Thursday 19 January 2023

VV - Neon Noir (2023)

Country: Finland
Style: Gothic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 13 Jan 2023
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Anything is going to seem light after listening to Wormrot, but this new album from Ville Vajo has a pop sensibility to it that's immediately obvious in the electronic drums and synths. If you don't recognise the name, Vajo, who goes by VV nowadays, is the former frontman for Finnish goth rock/metal band HIM. He and Mikko Paananen co-founded the band and remained there throughout a twenty-two year career, a few more if you count their brief earlier time as His Infernal Majesty. It shouldn't surprise that this sounds like HIM, but it's softer and poppier for the most part, with an occasional power up to the old HIM sound.

Perhaps anticipating his older fans worrying about that, he kicks off with a song that does bounce up to the heavier HIM sound, without ever becoming metal. That's Echolocate Your Love and it's a decent opener, just as Run Away from the Sun is an elegant melodic alt goth rock follow up with an agreeable dark croon from VV. I shouldn't even mention him any more, because everything here is him. He wrote the songs, plays every instrument on them and sings over the top. So whatever I say from here onward reflects on him alone. Nobody's stepping in to save the day or bring the quality down.

To my mind, this album truly arrives with the title track, though, three in. There are other strong songs here, but this one comes across as the most perfectly formed to me. It starts out with folky guitar, adds a succession of layers and then finalises the groove when the vocals arrive. It feels as if he's often duetting with himself, which is another layer, I guess, but the result is textbook stuff. It's almost hard to say anything specific about it, because it works like a black hole and just sucks us into it, however many times we listen. Does that mean it's smooth or just perfect?

Everything else sounded good on a first listen, but nothing felt as essential. On a first repeat, the songs all start elevating themselves, which tends to mean that it's a highly consistent album that has depths to explore. Loveletting is a tasty treat on a second listen, beginning with a heartbeat, a keyboard sound right out of seventies Jefferson Starship and an HIM crunch. It's a lighter track, almost ethereal folk at points, but it's a haunting piece. I could imagine Kate Bush covering it. The Foreverlost won't leave me be either, with a sound a little like All About Eve covering the Sisters of Mercy, soft but driving. Salute the Sanguine has a delightful heavier intro and it never quite loses it.

And so it goes. The majority of these songs play in that intersection of a slew of genres. They're alt rock, they're goth rock, they're folk rock, all drenched in those quintessential HIM melodies, with a dark romantic flavour to Vajo's lyrics. "Let's take the scenic route through Hell if you want to see what I see" he sings on Echolocate Your Love, but it's a romantic sentiment rather than emo rant or Hellraiser-esque perversity. Everything is fundamentally nice but with a dark twist, like a young lady who warms the heart of your grandma after spending four hours putting on her goth persona and scaring the neighbours.

I've only listened through a couple of times thus far, which is enough to confirm this as a light but strong album. It's everything that HIM do so well but with the guitars turned down and the synths turned up. And, while that still sounds like it reads as negative, I should underline that it isn't. It's exactly what it needs to be and it's exquisitely formed. Just as some of these songs stood out on a second listen, I'm pretty sure that others will on a third and a fourth. They're all good songs, even over nearly an hour, but they're so consistent that we have to sit down with them and get to know them to truly appreciate what each one brings to the table. It's an easy 7/10 but it wouldn't shock me if I up it to an 8/10 later.

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