Review Summary: What was that album before "Razorblade Romance"?
Before the commercially viable "Razorblade Romance" and beyond, believe it or not, HIM was really ***ing heavy. In 2007 we saw these roots manifest themselves, fleetingly, in the throes of "Venus Doom", but they didn't stick quite as well as they did ten years beforehand nor were of the same magnitude. Their first two demos and the EP "666 Ways To Love: Prologue" showcased a slightly darker HIM, then known as His Infernal Majesty, that was leaning more towards a mixture of melodic doom and a late eighties goth revival sound than what they would later be known for. "Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666", the first HIM record, which is also the least recognized by fans and detractors of the band alike, expounds upon the aforementioned genres but also starts to shape what would later define the band's sound.
The most noticeable trait of the album is how the production literally gives a middle finger to all of their later work. It lends an organic, raw feel to the songs even when the low end is desperately trying to hurt you. The keyboards are actually quite subtle and stand out when needed but their presence seems to be more for the sake of atmosphere. That is until you're hit with a cover of "Don't Fear The Reaper", but that's about as complicated as the keyboard performance gets. There is also a cover of "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak but the covers are weak compared to the original music so I will fore go discussing them. Just trust me when I say they are done exceptionally well.
"Your Sweet 666", which was re-recorded for "Razorblade Romance", prepares you for the aural onslaught of "Vol. 666" by introducing loud, gritty guitars against a wall of keyboards. Ville Valo sounds slightly different as he almost trembles his notes, "I'm waiting for your call!", and sings in a lower pitch than he usually resides in. The intro to "The Heartless" is a good example of this as he croons over acoustic guitars allowing his voice to soar with the melody and then brings it back down to plead with his love to leave an abusive lover. I should mention that the lyrics aren't the best but the subject matter Valo limits himself to probably has something to do with this minor hiccup. At least he sings with conviction, and also has a spectacular voice, so it's believable enough even when you're getting hit with cliche after cliche (an ideal I like to attribute to Journey). As you're drawn further into the poetic tragedy, "Our Diabolikal Rapture" is the mammoth in the room, it's distorted, brooding overtones enveloping your eardrums until giving way to a serene guitar and Valo's confessional lines, both which repeat until the end, but become a massive, swelling outro the second go around. "It's All Tears" is similar to "Your Sweet 666" and "When Love And Death Embrace" in that it's one of the three tracks that bears a resemblance to the band's future style while retaining the mood and feeling of the record. The chorus has a catchy hook that gets you right from the git-go but it is not overdone, quite the contrary, being a good sing-along moving at a quick pace.
That leaves us with three songs, the first of which being "When Love And Death Embrace". This is the weakest track, almost serving as an interlude, dragging it's melodramatic demeanor a bit farther than necessary. The guitar solo at the end is a nice touch but waiting six minutes for it, and the rest of the album, isn't what I had in mind. It's a good song in doses but it can really slow the momentum on first listen. What may be the heaviest material here, right next to the closer "For You", is "The Beginning Of The End", an atonal lurcher that would be devoid of melody if the keyboards and vocals weren't highlighting the bleak landscape. That comes off harsh, but seriously, that's how heavy it is and I'm not complaining. The omega arrives as "For You" with its own abrasive quality that is unique to the record and is unlike the other songs with its ethereal sadness, every instrument working together to create some of the album's most beautiful and abusive music. This is also the first time you hear Valo experimenting with his scream, a technique that starts receiving more attention on "Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice", crying out "I am for you!" at the end like they were his last words.
Alas, HIM have become the complete opposite of their first incarnation, applying this minimalist approach to a pop medium and achieving great success. Being the black sheep of the HIM catalog, "Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666" deserves more attention for its raw, humble beginnings. You know, before Bam Margera co-opted the heartagram and covered himself in HIM tattoos. Even if you don't like the band you should check this out. The pop aesthetic is too busy wrestling the down-tuned guitars and experimental tendencies to be the forerunner in the songwriting. Though it is damn catchy. A paradox indeed.
Recommended: "For You", "Our Diabolikal Rapture", "The Beginning Of The End"