• HIM - Love Metal (2003)

    HIM, also known as His Infernal Majesty, was a gothic rock band that was very successful throughout the first decade of the new millennium before sales figures dwindled and the band actually broke up two years ago. The band had its breakthrough as early as in 1999 with hit single ''Join Me in Death'' that peaked the singles charts in Finland and Germany. The band repeated this accomplishment with six more singles in the next seven years in its home country. Numerous records could be described as highly creative, influential and successful in the band's career but the quintet's magnum opus might be its fourth studio record Love Metal.

    The band couldn't have chosen a better title for this output. It represents the mixture between heavy metal riffs, sinister gothic rock soundscapes and darkly romantic vocals and lyrics. The album is complex, dark and poetic and it would be nearly impossible for such a challenging record to hit the charts these days. Sixteen years ago however, the band was on the pulse of its time and managed to inspire thoughtful teenagers going through emotional changes. This type of music fascinated young men with its atmosphere and energy and lead singer Ville Valo's charismatic baritone vocals and stylish looks with a cigarette in his mouth, dressed in dark clothes and multiple layers of make-up on his face was appreciated by a surprisingly elevated number of female fans.

    Love Metal opens with its heaviest song in form of the desperate and fast ''Buried Alive by Love'' that was appreciated by gothics and metal fans alike. It's also courageous to open a rather atmospheric album on such an energetic note. The second tune ''Funeral of Hearts'' is a heartfelt ballad with simple and fragile melodies and charismatically sorrowful vocals. Even though the track might sound romantic and soft, the lyrics are actually bleak and sinister. This combination between beautiful fragile melodies and looming darkness in the lyrics actually summarizes the band's unique style best.

    Love Metal is nowadays remembered as a soulful record on the thin line between gothic rock and gothic metal that combines moving melodies with sinister topics and represents the emotional state of mind of numerous male and female teenagers and youngh adults in the early years of the millennium. In times of the Iraq War and the September 11 attacks, many people could empathize with the bittersweet sorrow that defined HIM's records. Love Metal is the band's most challenging but also most rewarding record since epic tunes like ''This Fortress of Tears'' and ''The Path'' take some time to open up but end up unfolding intensely to leave lasting impressions.    

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  • The Rasmus - Hide from the Sun (2005)

    The Rasmus is a Finnish quartet that started as a crossover act in the mid-nineties as it combined alternative rock, funk rock and rap elements. The group first got some international acclaim with its single ''F-F-F-Falling'' from its fourth studio record Into in the early years of the millennium as the song was included on several popular compilations. The band had its breakthrough thanks to a genre shift towards gothic rock on Dead Letters with its international hit single ''In the Shadows''. The band's best album however came along with Hide from the Sun two years later as the band was then firmly rooted in gothic rock without denying its alternative rock roots.

    Dramatic opener ''Shot'' kicks the record off on a melodramatic, emotional and catchy note and sets the tone for the record straight right from the start. Hit single ''No Fear'' offers hope in darkness and convinces with sorrowful verses and a mystic chorus with uplifting background chants. The band however also offers some more light-hearted tunes such as the dreamy ballad ''Sail Away'' that works very well in the context of the rather gloomy album.

    Hide from the Sun doesn't include any filler material and exemplifies commercially successful gothic rock music that struck a chord with teenagers from all around the world in the early years of the millennium. The alienation, despair and melancholy on this album portrays the ways many teenagers feel. Just like a teenager going through changes in transition from childhood to adulthood, The Rasmus also transitioned from crossover to gothic rock and are nowadays playing electronic rock and pop music. The record has aged rather well and still convinces with its emotional, gloomy and melodramatic appeal more than fourteen years later. This album tells you more about teenage culture back in its days than many documentaries actually could. Revisiting this album also feels like revisiting your own teenage years if you have grown up back in those days and had a weakness for contemporary rock music.

