HIM : Donington Download Festival

Watch your backs The Darkness...

HIM’s headlining slot on the Download Festival’s second, Snickers-sponsored stage had originally been scheduled to start halfway through [a]Metallica[/a]’s mammoth slog in the main field, but following Lars Ulrich’s mystery medical complaint, the two bands are now going head to head.

Not that this will bother the quintet from Finland. HIM are the hottest kids on metal’s block right now, and 27-year-old singer Ville Valo is the genre’s fastest rising star. A self-styled “egocentric sonic Baudelaire”, he’s charming, charismatic and witty. Swaggering around Donington’s backstage enclosure in a tatty thrift-store suit jacket, a beer bottle in one hand and a seemingly never-ending cigarette in the other, he looks like the rock star that Johnny Depp has always wanted to be.

Formed by five Finnish [a]Black Sabbath[/a] fans ten years ago because, as Ville puts it, “if four ugly Brummies from not such a nice background could make it internationally, then we thought that maybe it was possible for us too”, HIM have evolved from gormless goths into renaissance rock stars.

Their aesthetic is an amalgamation of pseudo-satanic schlock (their name is an acronym of His Infernal Majesty, a phrase from a song by barmy black metallers Deicide) and grandiose gothic poetry. Sample song titles include ‘The Funeral Of Hearts’ and ‘When Love And Death Embrace’. It’s as though they have based their entire career on [a]Spinal Tap[/a]’s ‘Lick My Love Pump’. HIM have even coined their own sub-genre: love metal.

“It’s a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing,” explains Ville. “We’ve got more sentimentality in our music than most of the metal acts, and our songs are not based on hate, but on love, so that sounded… funny. And it shows that we can laugh at ourselves.”

Which is handy, because there’s a lot to laugh at, including the band’s symbol, a pentagram with its two uppermost points rounded off to form a heart – called, splendidly, a ‘heartagram’. In the ultra-macho metal world isn’t that a little, well, wimpy?

“I think that to be be beautifully masculine you have to appreciate your more feminine side as well, and lots of bands in this genre are not willing to do that,” says Ville with the straightest of faces. “So if that makes me a wimp, that’s fine.”

Already a huge hit in mainland Europe, where they’ve sold some four million records, HIM are starting to make inroads into English hearts and minds. Phil, a 20-year-old fan from Farnborough, thinks he knows why. “It’s good shagging music, basically. If you’re taking a lady back to your flat then you can’t exactly put some [a]Slipknot[/a] on to get her in the mood, can you? HIM’s ‘Sweet Pandemonium’ works a treat, though.”

The ladies seem to agree. Claire, a shop assistant from Amersham who has a blood red ‘heartagram’ tattooed on her shoulder, has another theory. “It helps that Ville is fucking fit too,” she leers. “He’s a love god – I want to marry him!”

HIM could do with a few more fans like Claire crawling out of the woodwork at Download. [a]Morrissey[/a] prove a pretty potent draw, and the tent is barely a third full when Ville and co emerge from behind a thick fog of dry ice. The set that follows is mercifully short, the day’s shifting bill meaning that HIM get to play a grand total of six songs before the plug is pulled.

Like fellow Finns The Rasmus, HIM are essentially an ’80s Euro metal band in nu-goth clothing. ‘Buried Alive By Love’ is as preposterous as its title suggests, while ‘Your Sweet 666’ sounds like [a]Sisters Of Mercy[/a] covering Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’. If nothing else HIM provide a startling insight into what rock music might have been like had grunge never happened.

Ville remains unrepentant and unbowed, though. “Our music is like a combination of everything that was good in the ’80s, and everything that was bad in the ’70s,” he explains post-show. “If you don’t have the time to check out everything in the world of rock’n’roll that has happened since Elvis until today, we have most of that stuff in what we do. We’re like a business card for metal.”

Dan Silver