I know I mentioned some of the band’s dumb lyrics yesterday, but that doesn’t stop how I feel about HIM. On March 19, 2014, I was fortunate to see HIM in concert. I bought the tickets in December, knowing full well HIM doesn’t tour the U.S. often. After a three-year hiatus, the longest of their 20-year career, their latest CD Tears on Tape and subsequent U.S. tour seemed like a miracle. HIM was back in action, hallelujah! I had an opportunity to see them on their Screamworks tour in 2010, but I didn’t feel like a big enough fan at the time; I willingly passed on that opportunity. This time, I felt like a “proper fan.” I was also not going to let the fact that I would have to go alone get in the way. I bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale.

I left my house early for the hour-long drive to the House of Blues. The whole drive I kept thinking how absurd this idea was: I woke up at the crack of dawn to wait for hours in a line to see a band by myself. Then again, this wasn’t just any band; this was my favorite band. I also wanted a great spot because of devotion (or obsession, depending who you ask) and my short stature.

I approached the line of seven others. Wait, these are HIM fans, I thought to myself. After several years of thinking I was the only fan in the Central Florida area, seeing seven other fans surprised me. It was 10 AM and I had nobody to talk to, but I smuggled homework in my bag to do while I waited. Only eight hours to go!

As time passed and the line filled, I got to talking with my comrades. A girl from Ohio bought Greyhound ticket after Greyhound ticket to see HIM perform in several cities. Another was there with her husband and complained about her thighs sweating and chafing. A mother and daughter talked about their numerous concert-going experiences. Some had heartagram tattoos, some didn’t. Some had Manic Panic-dyed hair, some didn’t. There were mostly girls, but there was a fair share of guys too. We were all different — except for the fact we were mostly all clad in black.

As the day progressed, Facebooks and Twitters, Instagrams and Tumblrs were exchanged. Future plans were made. It was serendipity at its finest.

The doors opened. Skip-the-line wristband on and ticket in hand, I rushed toward the barrier. I didn’t quite get to the front (I was one person away), but I was around my new-found friends. I felt emotional looking around the venue and seeing hundreds of HIM fans. I’ve encountered hundreds of HIM fans online, but never offline. It was quite a sight.

Their opening act, Anathema, had an amazing set. Ville has mentioned them as one of his influences, and it’s no surprise. Both tackle internal struggles through melody and verse. Anathema blew me away with their song “Untouchable, Pts. 1 and 2.” I highly recommend them, but that’s a band for another week.

During Anathema’s set, the crowd was hustling and bustling. The guys of HIM had made their way to the green room and were watching the show. One by one I saw the shadowed faces of each member peek through the window. Squeals signified that Ville made an appearance. Unfortunately, this distracted the audience from Anathema, but in the end, this night was about HIM.

The lights dimmed and “Lucifer’s Chorale” filled the House. Each member walked out to their respective instrument, tweaking and adjusting as they picked up their respective axe. Ville walked out last. More screaming. Eye contact among the band. Nods. A countdown on the high hat. “Buried Alive by Love.”

I am one person from the barrier and roughly one hundred feet from the stage. They’re real, I thought. One of my line friends asks if I was feeling okay. I was beyond okay. I was ecstatic and, dare I say, alive.

HIM played a lot from their back catalogue, a sort of for-die-hard-fans set. The guys were charged and the crowd was energized. Cheering, singing, and head banging abound. A goofy grin slid across Ville’s face when the crowd fulfilled the handclap part in “All Lips Go Blue”’s chorus.

I clutched my heart when “Tears on Tape” began. I played that song on repeat when I was going through a period of self-doubt and heartache earlier this year. To hear it through my headphones was one thing, but to hear it from the mouth of a babe was another. I’m pretty sure Ville saw me swooning and teary-eyed which caused him to chuckle. It was probably payback for earlier in the show when I laughed at him looking confused as girls in the audience catcalled him. Only someone close to the stage could’ve seen his facial contortions. He snapped his head toward my direction and blushed. Actually, I can only assume he blushed what with the stage lights and dark pit. I remember that night as being the first time I saw HIM, as well as the time when I laughed at Ville and he laughed at me. At least I can say Ville personally acknowledged my existence.

Girls in the audience wooing, guys yelling in joy, and me laughing. Being at that show didn’t feel real and yet here was Linde throwing guitar picks into the crowd 6. It’s a night I often remember. I re-watch the videos my new friends and I took and sigh. If that’s the only time I’ll ever see HIM perform, then so be it.

Because Not All Lyrics Can Be Great

HIM is from Finland, a country where English is widely spoken as a second language; compare roughly 5 million Finnish speakers to millions of English speakers. It’s estimated that 70% of all Finns speak conversational level English. I had no issues speaking English when I visited Finland recently as long as I initiated conversation in English. The Finns speak excellent English as a whole. Of course there are varying degrees of fluency. The guys of HIM are a great example: Ville Valo speaks the best English since he writes and interviews in English, while the other guys fall between great and just okay. There are definitely times when I listen to HIM, scratch my head and go, Ville, what the actual fuck does that mean?

