On 2007's Venus Doom, Finland's HIM explored the darker side of their "love metal" sound. On the new Screamworks, they keep things light and poppy; it's a catchier record than its predecessor, but it doesn't always have the emotional impact it could, and a lot of the ideas seem recycled from the rest of the band's catalog.
Listening to Screamworks, the first thing that's obvious is that the band has come a long way since its last attempt at a radio-ready rock album, 2005's Dark Light. Whereas Dark Light's entire second half was filler, Screamworks is a good listen straight through. Also, they've rid themselves of a few career-long bad habits; they no longer end their songs with cheesy key changes, they resist the temptation to drag decent ideas out too long, and while their music still isn't exactly complex, they've learned how to make the various layers sound a little denser than they used to. Perhaps the only bad habit they've kept is cramming too much of their best material at the beginning of each record: "In Venere Veritas," "Scared to Death," and "Heartkiller" are all standouts.
Unfortunately, the second thing that's obvious is that the band has become a little too professional in its songwriting. Often, the material sounds like it was cooked up in a secret lab somewhere, engineered for the twin purposes of taking over American rock radio and landing the soundtrack to the next Twilight movie.
Which isn't to say these songs are unsuccessful. To the contrary: Even as fans miss the Sabbath-inspired guitars of Venus Doom, and even as they pick out fragments of riffs and melodies they've heard before, they'll find Screamworks oddly pleasing to listen to. Sure, it's bland in places, and some of the songs seem to run together, but there's no filler in sight, and a few tracks feature absolutely stellar hooks. Even the overkill power ballad, "Disarm Me," features just enough darkness and attention-grabbing melodies to win over an open-minded listener.
After the aforementioned trio of great songs that kicks the record off, Screamworks settles into a groove of mid-tempo pop tracks, but there are some other compositions of particular note. "In the Arms of Rain" feels just a little exotic thanks to some odd keyboard sounds, and the choruses to "Ode to Solitude" and "Like St. Valentine" are unusually catchy. "Acoustic Funeral (For Love in Limbo)" does a great job of weaving together different guitar tones and textures. "The Foreboding Sense of Impending Happiness" is a great ballad with an almost Depeche Mode feel.
In the end, Screamworks serves as a sort of companion album to Venus Doom, fleshing out the aspects of the band's sound that Doom ignored. Those who think HIM sounds a little lightweight when it goes popa position that's far from indefensiblewill want to keep their expectations low or skip this record completely. Those who thought the band should have finished what it started with Dark Light, on the other hand, will eat Screamworks up.
-- Robert VerBruggen is an associate editor at National Review. You can follow his writing at http://www.google.com/profiles/robertv4311.