“When Love and Death Embrace”: VV (Ville Valo) w/ Dark Divine | 10.01.23, The Factory (with photo gallery)

Photo of Ville Valo by Jen Ruff

Many years ago, I worked at local staple Vintage Vinyl. One night after work, my wife and I watched a CKY DVD. CKY stands for Camp Kill Yourself and it was the precursor for what would become MTVs Jackass.

We really loved a song Bam Margera was skateboarding to and looked it up. “Right Here In My Arms” was by a band out of Finland called His Infernal Majesty or, for short, HIM. We searched the system at Vintage shortly after but we didn’t carry anything by the band so we special ordered it. There wasn’t any merch either so we made our own. That was 2001.

We’d follow the band, never quite being fortunate enough to be in the right place in life at the right time the very few times (two?) that HIM came to St. Louis, but it didn’t stop our love of the band. We also were fond of the band’s “logo” of sorts. It’s a mesh of a heart into a pentagram called a heartagram and is very much representative of their style (and subsequent album title) Love Metal.

This band is something unlike anything I’ve heard mostly due to the vocal range, heart and soul of vocalist Ville Valo.

Time would continue and HIM would disband around 2017, leaving their mark on the hearts and lives of fans. We’d see heartagrams on complete strangers and it was enough to bond and begin a conversation. We had to.

I’ve come to meet many HIM fans and we’ve always been nostalgic of what we had and was lost. 

Sheer luck and a zest for creation has now brought back HIM…well, at least Ville Valo. Rebranded as just VV, the frontman has returned to his faithful alongside Black Veil Brides for a co-headlining tour. Slated to perform supporting his debut solo album Neon Noir (released this past January), he’d promised a mix of HIM tracks peppered into the VV sets to keep us satiated. And then, the day of the event—sickness came, fortunately not for VV but for the co-headliners, who typically draw a hefty crowd. It wasn’t announced till day of show and to my honest surprise the venue wasn’t even a quarter full, which was such a heartbreak in a way. I wanted so badly for a full crowd at the Factory to see this Heaven and Hell on Earth—VV—and it wasn’t to be. BUT the show did go on.

I’d imagine it’d be difficult to start such a show, but any difficulty wasn’t evident in the opening performance by Dark Divine. Immediately “Drown” got the crowd awake and alive and distracted from the absence of a properly sized crowd. Thick with hard rock/metal from the start, we were off to such a great evening. Unfamiliar to their music or set, I became entranced and just wanted to enjoy the experience, which is a rarity these days with the insatiable need to “capture” every moment rather than being present in the event. I felt the last two songs really spun me from a casual observer into a new fan that won’t miss future shows near me. “The Reaper” is pretty transparent with the context of the song. The death of a version of ourselves in some form or another is all too relatable, but beautifully juxtaposed with incredible music that fit together more than nicely. The final song of Dark Divine’s set was “Halloweentown” and (speaking for myself) it’s such a way of life more so than a seasonal blip come fall time. It certainly fit timing-wise and really was a perfect sendoff ending their flawless set. I haven’t been so impressed by an opening act in a very long time and look forward to many more shows by this theatrical and talented band from Florida.

Anticipation was thicker than the smoke but out he came: Ville Valo, sheer perfection. He intricately weaved the solo songs into the HIM classics just like a zipper. Classics for us HIM freaks like “Funeral of Hearts,” “Join Me in Death,” “Buried Alive by Love,” “Soul on Fire,” and that one song that started it all for us: “Right Here in My Arms.” Mingled in were new favorites like “Neon Noir,” “Loveletting,” and “Saturnine Saturnalia,” which ended the 17-song set. As legend has it, Valo isn’t big on encores but I was more than satisfied with this performance of a lifetime. To have witnessed this evening will forever be a highlight of my whole entire life. But the house lights didn’t come on so I stayed put, just wondering…

AND THEN the band returned and so did VV. One last song? Unreal. “When Love and Death Embrace” is a piece of art that transforms time and space and it definitely felt otherworldly to be there in that moment. The lyrics aren’t many but it doesn’t have a veiled meaning. To summarize it would be like feeling like you love something so much that you’re at peace with death coming at a moment’s notice. At least for me, it cuts that deep.

I feel for the thousands who missed what is an absolute legend still giving perfect and heartfelt love metal. Their loss entirely. | Diane Ruff

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