HIM turns into a bunch of he-men on stage

Special to The Times

Sometimes a band will sneak up on you. Take the Finnish goth-metal act HIM, the subject of a dedicated international fan cult and proclaimed by metal magazine covers everywhere as the next new thing, even if those honors are hardly justified by the band's tepid recorded work.

Turns out the reasons are easily found at HIM's live show.

On Friday, in the first of two nights at the Wiltern LG, HIM stepped onstage amid billowing fog and flashing lights and erupted with "Vampire Song," unleashing far more edge, volume and passion than the same song musters on the band's newest album, "Dark Light." The rest of the night was no different.

HIM didn't offer anything particularly new as players or songwriters. But it's continuing a tradition, carrying off nearly two hours of sad, grim, excited vibes with a grace and energy that even Bauhaus could appreciate. "Your Sweet 666" had ample melody for commercial radio, but with some real muscle and fire from dreadlocked guitarist Linde. Singer Ville Valo's gloomy take on Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" fit well with his persona as a lovesick vampire with a bit of Bowie charm.

He's been described as a kind of Brian Ferry of goth-metal, and the title was apt as he stood in his scarf and velvet smoking jacket, taking a puff in profile between lyrics.

Clearly, HIM has perfected a vivid sound and presence on stage. So why are the records so alarmingly middle of the road? If HIM can somehow capture on record what it already does live, its influence just might sneak up on the rest of us and spread far beyond its dedicated cult of goth.

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