What a “Wicked Game” to Play

It’s their most performed song. It’s one of two songs to be on two different albums (but only on US and UK versions of Razorblade Romance). It’s the only HIM song to have three videos (please don’t watch any of these videos). It’s the song that garnered them popularity throughout Finland and Germany. It’s one of the most covered songs of all time, and it’s the song that got HIM where they are today.

Ville Valo, on the song itself: “It’s one of the greatest songs ever written. So I am always happy and blessed to be able to sing that popular one and one day hopefully I’ll get the opportunity of meeting, Chris Isaak and say, ‘You made us.’”

To my knowledge, Isaak has heard the cover and reportedly liked it. I believe Isaak signed a picture featuring warm wishes to the band; that picture supposedly hangs in HIM’s rehearsal space in Helsinki.

Why did I choose this song?: The version linked with this article is the Razorblade Romance version. It’s also the version played on tour.

The Finnish Connection

In 1999, Ville Valo performed with the Agents. This band is famous for backing Finnish pop acts such as Tuomari Nurmio and Badding and keeping old people tapping their toes. If its any hint as to what genre they play, they play a Finnish translation of Perry Como’s “Glendora.”

This is a far cry from HIM’s doomy and gloomy vibe. This is pure rock’n’roll in the traditional sense. He was invited by the Agents themselves to perform on their TV show and to participate on their double album compilation that featured other Finnish, baritone singers.

Why did Ville Valo agree to cut three Badding covers with the Agents in the first place? He grew up listening to these artists. Valo claims “Paratiisi” was the only thing that could calm him down as a baby. He also loves the tradition of melancholy. These old school Finnish rockers sing about love – unrequited desire and longing and the eternity of love. Much like HIM’s new school Finnish rock, these lyrical themes are ever-present in music much like life.

Why did I choose this song?: This is the full performance Valo did with the Agents. Listeners also can give Valo a fair shot in regards to his vocal abilities. Since there are no strange lyrics in the way, his vocal talent and sound therefore become the forefront. Valo’s hair is something to complain about if needed.

Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath

It’s every fan girl and fan boy’s dream to be acknowledged by their idols. As mentioned previously, one of the band’s idols is Black Sabbath. This fact is often parodied and joked about by fans. I would personally love to see a super-cut of every time Ville Valo mentions Black Sabbath. Someone get on that.

In 2005, HIM had the opportunity to perform at the 10th anniversary tour of Ozzfest. Ozzy Osbourne himself gave Valo personal advice – don’t ever give up on your dreams. It’s one of rock’s famous stories that Ozzy Osbourne dreamed of being the fifth Beatle and then became the Prince of Darkness himself. Valo on the other hand dreamed of being in Black Sabbath and created his own version of the band.

Later, Valo and Osbourne were interviewed together, along with Slash, for an inside look at Download Festival. Valo was written as being “terrified,” “smoking in a more frenetic fashion” than the calm guitarist, and “suffering a mild stroke” by the presence of Osbourne. This time Osbourne’s advice included getting “your fucking dick out” to get girls to flash the band at shows. Thanks for that, Ozzy?

As I’ve mentioned before, Mikko “Linde” Lindström has a close connection to Toni Iommi, Black Sabbath’s guitar player, both musically and personally. Iommi asked Linde to partake in his supergroup’s charity single, while Linde asked Iommi for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Linde and Toni Marie Iommi have been engaged since 2010; plans for marriage are unknown, assuming they are not already married.

Why did I choose this song?: HIM performed “Soul on Fire” at Ozzfest. I’m not sure what their entire set list included, but this song was featured on the DVD of the show. This song appeared on the latest tour circuit as well.

Metal Begets Love Metal: HIM’s Influences

In an interview with Ville Valo about influences, he says, “The slight speciality of the band is the fact that we are not claiming to reinvent the wheel… We owe our gratitude and all our tricks to our masters.”

The heroes, inspirations, and influences of HIM include (but are not limited to): Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Type O Negative, Paradise Lost, Anathema, My Dying Bride, Cathedral, Electric Wizard, KISS, Angelo Badalamenti, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Elvis Presley, Badding, Tuomari Nurmio, Depeche Mode, Slayer, horror movies, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Klaus Kinski, Charles Bukowski, Timo Mukka, Maya Deren, David Lynch, Anton LaVey, Aleister Crowley, reggae music, Finnish mythology, the Bible, and David Hasselhoff.

Bits and pieces of the aforementioned can be heard in the band’s music and lyrics as well as their aesthetics. Ville Valo has tattoos of some of the aforementioned writers, while Mika “Gas” Karpinnen has tattoos of several different bands. The founding members of HIM began the band as a Type O Negative cover band while idolizing Black Sabbath. It would be unfair to say who has singularly had the greatest influence on the band, but Black Sabbath does take the lead on that claim.

