Although it's only starting to penetrate the consciousness of U.S. listeners, the past decade has seen Scandinavia become the not-so-quiet center of the hard rock and metal universe. Once better known in musical circles for the spate of early-'90s black-metal-related church burnings than for any actual music, today's scene finds bands as disparate as Turbonegro, Nightwish and Opeth all coexisting under the big tent of heavy rock music.
Finland's HIM has been at it for a decade now, and this, their sixth studio album, finds the band in a bit of a holding pattern. Band leader/Johnny Depp-look-alike Ville Valo's vocals are still as moody as ever and his lyrical themes dark as a Nordic night, but something's missing from the mix this time out. The album centerpiece, "Sleepwalking Past Hope," best illustrates the album's dilemma. An ambitious, sprawling 10-minute epic, the track starts off impressively, builds to a triumphantly spooky middle-section, and then ends in an utterly confusing psychedelic guitar freak-out.
Vallo and company made their name with their unique brand of self-proclaimed, Hot Topic-approved "love metal," and songs like "Love in Cold Blood," "Passion's Killing Floor" and "Dead Lover's Lane" are perfect examples of what they do best. Vallo's ever present "love is death" lyrics may grow wearisome to new listeners, but they're sure to resonate with the band's fan base. Musically, they're heavier than ever as evidenced by the title track's commanding opening riff, and the overall emphasis on guitars (rather than keyboards) this time around.
HIM appears to be at a crossroads on Venus Doom. While not a bad record by any means, this treading-water approach only makes their next move even more crucial if they want to prove that their best days are still to come.
At the Royal Oak Music Theatre (318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980) Tuesday, Oct. 23.
Mike Villano writes about music for Metro Times. Send commentst to email@example.com.