VV – Neon Noir (Album Review)

Ville Valo Neon Noir heartagram album review

VV – Neon Noir
Released: January 13th, 2023

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The funeral of HIM in 2017 has been a tough one to swallow for fans of the band that until that point, had been writing and releasing music for nearly 25 years. When the band’s old social media accounts were resurrected as ‘Heartagram‘ in early 2022, the buzz and excitement that I personally felt rivalled that of 2019’s return of MCR.

This resurgence, however, took a very different but welcome path. HIM frontman and founding member, Ville Valo (VV), had changed up the Heartagram logo just a little, with the addition of an extra line in the bottom to give the ‘heart’ a VV. This is when we learned VV was releasing a solo record (after previously dropping a three-track EP in 2020 initially) and we received the first official single, Loveletting. The wait for the record will be over this Friday the 13th of January via Heartagram Records & Spinefarm Records.

2004 Lili is rejoicing in goth, as emo/scene wasn’t really a thing yet when I fell in love with this man. HIM and therefore Ville were instrumental in my exposure and subsequent headfirst dive into the realm of heavy music. When I was offered the chance to review this record (and chat to VV himself… check back soon!) 17 years of fandom and excitement have have kicked in!

Without further adieu, please enjoy my raw and unedited track-by-track notes from the first full listen to Neon Noir!

Echolocate Your Love

This is one of the singles that has already launched from the record, so for those of us who have joined the campaign are already drawn in. The synth-like guitar that opens the record is dreamy and very catchy, then Ville comes in with those vocals HIM fans have missed for too long. There’s a huge sense of familiarity, without being stale or derivative of any prior Ville work. This song has some really fun elements like high-neck guitar work, what sounds like maracas and a dynamic drum beat that changes throughout. It’s a great introduction track for both HIM fans or new listeners!

Runaway From The Sun

This is a nice subtle change from the first song. It’s got a very relaxing fancy rock n roll vibe in that it could have been written 50 years ago but still stands tall right now. It’s much more relaxed and doesn’t make a mess of the interesting elements of the opening song. It feels like this number was approached differently in its creation. I would file this one under ‘catchy dreamy rock’. Close your eyes and you’re spinning in circles in a field of daisies. It’s a stunning song that was first released on Ville’s three-track EP Gothica Fennica Vol. 1 back in 2020.

Neon Noir

The riff and guitar to open this one takes me back to 2005 HIM. When the vocals kick in at the start there’s even a grungy tune. But somehow it’s lighter in all of its elements. The guitar work is intricate, but instead of it being tuned down and giving the listener an urge to headbang, you just want to dance and can picture an almost banjo-like guitar being played to this in a live setting. The title track somehow absolutely encapsulates my whole journey of listening to Ville Valo. All those dark mid-2000s gothic vibes still make up the foundations but are driven now by optimistic reflection on that time. Was that sentence describing me or this album? EXACTLY! I love this song a lot. High part is the falsetto in the chorus, it’s simply elite.

Loveletting

Here we have the first single released for this album & what VV launched this era with. Everything in this song feels very delicate, a sweet juxtaposition from the lyrical content: ‘two hearts beat out of synch with one another and cry’. There’s a gradual build throughout this song. The drum heavy singalong/clapping moment that is found in the bridge of the track will be phenomenal in a live setting. 

The Foreverlost

As we continue on the same trajectory, this song has another familiar/slightly heavier opening riff that lightens as the vocals kick in. We hear a slightly more folkish sound on this number. There are some exploratory pop elements as well, like the pre-chorus after the second verse & the high hat quick tempo chorus. It’s a fun exploration. Despite the beginning being riff city, this is definitely one of the softer songs heard yet. At a spot on 3:30 and one of the shortest songs on the record, it’s no surprise this was a single and feels very intentional as a stand-out ‘single’ song.

Baby Lacrimarium

This song is vocal city, population VV. Every line delivered is the centre of its moment, there are lots of mini runs and notes throughout, and the instruments take a real back seat. As seen throughout the record thus far, we are treated to an almost Taylor Swift-esque get-out-your-thesaurus moment on this number. It’s an interesting one that rounds out the first half of the record on a very soft note. There is a gorgeous post-second chorus tuned down guitar almost breakdown moment that catches you by surprise. It’s these off-guard, non-cookie-cutter moments that feel very unique and remind me we are listening to a Finnish Rock God who has absolutely done what he wants sound wise.