Here are my favorite examples of Ville’s questionable lyrics:

  • 41 + 66.6 equals our loss // “Death is in Love with Us”: Okay, what does that mean? What is the significance of 107.6? That’s not a number referenced by HIM; generally the two marks of the devil (666 and 616), 3 (the Holy Trinity), and 9 (the Holy Trinity of Holy Trinities) make it into their songs. But 107.6? Google says that’s the temperature in Fahrenheit where the brain suffers damage due to a fever. Is that what you mean, Ville? Your loss is like temporal damage due to influenza?
  • I’ll violate you in the most sensual way // “It’s All Tears (Drown in It)”: No you will not, sir! I’m pretty sure that’s nonconsensual, and that’s frowned upon as well as being illegal.
  • I’m your Christ to die on you // “Sigillum Diaboli”: I guess that’s what we get for a song called “Seal of the Devil.” These lyrics seem to be more shock value than anything else.
  • Tears on tape she surrenders needle in arm while we dance into the storm // “Tears on Tape”: Why are you dancing in a storm? You’re going to get sick. Why does she have a needle in her arm? Are you promoting heroin use among women? Ville says the needle is that of a record player. That’s not where a record needle goes, but okay, whatever you say…
  • I’m tired of the games I’m playing with you when you’re not here // “Kiss of Dawn”: Ville, this is impossible due to the limitations of physicality. Unless you’re being cyber bullied, in which case, please get help.

Of course these are jokes about the literal interpretation of these lyrics. I swear, they make sense in the context of their songs.

Actually, no they don’t. The band’s early lyrics are chock full of phrases determined to shock. Over the years and through the writing of countless other songs, Valo’s writing skills have improved. His lyrics were plain and straightforward while today they hold cryptic messages and meanings. These newer lyrics are fun if you like analyzing lyrics. I just like making fun of these guys because I love them.

An Analysis of “Katherine Wheel”

Let me explain why this is one of my favorite HIM songs. What makes this song great is not bravado or ingenuity. Quite simply, it’s the unity of this song that’s appealing.

First, you have to understand the song’s title. There are no records of a Katherine wheel, but there are Catherine wheels. One definition of a Catherine wheel is a type of firework. The firework is a series of smaller fireworks that spin to create a dazzling display of chemical reactions.

Throughout the song, Ville Valo repeats the phrase, “I’m burning for you.” “Burning” has multiple meanings – the process of combustion in a firework – or as in the idiomatic expression for having passionate feelings toward another. HIM’s song takes the latter of the two burnings, but the former has its place within the context as well.

The other definition of Catherine Wheel is a synonym for the breaking wheel, a medieval torture device. A condemned individual “was tied to a large wooden wheel, which rotated slowly. The executioner struck down on his limbs with an iron bar or hammer, breaking the bones.

The name Catherine became attached to this tool for punishment because of Catherine of Alexandria, a Catholic saint. A trial was held to convince her to abandon her Christian beliefs to instead follow paganism. She refused. Her punishment was to be killed on the breaking wheel. Upon touching the instrument, Catherine destroyed it by way of miracle; she was then beheaded8. The wheel was then named after her.

Surprisingly, there is a Finnish wordteilata – that means, “to execute by the wheel.” It “refers to forceful and violent critique or rejection of performance, ideas or innovations.” Since Valo and the other members of HIM are Finnish, they are familiar with this phrase.

Continuing with Christian allusions, “Lo and behold” is found in the Bible. Genesis 15:3, reads, “And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.” Valo, in several interviews, has mentioned the Bible as source of inspiration. The phrase in its current usage (an exclamatory meaning “Look what we have here”) does not appear until the 18th century though.

The firework and song both get their names from this hagiography. It’s easy to understand why the firework is named so; it spins just like the instrument does. But why is the song named after this Catholic martyr? Valo states that the song is “serenading [a] lady as torture method.” The title after all sounds like a lady’s name. Love therefore, in Valo’s perception, is painful, cruel, and full of anguish. There is universality to that sentiment; loving or liking someone so much that emotions prohibit clear consciousness. This song promotes the idea that the object of one’s affection is off-limits or distant. Valo plays up this idea of both love as a torture device and the torture device itself through the lyrics:

Come on and break me a limb at a time
Wrap me around your spokes so tight
There’s no letting go
Spin me around to blur the line between you and I
What are you waiting for?

Katherine Wheel is both the torture device and the torturer in this instance.

In the chorus, he sings, “Please don’t stop until my heart no longer screams.” Valo imagines himself in the submissive role Katherine has him in.

