Over the course of time HIM have found their place in the world as one of those acts who keep releasing music for themselves and their fans while the rest of the world has largely forgotten about them. Back in the early ‘00s the world was still their oyster: they were absolutely massive in their native Finland, managed to have a respectable amount of popularity all around Europe and even managed to touch upon the ever-evasive American markets, even if largely thanks to their friendship with the then-cool Bam Margera. The later albums – 2007’s Venus Doom and 2009’s Screamworks in particular – stretched the band’s musical boundaries and gained the favour of the critics, but the hits waned away. In 2013 HIM are in a curious position: technically their latest releases have been some of their more sonically interesting ones, but the long breaks and radio silence in-between them, the largely pointless second singles compilation that reeked of running out of inspiration and the recent haphazard comeback gigs have made them seem like a band without direction.
Tears on Tape is an album that HIM needed to make at this point. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or introduce new elements, even within HIM’s tried and tested style. The songs do not take additional twists and turns (most clock in at a comfortable three and a half minutes and rely on standard song structures) and they drive themselves comfortably home utilising HIM’s usual mixture of power chords, melodic keyboards and lovingly melodramatic romanticism. Instead, the album focuses on showcasing that the band are still alive and healthy. There’s a fire in the band’s belly again, audible both in the band’s performance and in how rejuvenated frontman Ville Valo sounds. If you’ve not paid attention to the band for a while, Tears on Tape makes it feel like they were never really gone to begin with – place this next to some of their earlier albums and you could be forgiven to think it was from the same period. It feels like the start of a new chapter, whether intentionally or not.
Because HIM continue to be a creature of their habits and this album isn’t the one to change that, it means that the band’s main flaw across their entire lifespan is still present. While they have the gift for a great chorus that’ll stay in your head even after a single listen, their verses continue have a disappointing tendency to act as indistinct filler between the peak moments, steadily pacing along with their chugga-chugga riffs until the song sees fit to lift itself up for the refrain. The quality of the songs is steadily enjoyable - even if not brilliant per se - throughout the album but they only come alive during the choruses, and if there’s one thing that could raise such particularly excellent moments as “W.L.S.T.D.”, “Love Without Tears”, “All Lips Go Blue” or “Drawn & Quartered” to an even higher pedestal, it would be for the rest of the song to match the chorus. While it’s actually not as bothersome as one would imagine, it’s the one thing that could make Tears on Tape a genuinely great album instead of a good one. But nonetheless, despite their lacking verses the abovementioned highlights are still genuinely good tracks and even the most bog standard, run-of-the-mill HIM standards here are still more than listenable because the band sound like they care about every note they play.
To put it in a nutshell, Tears on Tape is a well done album of HIM at their most HIM-like. The fans are guaranteed to embrace it and those who never liked the band to begin with won’t be converted by it, but anyone curious and viewing the band from the sidelines might just be positively surprised by its contents.
// Notes from the Road
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