Why did I choose this song?: It’s a cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” another musician the band likes. Compare this version to an older version and wonder if this is the same band like I did. The older version is Bisexual Rock God Ville Valo in full swing.

My Experiences as a HIM Fan

This will be the fan girly-est and sappiest of all my articles. You’ve been warned.

I came into the HIM fandom by pure accident. I was about 13 years old when I first heard “Wings of a Butterfly.” I would spend my days flipping through channels, clicking on music profiles, scoping new bands to listen to. Being the oldest child of two non-media obsessed parents, I had to find cool things on my own. Led Zeppelin never played throughout my house, my dad didn’t wear legitimate Beatles concert shirts, and my mom didn’t have stories about how-one-time-she-got-Nikki-Sixx-to-sign-her-boobs. I was an uncool kid who was desperate to be cool.

My heart at the time belonged to the pop punk sentimentalities of Green Day, specifically American Idiot; I bought it with some birthday money. A friend made copies of Fall Out Boy’s From Under the Cork Tree and Panic! at the Disco’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. My mom didn’t understand why I wanted a subscription to Blender magazine. My desire to be a legit member of the 2005 music scene was deep.

Days I spent home alone were perfect; I could keep the TV on Fuse without embarrassment or harassment from others. During a music video block, I saw a dark scene featuring a watchtower emitting a strange symbol. Then, some guy in a vest with this highly intricate tattoo sleeve appeared. There was also some blond octopus playing guitar.

Who the hell are these guys? What is this? And why can’t I stop watching?

Though it’s just a performance video, I didn’t understand it. Nothing about this video looked American. It was as if I had ESEP: extrasensory European perception. I thought the song was pretty good and the guy was okay looking until about one minute and 43 seconds into the song.

That was the moment I fell in love with HIM.

My jaw dropped. I had never heard a voice like that before. This band was different because this guy could sing, and I mean really sing. The soothing, symphonic timbre of his voice astounded me. I suddenly wanted to be the mirror he touched in the video. I wanted to talk about his arm sleeve. I wanted to know who this guy was and where did he come from.

As the next video began, I completely forgot about them.

Sure, I looked up the song and band’s name, but that was the extent of my research. I thought about them from time to time, but never felt compelled to give them a proper listening. I knew “Wings of a Butterfly” by heart and replayed the “Killing Loneliness” video a thousand times, but that was it. I didn’t spend hours scouring the internet for any piece of information I could find about these guys. Until three years later, I never cared about HIM or Ville Valo.

At the end of my junior year of high school, I had a sudden nostalgia for that butterfly song with the weird tower video. The melody was an earworm for a day until I decided to revisit it. A few plays of the song turned into a few thousand, my interest in the band increasing with each time. I was transformed, metamorphosed. I had to know everything about the band. I began by downloading their entire discography.

I spent the next few months getting “intimate” with HIM while in a deep state of depression. Without getting into too much detail, I never thought this bout would end. This was a time in my life when I felt nobody would or could ever love me; I craved external love because I had no internal, self-love. HIM’s lyrics made me feel like the band loved me. Sure, they are intended as general declarations, but the guitar solos, bass riffs, drum fills, and piano intros jolted me alive.

Through HIM, I learned about Finland and its culture. I learned about Charles Baudelaire, spurred by interest in Ville Valo’s portrait tattoo of the poet. I found a way to medicate the pain and harmful thoughts. HIM’s music helped me find a proverbial light through all the darkness. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that nobody is really alone as long as we are open to love. So I took the chance and learned to love myself.

Who I am now near the end of my undergraduate career is vastly different than who I was in my later high school years. What has remained the same is my love for HIM. My thanks to this band are endless. I might be a face in the crowd, a number for the sales statistics, or just another person on the internet, but I started this project as a way to give back and spread the word about this band. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I never found HIM, and frankly, I don’t want to imagine a world where I didn’t. 

From the Dark to the Light with Dark Light

On the whole, 2005 was important for rock music in the mainstream. The second wave of emo was in full swing. Green Day won their first Grammy. Bands like Papa Roach, Foo Fighters, and Weezer secured spots on the Billboard Top 100. TV network Fuse broadcast shows like Steven’s Untitled Rock Show and time blocks dedicated to bands appearing on Warped Tour and Taste of Chaos. MySpace made sharing and locating new, unsigned and underground bands easy.

Rock in 2005 had a variety of faces and players. Shaggy haircuts and baseball tees were acceptable wear. Eyes ringed in caked, black eyeliner were cool for guys and girls. Band tees and replications of tour merchandise could be found in the mall as well as big box retailers. Being passionate about rock was back whether you loved the sound of the time or not.

As I’ve mentioned before, 2005 was a pivotal year for HIM. Working with producer Tim Palmer, the guys of HIM set to work on their fifth album, Dark Light. The band was already experiencing the effects of increasing exposure as their music slowly crept from Finland to the U.K. and finally to the U.S. This is thanks in part to friend Bam Margera and his media outlets, a topic I previously addressed.

