As 2017 drew to a close, so did the career of HIM, the ambassadors of love metal. The final leg of the jokingly titled farewell tour, Bang & Whimper, naturally took place in their native Finland, consisting of five dates at the very end of 2017. The third last show was played at Rytmikorjaamo, Seinäjoki, on the 29th of December, and Musicalypse went to see how Ville Valo and co.’s last visit to Southern Ostrobothnia would go.
Listen to the setlists here (note: missing the songs from Jimsonweed’s Invisible Plan, which isn’t on Spotify, and HIM’s “Rebel Yell” cover):
I’ve never been an actual HIM fan, so their breakup announcement took me by surprise, but it also made sense – you can only write so many songs about heartbreak and lovers dying in each other’s arms with distorted guitars until you turn into a parody of yourself, and the band’s biggest heyday had been over a decade ago anyway. Although I often find my namesake Mr. Valo’s vocal mannerisms and lyrics rather corny, he’s got a knack for great hooks that has led to the release of a myriad of hits, and the group’s impact as one of the biggest musical exports from Finland can’t be overstated. When the opportunity to see HIM for the first and last time arose, I decided to take it.
The night was opened by the stoner quartet Jimsonweed. I’d been reading up on the band’s history and checking out their material even before they were announced as the support act, so I knew what to expect musically. Reportedly, frontman Suho Superstar left an impact on a young Ville Valo (who even briefly played bass in the band) in the Helsinki rock scene in the 90s, and one of HIM’s earliest gigs was played as a support act to Jimsonweed. I guess the former apprentices wanted to give one last tip of the hat to the group that inspired them.
Having released their sophomore effort, Ghosts of Kopli, in 2016 – 14 years after it was recorded – Jimsonweed naturally focused on this release, but there were also songs from the Invisible Plan (1996) debut in the set. The highlight was “Any of These Days”, at the end of which the bassist even did some tapping. Suho Superstar seemed to have some problems with his mic, as there were crackles and feedback noises coming out of it occasionally, and at times it was hard to hear him, particularly the higher falsetto notes. Apart from asking which cities people had come from, he was more focused on his dancelike moves than communicating with the audience, but the rest of the band made up for it. Guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö – whose playing I’ve enjoyed on Barren Earth’s albums – in particular was making lots of goofy faces while delivering his licks, and the hard-hitting drummer tried to get the crowd to clap along at one point, although this wasn’t an easy job, given that people were clearly waiting for the main course and merely listening to Jimsonweed out of politeness. As a guest musician, the band had a familiar face: Santeri Kallio of Amorphis on keyboards. He would play on every other song or so, sitting behind his tiny setup and expanding the band’s sound beyond bare-bones rock. All-in-all, Jimsonweed played their brand of crunchy yet loose rock well enough, but performing in front of a love metal -hungry crowd wasn’t the ideal setting for them, so I hope I’ll catch these guys at a show of their own someday.
1. Starting to Grow
2. Dust and Blood
3. Any of These Days
4. Before the Beginning
5. Dark Sun
6. Built to Blow
8. Behind the Eyes of Blue
9. Soulful of Power
After Jimsonweed’s set, the preparations for HIM began and a huge metallic Heartagram was unveiled, which reminded me of the big logo at KISS’s concerts. While observing the people around me, I was surprised at the number of male audience members, because when I was in school, HIM was stereotypically a band for girls, so I’d subconsciously expected 80-90% to be women. However, there were plenty of guys, and I doubt all of them were just accompanying their girlfriends or wives. It’s healthy to get your preconceptions crushed every now and then! My prediction that foreign diehard fans would be attending the gig was correct though, as you could hear people speaking English and spot people of different nationalities while queueing inside. Few Finnish bands could even dream of such a dedicated (or big) fanbase, and you could tell that this group will be missed by many.
