band HIM aspires to U.S. market with new record deal (7.9.2004)
JUSSI AHLROTH / Helsingin Sanomat