With their seventh album, HIM are continuing their zig-zag journey through the sonic worlds of love and doom, this time hitting more on the first side (it’s catchy and singalong as the beginning of a new fling). It was expected since their previous album, Venus Doom, was as dark and heavy as could be (maybe except Bleed Well, which would have suited their new album better). To declare yourself totally disappointed with their latest offering would mean that you are a half-fan, since there has always been a pop/metal bilocation in their music. There are some changes in their sound, which bring HIM closer to an American brand of their love metal. Considering that they hired Matt Squire to produce, this new dimension is by no means an accident, but it’s still unclear if Screamworks is the price they had to pay for Venus Doom, or if it is the other way around.
But, then again, this is all context and that’s not what you hear when you’re listening to an album. Maybe the most obvious change you detect in Screamworks is that Ville’s vocals are not as “by-numbers” as before. There’s really an impression that he improvized a lot while recording his parts. It does get a bit overcrowded at times, like with Heartkiller or Ode to Solitude. On the other hand, this new method of more complex choruses hits home, Dying Song being the first to come to mind. And while we are on the subject of vocals, it’s hard not to notice this new energy that fills the album, which is probably the one with the most vocals (and no, I’m not counting screams).
This energy goes along with the music, the upbeat, fast tones making Screamworks perfect material for live shows. Hopefully, they’ll open their future gigs with In Venere Veritas, because this is one perfect opener. Like St. Valentine and Shatter Me with Hope could also join that group. Add Love, the Hardest Way and you’ll have the HIM-est songs on the record. And then, there are the gems: In the Arms of Rain combines a lot of elements and influences, being the very definition of upbeat melancholy. Plus, its ending, with all the synth strings and “It’s the end of the road” line, is by far the best moment on Screamworks. The last track, The Foreboding Sense of Impending Happiness, the strangest HIM track to date, might or might not be the promise of radical changes in the future, but it is one wonderful experiment and an inspired way to end a record so that you’ll need to listen again right away. And it’s quite a surprise to have a HIM song reminding me of Vangelis. Katherine Weel is the catchiest tune and it would be a pity not to be released as a single, though references to a gun felatio might get the boys in trouble with some parents.
Speaking of lyrics, Screamworks might just be Ville Valo’s best work yet. Each song contains haunting imagery and fresh takes on his favourite subjects of love and death. And life, this time. Acoustic Funeral‘s ”We’re dancing with tags on our toes” is just a brilliant way to claim one’s mortality, while still celebrating life. The metaphors used in Katherine Wheel offer yet another way to stress the bittersweet of l’amour, just like In Venere Veritas (extra kudos for having a chorus in Latin, not many go there). Still, I think Scared to Death remains the ultimate highlight of the record, maybe musically too, not just lyrically. “I’ll kiss that smile off your face” is just one those lines, that would have made movie history… if they were in a movie. It reminds us of 80′s hair metal, not as an emulation, but more as a tribute to a time when rock bands were ‘allowed’ to sing about love. “I’m not afraid to say ‘I Love You’” might as well be HIM’s ars poetica, since they had the guts to play romantic metal in a time when nobody else did it, influencing more bands than rock critics want to attribute to an act that’s still alive and going strong.