Neon Noir

rating icon 6.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Echolocate Your Love
02. Run Away from the Sun
03. Neon Noir
04. Loveletting
05. The Foreverlost
06. Baby Lacrimarium
07. Salute the Sanguine
08. In Trenodia
09. Heartful of Ghosts
10. Saturnine Saturnalia
11. Zener Soltaire
12. Vertigo Eyes

For the first decade of this century and a little bit beyond, HIM were the undisputed kings of gothic rock. Their frontman, Ville Valo, was a born star and a songwriter of great distinction, and so even though the band's recorded output was occasionally patchy, the Finns' metal-fueled, darkly romantic songs provided a darkly romantic alternative to the mainstream norm. And then, after a final lap of honor that took in a Knotfest in Mexico and a headlining slot at 2017's Tuska Open Air, Valo closed the shutters and disappeared into the night, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke behind him.

Emerging a full nine years after HIM's last album, "Tears On Tape", Ville Valo's first record as a solo artist swims in the same stream that he has navigated since the mid '90s. The real surprise here is that his voice, once audibly and charismatically battered by a 40-a-day habit, has undergone a significant transformation. As becomes clear on four-to-the-floor opener "Echolocate Your Love", the Valo croon has lost its rough edges and lascivious rattle. Coupled with the fact that "Neon Noir" is dominated by dramatic but oddly upbeat pop songs that only occasionally show their metal claws, this long-awaited comeback is unlikely to thrill fans of HIM's heavier moments. There are some gnarly, doom-driven moments here — "Saturnine Saturnalia", of which more later, in particular — but the bruising crunch of "Love Metal" and "Venus Doom" is conspicuous by its absence.

What remains is a solid stab at redefining an established sound, with some inspired moments of chaos and regular doses of the woozy and the ethereal. At times, "Neon Noir" is a little too bright and breezy for its own good: despite its coolly sardonic title, "Run Away from the Sun" is pure AOR; "Loveletting" wears its debt to modern pop dynamics rather less lightly than the average goth would like. Far better are the edgy, strident title track, the drive-time fuzz-up of "Salute the Sanguine" and the haunting, industrial shuffle of "Heartful of Ghosts". Better still, "Saturnine Saturnalia" captures Valo in morbid SABBATH-worship mode, before the album's most affecting series of melodies unfolds over seven, luscious minutes. The closing "Vertigo Eyes" is similarly adventurous showcasing a depth of imagination that is weirdly absent elsewhere, not to mention some truly great riffs. More of that would have made "Neon Noir" a more rounded experience, but there are enough big tunes and broken hearts here to keep the patient faithful happy/sad.

Author: Dom Lawson
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