Last month we offered you a taste of the new album from “Helsinki Vampires” The 69 Eyes, in the form of a darkly sensual music video for the single “Red,” which featured a welcome introduction from none other then Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (check it out here). This week the entire record X is now available via Nuclear Blast Records, and I finally got to spend some quality lights-out time with it to drink in the full experience.
“The 69 Eyes is like Batman,” says frontman Jyrki69. “We always rise and return, our only mission being to save Gotham City and serve its people. Everybody else is gone, nobody does it better & someone's got to do it.” In a weird way, he's absolutely right: like the Dark Knight himself, the band's own brand of smoldering, romantic gothic rock is cloaked in mystery, sometimes brutal, always classy, and more than a little crazy (in a good way, of course), and they look damn cool in black. In the creation of their latest full-length release X, the anti-heroes of wicked romance have veered away a few degrees or so from the grittier old-school vibe of their successful 2009 album Back in Blood, which the band described as a partial homage to the power anthems and strutting cock-rock of bands like Motley Crüe (read our “Vamp Chat” with Jyrki about that release).
To my ears, X is more of a stylistic return to the glam-goth foundation that made them dark rock icons and influenced a new generation of beloved bands like Black Veil Brides, and lyrically they've strayed a bit further from overtly vampiric themes in favor of simple but effective tales of forbidden and doomed mortal love... a vibe which I first noticed in the single & video for “Red.” The instrumentation on this album does run a bit heavier than the band's earlier releases (like Blessed Be or Paris Kills), so a lot of the musical muscularity of Back in Blood is obviously still in play... much to the record's benefit, otherwise I think the lyrics and melodies would slip a little too far into melancholy and despair, even for spooky folks like myself. (We'll let the band's fellow countrymen HIM handle that side of the coin.) Production on this project was handled by the Swedish team On The Verge, who have a more pop-centric sensibility, which certainly comes across in the songs that made the final cut.
The album starts at a high energy level with the up-tempo “Love Runs Away,” which comes across as surprisingly uplifting considering the lyrics and some dark minor-key guitar transitions. Haunting keyboards lend a dreamlike feel to "Tonight,” as well as injecting a club-friendly energy with swift four-to-the-floor drumming during the choruses; layered vocals lend Jyrki's smoldering voice an anthemic quality that makes this one of the album's standout tracks. Pulsing tremolo guitars kick off "Black,” which is appropriately one of the spookiest goth cuts, with a definite Sisters of Mercy flavor that will take you straight back to the Batcave (assuming you're old enough to remember that reference). "If You Love Me The Morning After" plays more heavily into the HIM style, though with a deeper, more post-Bauhaus Peter Murphy style vocal approach which will raise more than a few goosebumps.
'80s synth-pop touches don't do much to accent the otherwise fairly mundane "I Love The Darkness In You,” but I loved the dusty baritone guitar and whispered chorus echoes of the western-flavored ballad "Borderline,” and the wild party beat of "I'm Ready" cuts right through the somber shadows of the tracks that came before it with a strobe-light intensity. One of the record's few nods to horror comes in "I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which is soaked with foghorns, deep reverb and misty atmosphere as Jyrki sings of a dark secret that emerges in the musty air of October. The final curtain comes appropriately enough with “When the Love Comes to an End,” a bluesy ballad which opens and closes with a distant rainstorm and clean guitars beneath Jyrki's declaration that “This is the final chapter”... another soft but unmistakably heavy coda to a strong and memorable project.
If you're a fan of true “goth 'n' roll,” then dim the lights, grab your favorite brand of absinthe and give this sucker a spin, because X definitely keeps the rock in gothic rock, while this time exploring a few more down-to-earth concepts in their signature shadowy style. If you still need a little push, the special edition bundle (shown here at the Nuclear Blast store) comes with the band's first-ever comic book (pictured below), described as “a secret story hidden in six of the band’s songs... the tale of the formation of The 69 Eyes that would never be found on Wikipedia or in the bio section of any record company’s website.” Published by gothic boutique outfit Seraphemera Books & Music, more comic issues are said to be arriving in the coming months.
If that's not incentive enough, the deluxe digipak also comes with the companion DVD Made in Sweden: Stockholm and the 69 Eyes. Here's a preview clip featuring a guest appearance by Kat Von D, who lends her voice to the song “Rosary Blue”...