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VV Neon Noir

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Album Review: VV Neon Noir

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It's hard to believe it's been half a decade since H.I.M. called it quits. The Finnish goth legends played their final show in 2017, but everyone knew that couldn't last. Ville Valo, the man behind the Heartagram that defaced a million pieces of school property, is back. He's going by his initials V.V. on this, his very first solo album in his thirty year career, and he's the same beautiful disaster we knew from before. Neon Noir feels like a love letter to the fans Valo left behind after his band's breakup. H.I.M. are gone (for now), but as long as Ville Valo is alive, he'll keep making this kind of art.

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H.I.M. were always a band in the right time and place. They struck a chord between the goth, metal, glam and emo scenes in 90s and early to mid-aughts. Maybe it's that sense of timing, but Ville Valo's return really couldn't arrive at a better moment. The resurgence of interest in all things dark and gothic has been pushed by millennial nostalgia and Gen Z angst, and it's set the stage for Ville Valo's return. He released a cover album of Finnish rock legend Rauli "Badding" Somerjoki back in 2019 under the name Ville Valo & Agents, but this is the real deal.

Valo recorded all the instruments on Neon Noir himself over the course of the pandemic, so everything has his signature sound. Very little has changed musically over Ville Valo's career and he always returns to vampiric themes, pulsing synth, old doom records and raw surging hormones for inspiration. H.I.M. really did do this schtick better than anyone back in the day and this is the first taste we've had since 2013's Tears On Tape. It will probably please the baby goths, the ones who want to like Nine Inch Nails but wished it sounded more like Ghost.

Valo doesn't have quite the musical chops of some of his former bandmates which means he leans on programmed drums and synth. It's also not quite as heavy as his classic material. This might leave some longtime H.I.M. fans disappointed. Valo definitely wanted to make Neon Noir a true solo project, but it wouldn't have hurt to hire some session players for the difficult stuff. It starts to feel like an unnecessary limitation on the music by the end.

There's two ways listeners will react to Neon Noir. The first is fond nostalgia, the other is unbearable cringe. That's always gone with the territory for this genre, lest we forget our old phases, but those who cranked up Love Metal And Dark Light while applying black nail polish in 2006 will get a fun kick out of songs titles like "Salute the Sanguine" and "Echolocate Your Love." The best is "Saturnine Saturnalia", which opens with an Iommian riff that could have come from a different album and will get even the scowliest goth dancing like Wednesday Addams.

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Ultimately, Neon Noir is proof that Ville Valo can continue without H.I.M. He's resisted the temptation to slide into obscurity and has reminded us why we liked him in the first place. It's not the complete renaissance it could have been, mostly down to personal decisions made during the recording process, but it couldn't have been made by anyone else. V.V.'s solo career is off to a strong start. Whether it leads to a reunion of his old project, more solo work or something entirely new is anyone's guess. The future is wide open for Valo. We're happy to see him return.

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