Released in late September 2005, Dark Light entered the charts around the world. The hometown heroes were number one in Finland and were in the top ten all around Europe. Stateside, they entered the U.S. charts at number 18 on the Billboard 200 chart. In time, HIM sold over half a million copies of this album. Remember that this is a time when physical copies of CDs were still popular. This accomplishment garnered them a Gold record by the RIAA. HIM did two things no Finnish musicians had ever done: entered the U.S. charts and struck Gold. As recognition for this feat, former president Tarja Halonen (who I almost yelled at in a museum) invited singer Ville Valo to the President’s Ball in Finland.

The cultural climate in the U.S. was perfect for HIM. Listeners were more willing to accept balladeer-like lyrics thanks to the emo scene. The “return to music videos” by Fuse helped people connect their already famous heartagram to the band. HIM was at the time signed to Sire Records, thus allowing wider international distribution. Dark Light was also a slight departure from the band’s previous albums. This one featured Janne “Burton” Puurtinen on keyboards at the forefront of the songs. Puurtinen got to show off his classically trained musical skills. The cleaner, glossier sound transferred to American airwaves easily. This CD is often regarded as the most “American sounding” of the band’s eight, thus polarizing fans. HIM achieved true international success for the first, and arguably last, time in their careers.

Why did I choose this song?: “Killing Loneliness” is the second single from Dark Light. One of the two videos features Kat Von D as tattoo artist/love interest of Ville Valo. Her recognizable face from reality TV helped people connect to the band, thus creating an introduction to HIM. It’s also a playable track in Rock Band 3.

The Few, the Proud, the Strange: HIM’s Fans

In this article, I will discuss the fans of the fandom itself. If there’s any piece I would advise reading thoroughly, it’s this one; I make generalizations and use hedged language in order to make my point at the end.

That being said, who are fans of HIM? In all honesty, they tend to be female. Though I have seen guys at HIM concerts, the crowd tends to have two X-chromosomes. These guys might genuinely like HIM; it’s an entirely plausible occurrence. Or, these guys might just tag along with their girlfriends due to a combination of obligation, force, and love; the motive here then is scoring boyfriend points, hoping to cash in for sex points. A male friend of mine offered to go with me to my HIM show for reasons I cannot seem to figure out. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to listen to HIM because HIM is well… girly. I could not imagine my blond behemoth of a friend towering over squealing girls, rocking out to songs with titles like “Join Me in Death” and “Passion’s Killing Floor.”

But is HIM girly because of their fan base or because of their music and persona? The rise of HIM in America is mostly due to entering the scene at the right time; HIM had success in Europe fifteen years prior. Obviously HIM had fans before Dark Light, but why? How is HIM the most successful Finnish band ever?

In the unofficial documentary, Poison Arrow, fans, friends, and music know-it-alls alike were asked to describe HIM in one word. The answers ranged from “successful” and “flexible” to “sexy,” “mystic,” and “romantic.” Take a wild guess which gender answered which words. Every time a female fan talked about HIM, her smile grew, eyes shined, and cheeks burned red.

 Music journalist Natasha Scharf speculates, there are “two things that got people interested. The first is Ville.” Ville Valo is the singer and is the frontman both on and off stage. Ville appeared on the first three of the band’s eight-CD discography, making him a logo for the band. Interviews tend to also center on him. Scharf says he has that “soft, pretty boy [image], but at the same time, [a] kind of dangerous [image] because he’s always smoking and he loves his Jack Daniel’s… Girls love that kind of thing.” He is tall, has a baritone-pitched voice, and is jovial in interviews. He takes off – or rather, took off – his shirt during shows to expose his heavily tattooed body. My favorite reaction when asked about Ville’s attractiveness has to be the non-word exclamatory this girl does.

It seems that sex appeal has a lot to do with HIM’s appeal among girls. There’s a long history of female fans being attracted to the male frontman. It is impossible to argue that mainstream success has nothing to do with attractiveness; that’s not how marketing works. In the case of HIM’s music, Valo is the sole lyricist. His songs are semi-autobiographical about his love life. He’s not afraid to express his feelings and be sensitive. He is well read and poetic (or cryptic depending on your reading of his lyrics). This combination makes Valo a knockout for girls who like a gothic Jim Morrison.

And is being known for having a large female fan base bad? Not at all. It sure as hell worked for the Beatles, so why can’t it work for five guys from Helsinki? HIM has five platinum albums in their home country. They are the first Finnish band to receive a gold status in the U.S. They sell out tickets for their shows around the world. These achievements are thanks to the fans themselves. In terms of musical talent, Mikko “Linde” Lindström, the guitarist, was a member of Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi’s supergroup WhoCares. The band received a nomination for “Best Boxed/Special Limited Edition packaging” for Venus Doom at the 50th annual Grammy Awards. Their recent tour had their first ever stops in South America and China, places they will most likely return to in the future.