HIM hit the stage with “Bye Bye Love” by The Everlyn Brothers playing in the background. The beanie-headed frontman Ville Valo greeted the crowd, and then “Buried Alive by Love” kicked off the set. According to reviews of the previous couple of shows, Valo had been under the weather, but when he ended the song with a blood-curdling scream, my first thought was: “Cold or no cold, I think he can handle this!” The setlist was essentially a hit cavalcade, as 17 out of the 21 songs could be found on the compilation XX – Two Decades of Love Metal (2012). This was a wise choice, as I suspect that at least a portion of the crowd were either casual listeners like myself who had never seen HIM in the flesh or old-school fans who had lost track of the band along the way and had come to see them one last time for nostalgia’s sake. Anyway, every full-length album was represented in the set, and HIM also threw a bone to the diehards with “Stigmata Diaboli” from the debut EP, 666 Ways to Love: Prologue (1996). As expected, the biggest hits like “Wings of a Butterfly” and “Join Me” received the loudest squeals and roused the loudest sing-alongs, but my personal favorite was the zealous rendition of “Heartkiller.” Maybe the fact that as a newer tune it hadn’t been played a thousand times before like the earliest stuff made it more exciting to the band? The only confusing pick in the set was a cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” – why sacrifice a slot to someone else’s song (besides the obligatory “Wicked Game”) on your final tour when you’ve got eight albums of your own? Besides, “Right Here in My Arms” is a pretty Billy Idol-sounding song anyway and had been played a little earlier.
Ville Valo pulled off a lot of vocal acrobatics from one extreme to another – during “Gone with the Sin” he briefly went an octave lower, as if the original crooning wasn’t low enough, yet in the very next song, “Soul on Fire”, he was screaming like a banshee. If the man’s use of his vocal range was accomplished, the same couldn’t be said for his mic technique, as he would sometimes hold it either really close or really far from his mouth, which resulted in an inconsistent vocal volume. Bassist Mikko “Mige” Paananen was the most energetic band member on stage, but it was Mikko “Linde” Lindström’s guitar playing that got most of my attention out of the instrumentalists – the axeman played a cool extended solo on “Wicked Game” while Valo left the stage, and his fretboard work was impressive on “Your Sweet 666” and “The Kiss of Dawn” as well. One glaring detail was the lack of backing vocals – I’d seen live videos of HIM where some members were contributing harmonies, but this time Valo was on his own vocally. Did the others get sick of singing or didn’t the tour budget allow multiple microphones?
The sound mix was fairly good for the most part, the only offender being “Tears on Tape”, which sounded rather limp due to the low volume of Lindström’s guitar. A special thumbs up goes to Paananen’s bass tone, which was rumbling yet defined, and one of the best I’ve heard in a concert. On stage, things must’ve been different, as ever-the-perfectionist Valo gave the sound guy cues to turn things up or down, either verbally or through gestures. Valo wasn’t cranky though, and after moving some boxes aside on stage about a third of the way into the set, he seemed to get into the right mindset. He cracked jokes about the lack of air conditioning in the sold out venue, and before “The Funeral of Hearts” he thanked the fans for their support over the years. Towards the end of the closing doom schlager, “When Love and Death Embrace”, he exited the stage, leaving his bandmates to finish the song by themselves.
HIM’s professional, rock-solid performance and strong selection of songs guaranteed that the band’s farewell to fans in Seinäjoki was more of a bang than a whimper. However, at the same time, you could sense in a way that the fivepiece’s brightest spark of passion had faded already, and for the most part the show came across as one of the last days at work before retirement – the band was relaxed, well aware of the incoming freedom, but not giving it 100% anymore. While they may have been saving their biggest efforts for the final hometown gig at Helsinki’s Tavastia, HIM nevertheless exceeded my expectations, which had been lowered by the critical reviews of the Ice Hall show. Rest in peace, His Infernal Majesty – who knows, maybe our paths will cross on a reunion tour at a festival someday?
Intro (Bye Bye Love by The Everly Brothers)
1. Buried Alive by Love
2. Heartache Every Moment
3. Your Sweet 666
4. The Kiss of Dawn
5. The Sacrament
6. Tears on Tape
7. Wings of a Butterfly
8. Gone with the Sin
9. Soul on Fire
10. Wicked Game (Chris Isaak cover)
11. Killing Loneliness
12. Poison Girl
13. Bleed Well
15. Join Me
16. Stigmata Diaboli
17. In Joy and Sorrow
18. Right Here in My Arms
19. The Funeral of Hearts
20. Rebel Yell (Billy Idol cover)
21. When Love and Death Embrace
Photos: Lene L.