VV – Neon Noir
Release Date: 13/01/2023
Running Time: 56:00
Review by Rory Bentley
I don’t know what it is about this January release schedule, but it seems like every band that was at their peak during my late teens/early twenties has decided to put an album out to make me feel better about the old post-Christmas blues. Today’s attempt to lift my spirits comes in the form of the debut solo album from Ville Valo, the mastermind behind the now defunct Finnish Love Metallers HIM.
HIM were one of those incredibly successful bands from Rock’s more genre-divided times that you either loved or hated, and I bloody loved them. The seductive combination of crushing Sabbath riffs, delicate keys and Ville’s smoky croon were a winning formula for many a moody teen and lovestruck little Goth kid. I was never really a Goth, save for a brief phase of black nail polish that I quickly ditched for a Fred Perry shirt and Bad Religion’s discography, but I still appreciated a good lovelorn spooky banger and Ville and the lads had them in spades.
Now nearly four years removed from the band calling it a day and, incredibly, nearly a decade since their swansong album “Tears On Tape”, the best set of cheekbones in Finland has presented us with an album that is noticeably heavy on the Love but a little lighter on the Metal, and you know what? It’s pretty damn good indeed. In fact apart from a luscious, almost Pop production job, and an increased emphasis on electronics, you could be forgiven for thinking this is the new HIM album. The major hallmarks of a HIM record are all here, whether it’s the darkly romantic tongue in cheek puns in the song titles (looking at you ‘Loveletting’), the lush, florid instrumental intros such as the nimble guitar lines on the title track, and most importantly, the exquisite songwriting chops of old.
From the moment you hit play, the shimmering opener ‘Echolocate Your Love’ (because that’s what bats do and bats are spooky, get it?) sidles up beside you and whispers “let’s take the scenic route through hell” in a flurry of smooth layered vocals and luscious melancholic synths. Things already feel like comfortingly familiar territory in the best way, with this delightful first course, along with the bulk of these tracks, feeling like it could slot beautifully into the running order of HIM’s more commercially leaning “Dark Light” album. Which happens to be my favourite one if you’re asking.
“Run Away From The Sun” then swoops in with a chorus that immediately establishes it as a cast iron classic, utilising Ville’s louche falsetto masterfully as once again the guitars yield the foreground to delectable keys and electronics. Mr Valo has always had an excellent grasp of dynamics and the sparseness of the verses both allows his smooth baritone to shine and makes the sheer explosion of joy in the chorus that much more impactful. By the time ‘Neon Noir’ gets into full swing in the most Rock-oriented moment so far, it will be very clear if this album is for you or not. The Heartgram faithful will obviously lap up every moment as another S-tier chorus is unleashed, but those who weren’t down with Ville’s former band will still balk at his invitation to “come love me ‘til it hurts”, which is fine because it just means there’s more of him left for the rest of us. I really hope my wife doesn’t read this review.
‘Loveletting’ then arrives at the perfect moment to switch up the flow of the album, beginning at a more measured pace with a sparkling piano foundation. This is the most out and out Pop song so far but this is no bad thing. It is a style that Ville wears well, producing a song that is equal parts pristine, glacial, and graceful. After three excellent but rather similar songs, this is the genesis of the album spreading its stylistic wings a little more.
‘The Foreverlost’ takes things to almost Bladerunner territory, bringing in a cool 80’s cyber sound with hints of Depeche Mode and latter day AFI. This ice-cold synth approach is peppered through the album’s latter half, with ‘Salute The Sanguine’ in particular offering up a slick highlight deep into the runtime that feels like it should be wearing shades and a trench coat while moodily brooding over a dystopian cityscape. It’s nice to hear the album morph into something more expansive, as the song benefits from a slightly longer runtime that really helps establish a sense of ambience in the wake of the clinically precise, tight song writing thus far.
It wouldn’t be a VV project without a ballad to test the water-resistance of a Goth’s mascara, and ‘In Trenodia’ delivers in a big way. Not only does it stretch Ville’s range and allow him to show off the full magnitude of his vocal chops, but it provides the most air-grab inducing moment of the record. I can imagine this being the slow dance tune at the prom from an 80s teen flick, with the two romantic leads finally embracing in an amorous cloud of hairspray and hormones.
Those looking for a little more bite to their bangers will be delighted by the hulking “Venus Doom” style riffs on ‘Saturnine Saturnalia’ which has a Prince of Darkness style strut to its bluesy chorus and injects a shot of adrenaline at the perfect point to maintain the record’s momentum. If I’m totally honest the album overall may have benefited from a little trimming here and there, as this harder number does a lot of heavy lifting in just about curbing any listener fatigue. However, by the time the closing strains of the beautifully morose ‘Vertigo Eyes’ have rung out, it is easy to forgive the man for wanting to give us a near hour long feast of metallic melancholy after such a long gap between releases.
Acolytes of the church of His Infernal Majesty rejoice! “Neon Noir” is a triumphant return, bursting with brooding floor-fillers and tear jerking torch songs to soak your pillow with face fluid! Welcome back old friend, we’ve missed you!
‘Loveletting’ Official Video
01. Echolocate Your Love
02. Run Away From the Sun
03. Neon Noir
05. The Foreverlost
06. Baby Lacrimarium
07. Salute the Sanguine
08. In Trenodia
09. Heartful of Ghosts
10. Saturnine Saturnalia
11. Zener Solitaire
12. Vertigo Eyes
Ville Valo – Vocals
Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rory Bentley and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.