HIM frontman Ville Valo seems totally at home sitting poolside at his hotel in L.A. Sipping tea between cigarettes, the lead singer of the first Finnish band ever to go gold in the U.S. is happy to be back in L.A. after spending months at home recording the band's follow up to 2005's Dark Light, the aforementioned gold record. Then again, if the quintet hadn't been at home during the dark, cold winter months they might not have recorded the aptly named Venus Doom, an album that Valo describes as being "Like a trip into my personal hell to a certain extent."
Musically, the album is the dark, hard rocking soundtrack necessary to accompany Valo's downward descent. "I felt that we needed a lot less keyboards and there was just going to be more punching to the face type of thing," Valo says, referring to the differences between Dark Light and Venus Doom. "The whole vibe seems fresh cause the direction we had with the last album we couldn't go further. So the album sonically is a bit more sparse. That's the direction we're heading; heavier, doomier, and gloomier, and it's great to tour that kind of stuff."
HIM will get the chance to see how the new material translates to the stage over the summer when they join Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, and more on the main stage of L.P.'s Projekt Revolution tour. "All the bands are kind of crossover in what they do, that's really interesting," Valo says. "This is the first kind of traveling festival type of thing we've done cause they don't have anything like that back in Europe, so it's exciting." He's also intrigued by the eclecticism of the tour. "That's one of the reasons we wanted to be there," he says of the mix of bands.
When talking about the musical references in the album, Valo rattles off Sabbath and old-school Metallica. That rock authenticity and ferocity are evident from the opening match that kicks off the incendiary title track. The savage intensity is kept up in the machine gun style attack of "Love in Cold Blood," a track that explodes in a vicious guitar solo. The trademark HIM sense of melody is found both in choruses throughout and in tracks like "Dead Lover's Lane," as well as the acoustic "Song or Suicide," a track recorded at L.A.'s historic Chateau Marmont.
Working with producer Tim Palmer (U2, Hot Hot Heat, Switchfoot), who helmed Dark Light, and Hiili, the man behind the controls of the band's first album, the quintet has created a journey through many moods and feelings. Often times, as on the title track, the epic 10-minute plus "Sleepwalking Past Hope," and the Zeppelin-infused closer, "Cyanide Sun," that journey is an intricate one encompassing a diverse series of sonic landscapes in the span of a single song. "In this one we have a bit longer songs so arrangement-wise there's more differences within the song," Valo says. "We wanted that contrast, having really nice beautiful melodies and then having that really crunchy guitar thing in there; so to have the balance between the right and wrong so to speak."
The multi-layered tone of Venus Doom is something the band was striving for. "The idea to have nine songs was based on Dante's Inferno, cause hell has nine layers, so it's like going deeper down into hell and then coming back," Valo says. "There are so many different vibes and moods in the album that it's cool once you listen to it again, because you can't absorb everything with one listen."
While that complexity hearkens back to great albums, something Valo is very aware of, it's also a fitting attitude for a band that continues to grow up. In fact, keyboardist Burton had his first kid last year, prompting the group to record Venus Doom back at home in Finland to allow the band members more time to spend with their families.
Valo, who reads a great deal for inspiration, this time turning to Scandinavian poetry, admits recording in Finland had some bearing on the tone of the record. "We recorded the album during the winter so that could be one of the reasons it sounds a bit gloomy and doomy; it's always dark and super cold."
Weather and dark poetry aside though, it was Valo's own evolving life that had the biggest influence on the record. The lead single, "Kiss of Dawn," was inspired by the death of one of his close friends. "One of my mates from here in L.A. committed suicide two and a half years ago, and that's a tribute to him," Valo says of the song. "It's about how it is on the other side and how we react to it on this side. Just a young guy who had the world, everything is possible, but deep depression and too many drugs cause you to do stupid things. So the subject matter is not light on the album. But it's good to get this out. It's cathartic."
Some of the stuff Valo says he can only get out through songs. "There are a couple of tunes that are too close to me personally, I can't talk about, so it's better to leave that stuff open for interpretation," he says. Nowadays I don't tend to write songs of just one story, there's usually three of them going on at the same time. And it's good to leave people pondering, because my story is as wrong or right as their story. If you find something that fits your life or situation you're in, that makes it true."
Don't let the heavy topics and the self-proclaimed doom and gloom, requisites for any self-respecting hard rock record, fool you though. Valo says the making of this album was all about what would be fun for the band. "This one we were like, 'Let's just have a lot of fun and play as loud as we can,'" he says. "And most of the songs were originally on guitars so I was playing riffs differently. It was just me playing my Telecaster through a fuzz box and rocking out."
So what does Ville Valo want fans to take from the album? "Nobody can say the album's not heavy or that it's not emotional or not melodic," he says. "It's got everything we're all about and that's where we are now as a band."