Sound — 6
Intriguing as HIM frontman Ville Valo's appearance and demeanor might be, the music on his band's seventh studio album Screamworks: Love In Theory and Practice leaves plenty to be desired. The melodramatic title is alluring in its own right, leaving the average listener to assume that this is a record chock-full of passionate arrangements. Unfortunately, the latest CD feels like rehashed and often generic HIM material. Valo's charisma and impressive vocal range do carry Screamworks to a point, but the themes behind the songs in no way seem to mirror the pop-like music accompanying them. It's understandable why the Finnish band chose Heartkiller as the first single from the new album, as its chorus is a catchy one and the intro synth line does draw you in at first listen. It's still more of a pop-rock song than anything broaching the alternative genre, but again, it has the sing-along appeal that will make it an airplay-worthy. The opening track is infectious in a similar way, aided by Valo's unique vocal phrasing (often slipping into a slightly falsetto) along the way. There's a brief moment when the background vocals morph into a chanting choir (fitting for the Latin title), but it's gone all too quickly to be truly effective. Screamworks shows a bit more promise in the last half of the CD. Shatter Me With Hope begins with a quirky keyboard line atop distorted guitars, and it at least delivers a much-needed energy to the album. In The Arms Of Rain is driven by a U2-like rhythmic style only imagine The Edge if he were on Speed. The choruses in both usually pan out in fairly the same way with lackluster results, but there's at least enough interesting content within the overall arrangement that it keeps your interest. After a good dose of pop-rock songs on much of the CD, there was the hope that HIM would pull out the big dramatic number in the final moments. Nothing is ever mind-blowing on Screamworks, but the last track The Foreboding Sense of Impending Happiness at least commits to more of a mellower sound than anything else heard on the CD. The synthesizer's hypnotic effects are the primary focus in that track, but the addition of dreamlike vocals and an unusual, laid-back arrangement all make for a satisfying closer number.
Lyrics — 9
Where the music fails to deliver drama, Valo usually comes through ten times over lyrically. Heartkiller provides just one example with lines such as, Farewell heartless world; I'll send you a postcard burnt in flames; You've tried so hard to extinguish with the fear of failing; I'll write down everything I've learned. Valo has a natural gift at making his lyrics indeed sound like they've come straight from a book of his own personal poetry or perhaps a private journal, and that's the major selling point to Screamworks.
Overall Impression — 7
HIM every once in awhile is able to obtain the wow factor, but it's sadly missing in action on Screamworks. While keyboardist Janne Puurtinen is working overtime delivering everything from industrial rhythms to cherubic compositions, the core songwriting is not living up to its end of the bargain. Valo, as usual, has a wide vocal range that compensates in some areas, but it's not enough to make the listener connect emotionally which given the heavy lyrical content is something that the HIM might have had in mind.