VILLE VALO – NEON NOIR
Review By: SAMANTHA LOUGHLAN
Track list: Echolocate Your Love
Run Away from the Sun
Salute the Sanguine
Heartful of Ghosts
Hi guys, here I am, back again with yet another review. Really love writing for all of you alternative souls out there and this one comes from very close to my heart. I personally chose to review this particular album, because it is the debut album from artist Ville Valo. I have been a die-hard love metal fan for many years, and this is one review I am definitely going to enjoy writing.
Born and raised in Helsinki, Finland, Ville Hermanni Valo acquired his love of rock music from his cousin and went on to be part of several rock bands including B.L.O.O.D. (1986-1989). Most of you will know him as the frontman of the band H.I.M. (His Infernal Majesty). Throughout his musical career Valo has wowed fans with his love metal creativity and has collaborated with other metal artists such as The 69 Eyes and Apocalyptica. The iconic ‘heartagram’ logo was designed by Ville Valo himself on his 20th birthday in 1996 using a combination of heart and pentagram symbols. Since going solo, he has made minor adjustments to the logo to incorporate his initials. Now Ville Valo has been ultimately blessed with the gift of having the eighth highest vocal range of anybody in the world, and even though he is asthmatic, this does not impede his singing ability. In 2017 H.I.M. announced the mutual decision by all members that the band would be going their separate ways and in 2020 Ville Valo began his solo music journey under the moniker VV.
In an interview with the ‘Express’ newspaper by Callum Crumlish in January of this year, Ville Valo said “After quarter of a century of love and metal intertwined, we sincerely feel HIM has run its unnatural course and adieus must be said in order to make way for sights, scents and sounds yet unexplored. We completed the pattern, solved the puzzle and turned the key. Thank you.” As Valo began writing the album in autumn of 2019 just before the pandemic, it was not possible for him to openly meet and select members for his backing band. He saw himself as the ‘Gothic Prince’ and continually practiced each instrument and recorded each section of musical genius himself. The album took two and a half years to put together.
Neon Noir, released on the 13th of January 2023 is a magical collection of vividly portrayed images of love encased in twelve tracks of ear tingling musical beauty. Ville Valo is nothing if not passionate about his work, and as per previous lyrics written by the Finish god of metal himself, in Neon Noir Valo again shows his knack for using select vocabularies to create masterful pieces of music.
The album art itself is typical of many photographs taken of Valo. Shot by photographer Joonas Brandt using a Mamiya RZ67 black and white camera, I feel this image is indicative of the raw and dark but pure soul that Ville Valo pours into the lyrics of his music. ‘Neon Noir’ as a whole, tells enrapturing tales of love, heartbreak and loss. Let’s take a look at what this album has in store for us…
The first track of the album is ‘Echolocate Your Love’. Now the term echolocate is often associated with bats, creatures of the night who use sound waves to find objects and other animals in the dark. Valo has used this to express the passion in following one’s hearts desires, ignoring the mind and being guided by emotion instead. This track packs an instant punch with a perfect traditional Ville Valo introduction of keyboard and guitar melodies. Valo is renowned for his quirky way of squeezing multiple syllable words into a small musical space in his lyrics and this track is no exception to his madness.
‘On the devil’s directory, next to the hellhounds of Hecate, baby’ The song ‘Echolocate Your Love’ is packed with exquisite imagery and this is supported by the intense techno vibed given off in the guitar solo one minute and fifty-five seconds in. the video for this track also shows VV at his finest. The first shot displays the new ‘heartagram’ logo on an urn and then Valo appears in a macabre surreal way whilst eight veiled mourners circle the urn. I especially love the eerie vibes given off when the video shows a body in a morgue forty-six seconds in and flash zooms into highlight the original ‘heartagram’ design on the bodies toe tag. This could be representative of VVs departure from the band H.I.M. All in all, this is a very well selected track with which to begin the album.
The third track derives from the title of the album and is such called ‘Neon Noir’. This track begins with a gentle keyboard and guitar introduction, bringing in the most amazing drumming techniques. In some ways the beginning of this track gives me flashbacks to 1997 when H.I.M. released their debut album ‘Razorblade Romance’ with the track ‘Right here in my arms’. I especially like how the video for this track merges scenes of black and white with thermal imaging bringing in a sense of life and contrast. As with some of Valos previous songs the powerful music sometimes drowns his voice out in the chorus of ‘Neon Noir’. However, with catchy phrases like ‘Come love me ‘til it hurts’ in the chorus the audience is easily kept in focus with this one.
Now I’m going to jump to track nine, ‘Heartful of Ghosts’. I personally chose to look at this song because I feel it is one that most reviewers will sketch over. The title itself has mixed undertones with ‘heartful’ being an expression of the amount of emotion in a heart and ghosts being made, in a sense, of nothing. Having such a melancholy title coupled with an eerie choice of musical tones provides an ode like sensation to the track and therefore this one is sure to give you goosebumps. Packed with deep mournful undertones ‘Heartful of Ghosts’ really springs into life two minutes thirty-nine seconds in during an interlude of striking guitar playing which really brings out VV’s emotions. You can feel how much this track means to him in the depth of his playing. This track is no stranger to the use of Valo’s technique to squeeze to many syllables into a line of music when adding his lyrics. ‘Hum “super” to her “natural”’. Delicately chosen vocabulary helps the listener to hear VV’s pain as he sings, for example, feeling the heartbreak in the juxtaposition of the line in the chorus ‘Hurt full of Hope’. I think the best part of this track though is the ending. A drawn-out mix of keyboard and static type radio sounds really gives this track an edge like no other, and the lyrics bring it to a perfect close, ‘This is where dreams come to die and it’s where I met you…’
Finally, we come to the final track of the album, ‘Vertigo Eyes’. Now this track has been deemed by some as having many similarities to H.I.M.s ‘Loves Requiem’ from their 4th album ‘Love Metal’ in 2003. At seven minutes forty-two seconds, this track creates a beautiful ending to a magnificent journey through the emotions of the heart. Written for his partner, VV describes his love’s eyes exquisitely and even though the subject is deep, the track does have quite a catchy tune to it. Beginning with a drum solo and moving gently into the lryics, I especially love how there is an echo given to lines of the first verse such as ‘I Love you’ which adds to the emphasis and meaning behind the song. The ending of this track is extremely moving with the use of a crescendo five minutes and forty seconds in, then almost a complete fade out of the music followed by a low whispering voice over of the. Here VV has created a true masterpiece which resonates the sensitive and intense feelings within himself.
I can honestly say that after listening to this album several times it does seem to give off more H.I.M. vibes than being filled with new individual VV sounds, having said that Valo did write a majority of their tracks. However true Ville Valo fans need not be disheartened. In an interview with Ross Buchanan in January 2023 for NME, Valo said ‘Happy music makes me sad and sad music makes me happy, it’s always worked that way. Don’t ask me why.’ This has always been the impression VV displayed with him seeing his music style sitting somewhere between his idols Black Sabbath and Depeche Mode. This album does not fall short, expressing a multitude of deep and dark emotions and as a result serves VV well as his first and possibly only solo piece of work.
If you’re after more of the ‘Gothic Prince’, Ville Valo himself will be making an appearance at Download Festival 2023 and promises fans he will include some of the nostalgic H.I.M. delicacies for them to taste.