In the eternal struggle between alienating longtime fans and releasing the same album over and over again, HIM strikes a decent balance with Venus Doom. It's far more guitar-centric than previous releases – plenty of Sabbath-esque riffs and even some shredding solos, popping off the speakers thanks to returning producer Tim Palmer. But the band's appeal still revolves around Ville Valo's dark, catchy, gothic vocals. The haunting-yet-upbeat atmosphere and romantic themes remain as well.
In terms of quality, Venus Doom is perhaps the most consistent HIM record to date. 2005's Dark Light lost its momentum about halfway through, and most of the band's other CDs include good helpings of filler. Unfortunately, this also means there's no unstoppable standout like "Killing Loneliness" or "Your Sweet Six Six Six," but it's worth the tradeoff to have a CD that's listenable straight-through.
And there are plenty of memorable moments. Take, for example, the driving chorus to "Dead Lover's Lane." Or "Cyanide Sun," the downtempo dirge that concludes the record.
Or the sad melody and lyrical imagery from the post-chorus of "Love in Cold Blood": "Darling take me home / To the castle made of skulls and bones." The band changes time signatures seamlessly to get to this section, in one example of slightly-more-complicated songwriting relative to Dark Light. The musicians use the same technique in "Bleed Well."
Also, they mercifully control their well-known tic of changing keys at the end of every song. "Sleepwalking Past Hope" breaks the 10-minute mark, albeit with quite a bit of repetition, a surprise from a band known for its stereotypical pop structures.
Perhaps the only letdown is the one-minute acoustic plucker "Song or Suicide," featuring awkward lyrics, an uninteresting melody, the background noise of chairs moving (which interrupts the record's polished sheen) and Valo trying to hit notes beneath his range. It's certainly over soon enough, though.
Simply put, Venus Doom is a terrific addition to the HIM catalog. It won't disappoint a newcomer, though he might be better off with And Love Said No: Greatest Hits 1997-2004, or even just downloading the must-have tracks from each record. Fans will love it, it shows flexibility, and it proves HIM is far from over.
Robert VerBruggen (http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com) is assistant book editor at The Washington Times.