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HIM at The Roundhouse, London - live review

Ville Vallo’s love gods bow out in impeccable style

“Well now, this is one of those moments where you feel like you should have written a speech before you head up to Finland and never come back…”

It’s edging toward the latter half of His Infernal Majesty’s last-ever UK show, and a certain gallows humour has enveloped the stage – and with good reason. Earlier in the year HIM announced the end of their 27-year courtship in a posting online that, as Ville Valo revealed in these very pages not long ago, felt more like the end of a relationship where love has faded and it’s simply time to address the elephant in the room, however heart-rending that may be. None of that frigidity is apparent right now, though. It’s the second of a two-night engagement at London’s famous Roundhouse, where simply headlining is usually triumph enough, but these shows have been hopelessly sold out for weeks, a fact that isn’t lost on the various industry observers in the crowd who, like so many of HIM’s extended friends and family who are here to witness these last rites, are still struggling to believe that this really is the end.

It isn’t just about the tickets. HIM, tonight as they were on Sunday, are simply on fire and, without ceremony in front of a simple Heartagram backdrop, they’re delivering what’s one of the best shows of their career. It makes this parting shot all the more painful because, for this brief moment it’s just as it was in the beginning – earnest, heavy, heartfelt, unabashedly romantic, and exuberantly gloomy and sardonic as you like. It’s that heady mixture of sweetness and sorrow that always set HIM apart because in all their wrought-iron, gothic literary flourish their music uncynically spoke of love in a way that few bands on the heavier end of the spectrum ever do. It’s perhaps for that reason that earlier today a hulking queue began forming hours before doors opened and stretched hundreds of metres toward Camden market in the direction of the Underworld where, nearly 15 years ago, HIM played one of their first headlining UK shows and took the stage more than an hour late on account of a breathtakingly oversubscribed record store signing. It was at that moment – the release of 2003’s Love Metal, that Ville Valo cast his spell on the UK, and on tonight’s evidence its powerful enchantments still deeply resonate.

You can see it on the barrier, where tearstreaked faces have been singing along to every word from the moment the band walked out to the sound of the Everly Brothers’ Bye Bye Love. It gives this sad but celebratory evening a kind of intensity that only exists when you know you are witnessing history. Make no mistake: this is end of a chapter in music that saw these gothic dynamos wooing crowds around the world with their Sabbathian approach to love and heartbreak in all its kaleidoscopic forms – a stellar but hard-won ascent that saw the classic Heartagram logo emblazoned on backdrops and on skin in every time zone and a commercial peak that saw Ville teetering over the edge of true stardom. A poet with guitar, a rock star who loathed celebrity, over the years he grew to become the face and the voice of a sound that captured hearts and imaginations the world over, and while the promise of a Ville Valo solo career has done something to dull the blow of these proceedings, this doesn’t feel like a farewell gig. It’s a breakup letter, and it’s interesting to note just how well Valo’s lyrics narrate the two-hour march toward oblivion – the deep shadows and brilliant highlights of HIM’s career unfolding like an old picturebook of a romance lost to time.

Join Me In Death is ferocious, and Wicked Game, complete with an extended jam, is as fiery as it comes. Funeral Of Hearts becomes an instant, venue-wide singalong, guitarist Linde, bassist Mige, keyboardist Burton and new drummer Kosmo proving tonight why it is that when HIM’s live proposition was good it was truly great, and if there’s anything to take away from their flawless delivery it’s that while they may be splitting, they’re also determined to end things on a breathtaking high. They exit the stage for a moment only to return with a scorching cover of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, Ville’s voice as muscular as it’s ever been, but it’s really their final inscription tonight, When Love And Death Embrace, that captures the mood of the moment – a swaying, mid-tempo dirge that’s as joyless and as forlorn as the faces in the crowd who know this is the bit that’s going to hurt the most. Ville never says much, and it’s hard to guess what he might be thinking or how it feels to walk away, but as the melody ends and the band leave the stage and the lights go up there are still hundreds of fans standing there, possibly processing the complex feelings of seeing a beautiful thing finishing beautifully.