Of course, the claims about fans I make in this article are just claims – I am speculating based on personal experience and some research. These are broad generalizations (no pun intended). There are girls who like the band solely because of how sexy they think Ville is. There are girls who find the guys unattractive. There are guys who have crushes on the band members and guys who want to be them, not be with them.

What I truly believe is that fans have made personal connections to the music and the lyrics. If the band were solely riding high only on Valo’s sex appeal, the band would’ve ended years ago. They would have been a flash in the pan with the emergence of newer, “sexier” bands. HIM would not have survived 2005, the topic of my next article. 

Why did I choose this song?: This was the song that pulled HIM out of Finland and into Europe. Germany in particular latched onto HIM and this song. It was the first song many European HIM fans heard from this band due to its use on movie soundtracks, commercials, and airplay. “Join Me” is also one of the best-selling singles in Finnish music history. Also, this piece is about fans, so a song with “join me” in its title is appropriate.

What’s Bam Got to Do With It?

Talking about HIM and its fandom would not be complete without mention of Bam Margera. In all honesty, without the help of Margera, there would be no HIM in the U.S. Of first hearing about the band, Margera has said:

 “I was introduced to them in May 2000 on the way to a skate contest… I was reading a one page article, and I was so impressed with the lousy one page, that I went right to the record store to get the album.” 

The legend goes that Bam picked up a copy of Razorblade Romance, the infamous pink-and-filigreed CD featuring a very Bisexual Rock God-looking Ville Valo. Margera supposedly loved every song on the album, and bought as much HIM merchandise as he could. Margera used their music in his CKY videos and felt the need to meet the band that created it.

Valo in an interview remembers:

“He was just a random fellow that came knocking on our door… and he wasn’t that well known internationally… He was a skateboarder and he was working for MTV in America… He [would] come over and say hi and grab a beer from a fridge from the dressing room… and that’s how the friendship started… We became friends.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Margera and Valo had a friendship that lasted many years. They shared an interest in music, drinking, and shenanigans. Margera directed four music videos: “The Sacrament,” “Buried Alive Ay Love,”  “And Love Said No,” and “Solitary Man.” He has also created several behind-the-scenes specials about the videos and the band as a whole6 while members of the band appear in Margera’s productions including Jackass and Where the#$&% Is Santa?. He joined tours with the band and made frequent trips to Finland; the band visited Margera’s home in West Chester, PA. Margera even shares multiple tattoos with Valo, most being copies of Valo’s tattoos. Valo and Margera were so inseparable that fans of HIM created the Vam ship, resulting in fan art and fan fiction of the two men in friendly to homoerotic situations.

The rise of HIM and Bam Margera and his Jackass work occurred simultaneously, thus creating free promotion of one another, reducing what Valo calls “secret handshakes between managers”; it was one fan helping another fan out. Any casual viewing of Viva La Bam features hundreds of heartagrams, the band’s logo. While this is a topic I will covered in another article, the heartagram is synonymous with Margera. With Valo’s permission, Margera uses it for “promotional purposes, including using it on his Adio shoes and Element skateboards.” He continued the trend of using HIM’s music in his shows: “Right Here in My Arms” was featured in Bam’s Unholy Union, the series that chronicles Margera and now-ex-wife Missy’s journey to the altar, while the HIM-spinoff band, Daniel Lioneye, play the theme to Viva La Bam.

The transfer from fanboy to best friend is enviable. It’s every fan’s dream to befriend their idols no matter who they are. The argument can be made that Margera was the sixth member of HIM. In recent years, the Valo-Margera bond has broken. Valo entered rehab in 2007 and has been sober ever since. In some interviews, it sounds as if Margera is… Frustrated by Valo’s hermitage. According to Margera, Valo “won’t leave his hotel room and when he does, it’s only to go to the studio to record.” Margera did spend time in rehab, but it does appear that the death of best friend and fellow Jackass-costar Ryan Dunn hit Margera particularly hard, causing what seems to be a downward spiral in his own life. 

It is rumored that a fight broke up the friendship between Valo and Margera, but of what cause, nobody outside their circles knows. Valo has issued an on-stage apology back in 2010. There was an appearance by Margera at HIM’s 2014 show in Philadelphia, and later a picture of the two. This is the first documented “reunion” of the two in recent years. What’s next for the HIM-Bam relationship is unsure. Neither party needs the help of the other anymore, seeing as both are internationally recognized names and faces with large fan-bases.

Why did I choose this song?: This video is one of the four directed by Bam Margera. This video is from 2003, therefore making this it look very dated. Fans can tell this is old because of how few tattoos Valo has on his body as compared to today.