For 25 years, Ville Valo was the voice, songwriter and mastermind of the iconic Finnish band HIM, which helped him to put his name and face on as one of the mainstays of the international dark and goth scene of this millennium.
In the early hours of the first day of 2018, HIM left the stages of Tavastia in Helsinki and ended its career. Even though Ville had revealed that he would never be able to stop making music and for a record had been part of the legendary band Agents, singing in his local language, it was only a matter of time before “Bill Light” returned to his full form, now as VV, a short version for his artistic name. Doing what he knows how to do best, he sings between the thin line that separates, intertwines and binds death and love.
“Neon Noir” isn’t only the singer’s first solo album, but he also takes the term “solo” seriously, as alone, Valo made a point of composing, arranging, recording and producing the album by himself, from start to finish, with the exception of the Mix, made by renowned producer Tim Palmer (Dark Light, Venus Doom). As mentioned in interviews over the last few months, Ville wanted to have his own “Prince” experience while also accepting the challenge of being his own band, partially imposed by the isolation of the pandemic.
Perhaps the biggest question asked by anyone who listens to his debut is whether the album somehow continues the legacy left by HIM? Yes and no. First, yes, because the content, mainly poetic, is what fans hear since the first verses of “Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666”, as the mind and heart of the creator are distilled into each of the 13 tracks.
“Echolocate Your Love” opens the album with a Heartkiller-style lyric, playing with many references to dreams and wishes, but with something slightly different in the musician’s discography. Much more 80’s, drinking from the Depeche Mode source.
When the “Gothica Fennica” EP was released in 2020, “Run Away From The Sun” became a favorite of many fans, as it has the sweetness and beauty of songs like “Drawn & Quartered” or “Tears On Tape” for example. A nice bass line and details like clapping give a nice rhythm to the vampire ode.
The title track “Neon Noir” instantly brought back memories of “Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights” with its acoustic and electric guitars. Great chances of being one of the favorites in the shows.
And then we begin to understand why it isn’t HIM anymore. Although at times the instrumental sounds like some of the group’s incredible moments, Ville doesn’t have the skills of musicians like Linde, Burton and Gas on their respective instruments, and because of that “limitation”, he himself doesn’t want and doesn’t let the album sound metal. The excellent musician concentrates his abilities by dosing his talents. It has great drum beats, otherwise interesting riffs and often well-chosen, harmonious synths.
The well-known “Loveletting” already has many of the pop references that Ville absorbed in the 80s. Here it is evident that the proposal is more Love Rock than Love Metal, which worked as the “first single” of this work.
“The Foreverlost” has the effervescence of post-punk, but despite the well done vocal lines and the arrangement that makes us not forget the melody after a few keys, It would be interesting to have a little more of Ville’s deep voice in certain parts.
“Baby Lacrimarium” feels like a daydream, a slow one, in which Ville comfortably delivers his verses, as in lines like “Come celebrate the pain with me”. Another sample of the album’s good pop rock vein with some nice drum work. It sounds like The Cure meets HIM.
“Salute the Sanguine” could easily be on the multi-awarded “Dark Light”. It not only brings the memory of HIM‘s golden years, but the tricky lyrics and pauses that play with some kind of gospel style, but in this cult of love… “All hearts kneel before your grace”.
It is important to mention the vocal part of the album so far. The voice, one of Ville’s trademarks, has beautiful moments, in choirs and in his characteristic falsettos, despite some changes we can notice in his range. The baritone’s tone doesn’t reach low notes like in old tunes like “Gone With The Sin” or “W.L.S.T.D.“, but it brings the refreshed nostalgia of someone who still likes to play with melodies and nuances in the final verses.
“In Trenodia” could be the final song of the tracklist, as the feeling of hope permeates the entire length of another ballad. Synths and a choir bring a bittersweet feeling between the end and the beginning of something that cannot be touched, only felt. An anthem for all the lost outcasts of the world.
The melancholy and lonely beat of “Heartful of Ghosts” tries to make a good transition to the final 1/4 of the album, but loses some consistency, being the weakest moment of the disc.
Another well-known song is “Saturnine Saturnalia“, which brings heaviness, melody and vocals that take us back to 20 years ago, when “Love Metal” won Europe with its hits. Anyone who has ever loved someone understands phrases like “There is no end to the hurting”. Despite its six minutes, the instrumental keeps the idea simple with few changes, giving Ville space to distill his thoughts.
“Zener Solitaire” prepares the arrival of the last song with an instrumental theme, very similar to “Unleash the Red” or “Trapped In Autumn“, but also sounds like a TV soundtrack in the best “Twin Peaks” style.
And the end of this sonic odyssey we have “Vertigo Eyes“, which follows a little in line with track 9, but with a more inspired vocal and a distorted solo in the best style of tracks from “Razorblade Romance”. The final part seems to pay homage to some glimpses of “Greatest Lovesongs“, with that radio filter, saying goodbye while remembering the importance of the past and then disappearing in front of our (vertigo) eyes.
Here ends “Neon Noir”, the first album of the brand new solo career of Ville Valo.
It is visible and audible that the work has quality, but it also has moments that could be better worked, but “a new beginning” is always like this. As much as someone knows how to ride a bicycle, the return can always be different, as the paths are always changing and Ville understands the curves and climbs of an artistic career. Been there, done that.
That said, the album already has a special place in his discography, but only time will tell how the work will age for fans. There is no one trying to invent the wheel, just a man talking openly about love, desire, fear and everything he can feel, filled with infinite references that walk through the lights and shadows of his chest.