They don’t make ’em like Ville Valo anymore. The velvet-throated vocalist has been a bona fide icon ever since his band Him emerged in the early 90s, cut the emotional heart out of 80s goth metal and laid it, still beating, on the table, inspiring his own decadent genre, Love Metal, and a thousand Heartagram tattoos in the process. And decades on from that initial seduction, there’s been no one like him since.
When we last met the singer, though, he had well and truly fallen out of love with the band that he had fronted for 26 years. His last Him photoshoot with Metal Hammer saw him, tongue firmly in cheek, killing the band off from inside a blue crush-lined coffin, while in the accompanying interview he revealed, “The tickle just wasn’t there anymore.” At the time, he wasn’t sure if we’d ever see a Ville Valo solo record. In the aftermath of the Him split, he put out an album of mellow, Southern-tinged rock with side-project Ville Valo & Agents, but none of that output feels as fully formed a statement of who he is as Neon Noir.
Since the split, Ville’s clearly given Him’s body of work a deserving reappraisal. Neon Noir, he says, is intended to be “a bridge between Him and the future”. Certainly, it’s a record that’s instantly recognisable as the work of its creator: dreamy and intoxicating ruminations on love, death and sex through the lens of pristine keys and Cure-esque jangles dirtied up by occasional flashes of Sabbathian guitar. When Ville’s instantly recognisable croon gently breaks through bright, chiming guitar on excellent opener Echolocate Your Love, the effect is as comforting as sinking back for a large glass of red with old friends, before vampiric tones force a dramatic turn, with Ville letting loose a rare, throaty scream.
The album came together over lockdown with Ville playing, producing and recording every instrument before handing the mastering duties over to Tim Palmer (Pearl Jam, Ozzy Osbourne). As a result, these songs feel nostalgic, but they also do a good job of expanding the Him universe. While Loveletting could pass as classic Him, as well as being a reminder of its author’s talent for a poetic turn of phrase (‘Two heartbeats out of sync with each other)’, Baby Lacrimarium finds Ville sounding more light-hearted than ever as the music shimmers and jangles around him. Meanwhile, Saturnine Saturnalia is mired in a hypnotic, Anathema groove before the veil lifts like glowing mist in the rising sun.
Ville has timed his return well, resurfacing at an interval when goth’s brooding past is seeping back into mainstream culture, although, as on the wistful atmosphere and echoes of Heartful Of Ghosts and the near-eight-minute closer, Vertigo Eyes, which ups the theatrics with a sludgy climax, these songs feel out of step with everything else going on in music’s heavy realm right now. That was always Ville Valo’s way, though, and as the glorious melodies of these songs start to imprint themselves on your soul, like faded memories rising to the surface again, the heart-shaped hole he left five years ago begins to heal. It’s good to have him back.