Every band worth half a damn has one. That milestone (or valiant attempt) of rock credibility, the live album. With an ambitious two-disc set that encompasses the band’s stage show in both an audio and visual format, H.I.M.‘s Digital Versatile Doom: Live at the Orpheum Theater is just one more step towards cementing H.I.M.‘s status in the hallowed rock pantheon.
Arguably Finland’s most well-known export in terms of success in the U.S., H.I.M. has been aided in its quest for Stateside domination thanks to the likes of tattoo artist/inked It Girl, Kat Von D and Jackass-turned-music-and-media-mogul, Bam Margera. Two of many high-profile celebrities who are rabid fans, Margera has directed several of H.I.M.‘s videos, while Kat Von D has tattooed the band and festooned her shop, High Voltage, with images of her favorite group; both pop culture icons have given H.I.M. generous amounts of exposure on their respective reality shows. It also doesn’t hurt that frontman Ville Valo is just too pretty for words. Valo’s highly photogenic mug is plastered on nearly every piece of H.I.M paraphernalia, accompanied by the band’s symbol, the “heartagram,” an inverted pentagram in a circle styled with a heart instead of pointed triangles.
Digital Versatile Doom
Live at the Orpheum Theater
US: 29 Apr 2008
UK: 28 Apr 2008
Bearing in mind all the clever and self-inflicted branding and marketing, what Digital Versatile Doom does, however, is underscore that H.I.M. is a very visual band. In terms of packaging and album art, the live disc compliments the band’s work contained within. Every page in the booklet, each photo of the band, and individual shots of its members are brushed with a gauzy golden sheen. Detail images of the opulent chandeliers, fixtures, and Persian rugs of Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre also adorn the booklet, imbued with the same shimmering golden radiance. This artistically rendered glimmer encapsulates the venue, band, and performance in an aura worthy of prized antique, in its heyday before said object acquires an even richer history.
Jam-packed with 16 live tracks, the CD and DVD set (showcasing the same concert recorded on the disc) is a great illustrator of the band as a visual entity. But one listen to any H.I.M. album – live or otherwise – reinforces how potent and personal the band’s imagery is. Most of the songs on Digital Versatile Doom deal with lost love and death. While these are thematic staples of the goth rock genre, it’s H.I.M.‘s unique brand of (what they refer to as) “love metal” that takes these concepts and elevates the group above becoming a cut rate Smiths-by-way-of-Blue Oyster Cult.
There is a definitive sound and structure to H.I.M.‘s material that is most strikingly observed in a live setting. Valo’s eloquent and poetic lyrics bypass trite high school creative writing scribblings following an intensive course study in Edgar Allen Poe, with a heartfelt note of maudlin sincerity. The lyrics mesh well alongside the soft, classically trained strains of piano and string simulations as concocted by H.I.M.‘s keyboardist, Emerson Burton. This auditory opulence is contrasted by the churning, unmistakably metal bass guitar and heavily distorted crunch-and-squeal of lead guitarist Linde’s playing. Crashing through it all is drummer Gas’ well-timed fills and pounding backbeats.
Truth be told, H.I.M.‘s live show isn’t a wild one. Valo is not one of those guys who jumps around the stage maniacally. He’s intelligent and engaging – a frontman with both a heart and a brain. While he doesn’t prance around the stage, eschewing all of the traditional aspects that normally go into making a great frontman, Valo is no less a compelling presence at the mike, velvetly emoting through a cloud of nicotine-flavored smoke. In an oh-so European (and even more so un-PC mode), the singer lights up a cigarette during the band’s opener, “Passion’s Killing Floor”, chain smoking his way throughout H.I.M.‘s live set.
Each member of H.I.M. holds down his respective corner of the stage, but there isn’t much migration. Bassist Mige is perhaps the most manic, making faces at the camera and bouncing in place or interacting with guitarist, Linde, who manages the Herculean task of swinging three feet of long, rope-like blonde dreadlocks behind him while bending notes on his six-string. And the cohesiveness of sound sucks the listener in, each song telling a different story with a similar ambience. “Sleepwalking Past Hope” turns into an 11-minute opus, driven by the classically trained Burton’s piano whirs and riffs, and a wailing, effect-heavy guitar solo. Valo’s voice morphs appropriately from a hopeful, higher range early in the song, before dropping down to a gnarled baritone in the song’s second movement, before restoring it to its original state, but with a vocal affectation that invokes an emotionally barren state. “Killing Loneliness” sounds even better live than its studio counterpart on Dark Light. Some songs sound similar, in spite of being separated by other pieces in the set with “Souls on Fire” bearing an eerie, sonic semblance to the live version of “(Rip Out) The Wings of a Butterfly”. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Valo laughs with his love metal cohorts in between songs and stage raps, thus defying the sullen gothic stereotype.
Of course, it just wouldn’t be H.I.M. without a well-placed cover thrown into the set, this one being a heavy reworking of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”; H.I.M. makes it its own while still remaining recognizable to the original. In terms of bonus features, Digital Versatile Doom‘s DVD delivers. Included is a lengthy and revealing interview with Valo, as well as an extensive documentary on H.I.M.‘s most devoted fans.
Overall, H.I.M.‘s live disc and DVD combo reinforces that the message is in the music, not so much its visual. You don’t need to see the band to hear the grandeur of imagery in its music, particularly in a live setting.
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// Notes from the Road
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