For love and metal

LYRICAL LOITERINGS OF A LISTENER Series

Thoughts, ideas and reactions provoked by song lyrics. The series is also featured on Clink Music Magazine.

The oxymoron inherent in the term ‘love metal’ is a concept that Ville Valo has been selling to the world and, more specifically, to ‘defenders of the faith’ for close on 20 years. Metal music, synonymous with testosterone driven aggression, is the antithesis of love, which is associated with gentle romance and sentimental tenderness. Marrying the philosophical connotations of love and metal seems ludicrous but HIM’s fusion of melancholic melody and metal muscle makes sense of the apparent contradiction. The band’s musical and lyrical content reminds listeners that the violent opposition between love and metal is rooted in the same core emotions, namely passion and obsession, which makes two seemingly antithetical ideals not all that dissimilar.

The ethos of HIM is rendered in the band’s trademark symbol, the Heartagram, which has been described by Valo as a “Modern Yin Yang” – the heart, a symbol of love, being the Yin and the inverted pentagram, a symbol of metal, being the Yang. The implication is that one element cannot exist without the other – the Heart ‘Yin’ and Metal ‘Yang’ provide a sense of balance to HIM’s music. Valo has said that “the Heartagram stands for HIM as a band, as an entity, and for ‘love metal’ in general. Valo writes words of love and expresses them through metal music and in so doing the singer and his band have birthed the genre of love metal, which is wistfully and veraciously captured in The Sacrament.

The Sacrament

I hear you breathe so far from me
I feel your touch so close and real
And I know
My church is not of silver and gold,
It’s glory lies beyond judgement of souls
The commandments are of consolation and warmth

You know our sacred dream won’t fail
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you

I hear you weep so far from me
I taste your tears like you’re next to me
And I know
My weak prayers are not enough to heal
Oh the ancient wounds so deep and so dear
The revelation is of hatred and fear

You know our sacred dream won’t fail
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you

The sacrament is you
The sacrament is you
The sacrament is you
The sacrament is you

You know our sacred dream won’t fail
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you

You know our sacred dream won’t fail
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you

The religious metaphor that forms the premise of The Sacrament is both woeful and poetically beautiful. A sacrament in religion is a ritual or practice that is a tangible symbol of an intangible reality; a visible sign of an invisible absolute. HIM’s song is a love letter by Ville Valo to an unnamed love, to which he says “the sacrament is you.” Within the context of the song, the woman, Valo’s love, is the tangible symbol of an invisible reality that denotes a passionate love – she is a symbol of that love, she is ‘the sacrament.’ Valo worships at the altar of love in a church “not of silver and gold.” He subscribes to a religion that dictates commandments of “consolation and warmth.” Valo’s religion is love; a love that transcends “judgement of souls” and is therefore, by implication, perfect, requiring no absolution from a divine God. Valo thus alludes to the fact that the love spoken of in the song is itself divine.

But the sentimentality of Valo’s words is undermined by an implicit tone of tragedy, which, ironically, enhances the song’s romance with an inflection of ‘star-crossed lovers.’ The lines “I hear you weep so far from me/ I taste your tears like you’re next to me/ And I know/ My weak prayers are not enough to heal/ Oh the ancient wounds so deep and so dear” suggest that the lovers are torn apart by distance or death, or perhaps even hurt. Yet Valo does not cast love as an insipid character. Inherent in The Sacrament is a tone of hope and idealism; love vanquishes distance, death or pain. The utopia of lovers united is described as ‘a sacred dream that won’t fail.’ Valo speaks of a dream but not just any dream, a “sacred” dream; a dream that is anointed and incomprehensible, a dream that inspires devotion, respect and subservience. This “sacred dream” is also described as a “sanctuary tender and so frail.” The dream of lovers united is a safe place, a sanctuary, which is threatened by an inconsistency provoked by human fallibility. If the hope and love that propels the sanctuary wanes then the dream is destroyed.

Although the inherent imperfection of human nature renders the sanctuary errant, love’s unfailing character comes to the rescue. The Sacrament alludes to the divinity of love which in turn implies that love is consistent because it transcends human fallibility. Within the fragility of the dream of love is a sense of intrinsic strength that is emphasised by the deliverance of the song. The intensity of Valo’s pensively deep, doleful voice exudes a force of innate vitality that is enhanced by the melodic metal and rock distortion of the accompanying music. Through the expression of metal, love is rendered audacious and vivacious.

Ville Valo says of hearts; “I love hearts. They are symbols for life, love and humanity” and HIM’s music testifies to the ethos of the heart. It is sacrament to Life.

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