Ville Valo’s “love-metal” outfit HIM were indisputably Finland’s highest-profile heavy-music export last year. Fond of a well-made blouse and given to smearing his bedroom eyes with mascara, Valo (the Captain Jack Sparrow of metal) made easy prey of character-starved Americans, who could hardly resist the doomy romance of Dark Light, HIM’s first American studio disc. But like George W. Bush, Valo only represents the most mainstream manifestation of a broad underground mindset.
Children of Bodom (named after a lake in their hometown where three teenagers were murdered in 1960) are by no means as pop-friendly as HIM; for frontman Alexi Laiho, melody is simply a means to prove one’s instrumental virtuosity. But the Bodom dwellers’ taste for spectacle nearly equals HIM’s. Bathed in the glow of a sophisticated light show at Irving Plaza in December, Laiho whipped his hair in time to Jaska Raatikainen’s blast beats while Janne Warman played his keyboard vertically, like a keytar. Warman’s keys delight throughout Are You Dead Yet?, COB’s fourth CD; dude shreds so fast you’ll swear you’re hearing guitar, not fake harpsichord. His playing works best as emotional counterweight in “Punch Me I Bleed,” an ugly-beautiful power ballad in which Laiho laments “the reign I’ve built of shame and guilt.”
Pop-wise, HIM are actually outdone by the Rasmus, four Helsinki-based disco-goth dudes who sound like Evanescence fronted by Bryan Adams. Interscope issued 2003’s Dead Letters in the U.S., but despite the international hit “In the Shadows,” the record went nowhere here. So Hide from the Sun, the Rasmus’s sixth album, has yet to receive an American release. That’s too bad, since in lushly arranged, deliciously melodramatic tunes such as the ABBA-quoting “Dead Promises,” the Rasmus continue the conversation HIM began concerning metal’s ability to negotiate masculine identity politics with feminine flair.