Later, Valo has come to terms with the “things you make me do”:

I twist and turn
And your arms swirl
The dizzier I get the clearer I see
With you I’m at peace with the war within

An extension of this lady-as-torture-device is the drum pattern in the verses. Listen closely – the snare is hit in successive pattern. Is this the sound of Katherine actively torturing Valo? The Catherine wheel does feature the executioner wielding a club, trying to bludgeon the victim’s limbs.

It appears that Valo’s lady has successfully tortured his heart and his body while he’s “burning,” another form of physical pain, for her.

But who would do such a thing? There is evidence that suggests American tattoo artist and reality TV star Kat Von D (born Katherine von Drachenberg) is the source of inspiration. Again, I hate mentioning the personal lives of these guys, but I feel obligated to do so in this piece. Though she doesn’t admit she is writing about Valo, there is a chapter in Von D’s book Go Big or Go Home that includes details that eerily mimic Valo’s life around the time of the book’s publish. She writes, “ I alone bring him to a place of stillness and peace within when we are together,” a line reminiscent of Valo’s “With you I’m at peace with the war within.” A Katherine bring peace to a lovelorn Valo? Hmmmm… They have been friends for more than ten years, but there is no proof the two were together romantically. Again, this is speculation due to coincidences. The song still remains one of my favorites regardless who inspired the lyrics.

Smithing Love Metal into a New Genre

As I was writing my articles for One Week One Band, I visited my local record shop. This shop obviously knows about the band, made clear by the giant neon heartagram light that I want so badly. Since I’m writing about HIM, I was curious as to see where the curators of the store placed HIM CDs; that is, under what genre do they consider the band? I checked the most obvious section first: rock, the umbrella term for all things powered by guitars. No, not there. I made my way to the metal section. HIM has many metal influences, namely Black Sabbath, the forefathers of the genre. Not there either. I made one last attempt in the goth section. Snuggled between Bauhaus and Siouxie and the Banshees in the H-section, I found HIM. That’s not where I would place HIM, but it’s not my shop.

iTunes and Wikipedia both list the band under their rock section. Wikipedia breaks down their sound as gothic rock, gothic metal, dark rock, and melodic metal. iTunes states the band mixes metal, goth, and hard rock influences. The band, on the other, hand calls their genre “love metal.”

If you know HIM, you’re shaking your head in agreement. If you don’t, you’re probably thinking what the hell is love metal?

Love metal is another of Ville Valo’s coined terms, like heartagram. Not satisfied with the limitations of genre naming, Valo took the labeling of the band into his own hands. Using the idea of yin and yang again, Valo and company combined their loves of Black Sabbath and Type O Negative into one band. Because of this, the band is able to “Have something wimpy and something really masculine come together and have a bit of fun with it.”  HIM used this reclassification to stand out among other Finnish metal acts in the scene like Children of Bodom and Nightwish.

Since Valo writes from a personal place, the lyrics tend to be interpreted as sorrowful and melancholic. The most cited words in HIM lyrics include: love, heart, baby, death, arms, hearts, life, and tears. This doesn’t necessarily mean the accompanying music’s tempo is slow, but the lyrical themes are always about “extremes” in life, in love, and in death.

The music itself varies from album to album. Razorblade Romance is akin to 80’s metal, while Screamworks is evocative of Depeche Mode, and Tears on Tape is homage to their metal idols. Overall, HIM plays a version of metal found in the 1980s, through bands like Iron Maiden and Mötorhead. The band uses rhythm and volume, but not double bass drums and aggressive vocals like today’s metal.

By addressing the feminine side of metal, HIM has received insults ranging from the general “gay” label to the specific – someone on the internet called them “Danzig’s gay cousin.” When asked about this balancing act of masculine and feminine forces, a peculiarity within metal, he stated, “It’s important in life in general… I think it’s normal to appreciate the fact that we do have a mother and we came out of a womb.” Valo believes in a general state of balance in one’s life, from upbeat, party pop to doom metal, to “Japanese restaurants and McDonald’s.” I would argue that HIM is therefore playing politics as well as music, but HIM has no interest in politics, national, music, or otherwise.

The music and lyrics are a testament to their Scandinavian roots. Valo claims Scandinavians “like their music dramatic, thick, and larger than life”; some of this has to do with the grueling winters and the absence of the sun for most of the year. In turn, Finland has one of the highest metal band counts per capita; Finns use this genre as a coping mechanism. Though HIM is the only love metal band, only time will tell if love metal becomes a wider subgenre. 

Why did I choose this song?: “Buried Alive by Love” is the first track on Love Metal. The album and song typifies what Valo means by love metal – it’s fast, it’s loud, and it’s sentimental. I believe HIM justifies live performances of this song. Live versions and the recorded version sound almost identical, a testament to the band’s tight interplay (and practice). This video is also directed by Bam Margera.

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.