Salute The Sanguine

As we enter the second half of the record, this is the first song since ‘Echolocate Your Love‘ that feels like it could have been a HIM track. The journey we have been on thus far has been a lift up and up to a lighter place, music wise. When looking at the second half, almost all of the songs are 5 minutes long which, if you don’t know, long songs are my weakness! ‘Salute The Sanguine‘ is drum and guitar-heavy; vocally, VV has taken a left turn and transitioned from soft melody into delivering his voice with power once again. I absolutely love this song. LOVE LOVE LOVE! It changes pace at 4 minutes which transports me back to Venus Doom days. There’s a long outro with big drums and again, I can’t wait to see this live!

In Trenodia

This should have been a single. It’s the love song of all your grown-up gothic dreams, encapsulating and finally allowing me to put into words the feeling this whole record creates. So remember when you first started wearing black eyeliner like a racoon & your parents laughed and told you it was a phase? Now, 20 odd years later, you wear less eyeliner, present as a functioning human but still listen to the same music and artists? This song is that. It’s like VV’s way of growing up and progressing, while staying true to roots. It is love metal, the genre HIM self-pioneered, but in 2023 version. If you have been listening along and found it hard to get into any point of this record, play this song. It’s perfection.

Heartful of Ghosts

There’s some beautiful imagery that is created when listening to this one. Despite the fact that this review is being written in country Perth in nearly 40 degree heat, if I close my eyes it’s painting a moody castle in Europe vibe. Listen, you’ll see what I mean. Interestingly it’s all in the music with this number as opposed to the vocals like some of the others. It is another transitional moment sound-wise and showcases each instrument perfectly. I genuinely didn’t know VV could play all of these instruments before listening to the record. Having that knowledge and then hearing this song gives you a lot of appreciation for this man & his immaculate talent.

Saturnine Saturnalia

Welcome to my favourite song of the album. The build-up on this track is reminiscent of late 90’s grunge rock that helped to explode the name Ville Valo in the first place. His voice spends a lot more time in a lower register on this song which makes the explosive high moments stand out so stunningly. We are treated to twists and turns musically that catapult to a high point and a change of pace that almost feels like 2 songs put together. Did I mention it goes for nearly 7 minutes? This is a stand out favourite by far. Interestingly this song was actually released in 2020 but stands so strong on the record as a whole, out almost 3 years later. This would have been a perfect final song so I look forward to seeing what the last two will bring.

Zener Solitaire

This is sort of an interlude? Absolutely stunning keys & harmonies will set you up to transition into the final track perfectly. I think this might have sat better a little earlier in the record, perhaps as the halfway point because the first 6 tracks are so different from the final 6 and this would have set that journey up a little more? But the next and final song is almost 8 minutes long so it definitely isn’t completely out of place.

Vertigo Eyes

Alright let’s do this. Final track. From the opening drums, it’s already completely different to any other. No I spoke to soon, the dreamy vocals of VV are gently sung like the first half of the record. Okay, this is like another baby of old HIM and new VV. Picture yourself holding up a lighter and swaying gently for the whole first half of this song. Then when you hear a gorgeous synth-style guitar solo at the halfway point, the track changes into a musical exploration of instrumental creativity for VV. The song fades out over about a minute as the pace slows down and closes the record softly. This will be stunning to listen to on vinyl and is the equivalent of closing your eyes after a big day. A beautiful finality to a beautiful record.

If you, like me, were invested in HIM, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t like this album. Trust me, it is NOT a HIM record. It’s much softer, the focus is much more on VV’s vocals as opposed to the music and every part of the story told feels intentional and mature. It felt familiar, it felt new. It’s not breaking the bounds of creation or trying to change the mould sound-wise. What it is, is music that will make you feel something. Neon Noir is an expression of an incredibly talented musician with a wealth of experience releasing music, expressed over an hour-long journey that you can tell has been worked on for a very long time.

More than anything it transported me to a dreamy musical wonderland that I feel like I haven’t experienced in a very long time. I can picture throwing this on, on a Sunday afternoon, under a blanket in front of a fireplace. Relaxing and picturesque. It’s wonderful.

Ville Valo Neon Noir heartagram album

VV – Neon Noir tracklisting

1. Echolocate Your Love
2. Run Away From The Sun
3. Neon Noir
4. Loveletting
5. The Foreverlost
6. Baby Lacrimarium
7. Salute The Sanguine
8. In Trenodia
9. Heartful Of Ghosts
10. Saturnine Saturnalia
11. Zener Solitaire
12. Vertigo Eyes

Rating: 9/10
Neon Noir is out Friday, January 13th on Heartagram Records/Spinefarm Records.
Pre-save/Pre-order HERE
Review by Lili Jean Berry. @lilijeanberry

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