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  • Oomph! - Wahrheit oder Pflicht (2004)

    German industrial rock trio Oomph! has always been credited as Neue Deutsche Harte pioneers but could never come close to the success of other genre bands like Rammstein or Megaherz in its early career. This changed overnight with the release of the band's eighth studio record Wahrheit oder Pflicht, a reference to the Truth or Dare verbal party game.

    The record's lead single ''Augen auf!'', a reference to a game of hide-and-seek, hit the German charts and achieved gold certification. Oomph! was suddenly present on numerous television shows, on the radio and in countless newspapers and magazines. The main difference between Oomph! and other bands of the German gothic scene that unexpectedly rose to stardom is that the trio from Wolfsburg always remained close to its fan base, continued to play the same festivals it had already played before and never became pretentious about its unexpected success. This helped the band keeping momentum with upcoming records GlaubeLiebeTod two years later and Monster four years later and even winnig the Bundesvision Song Contest with the song ''Traumst du?'' featuring Die Happy's singer Marta Jandova. More recently, the band's thirteenth studio record Ritual unexpectedly conquered the German Album Charts this year without much promotion which underlines the band's longevity and its fans' loyalty.

    Reducing Wahrheit oder Pflicht to its hit single wouldn't do the record justice however. While it's not the band's most consistent effort, it contains a few hidden pearls and obvious hits. The energetic ''Dein Feuer'' is a vibrant yet atmospheric industrial rock tune that works splendidly at parties and concerts. The more complex, dystopian and haunting ''Sex hat keine Macht'' came a long with a fascinating music video in which the three band members portray priests practising a challenging exorcism. ''Brennende Liebe'' is a heartfelt gothic rock ballad with additional vocals by Austrian darkwave duo L'Âme Immortelle that managed to achieve brief commercial success thanks to this collaboration and the release of three singles supporting the band's release Gezeiten back then.

    Oomph!'s Wahrheit oder Pflicht is the most successful record of one of the most important Neue Deutsche Harte bands. It helped the charismatic trio from Wolfsburg push its career to the next level. The album made numerous teenagers discover the gothic scene. Despite its huge success, the band always remained faithful to its roots and continues to release high-quality records until this day. The album has stood the test of time and Oomph! continues to play this type of music without repeating itself which is quite an accomplishment in itself. 

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  • Rammstein - Reise, Reise (2004)

    Neue Deutsche Harte legends Rammstein had already known national and then international success with its previous three studio records but only the band's fourth release Reise, Reise fully underlined the group's artistic intellectualism and offered a surprising variety of creative soundscapes.

    The record starts with a hidden track including the last moments of ill-fated Japan Airlines Flight 123 as heard from the cockpit voice recorder. The cover artwork is inspired by a black box that can be recovered from a plane after a crash. Rammstein isn't going to take us on a holiday but on a serious, sinister and throught-provoking journey. 

    Opening title track ''Reise, Reise'' might be the band's most epic song ever with orchestral keyboard elements and majestic choirs leading to a chorus worthy of a national anthem. It's quite a statement to start an album with so much theatric grandeur. The band builds up lots of anticipation and the record isn't going to disappoint in that regard as it pushes genre boundaries like few did before.

    Things quickly turn sinister with the aggressive, bleak and offensive first single ''Mein Teil'' that was inspired by an infamous case of consensual cannibalism in Germany. Its music video was controversially discussed back in the days. I didn't like the sinister tune at first contact but ended up realizing that the terrifying music complements the abominable topic perfectly. Again, it's quite a statement to choose such a brutal track for first single.

    Second single ''Amerika'' might sound catchier and even joyful and is at times misinterpreted as a tribute to the United States of America by clueless listeners. However, the song is actually quite the opposite as it criticizes the omnipresence of American culture in the Western world in sharp metaphors. Remember that this song was recorded at the time of the Iraq War as the American government tried to pressure its European allies into participating in said conflict which didn't sit very well with German citizens.

    It's no coincidence that this song is followed by the gloomy industrial rock tune ''Moskau'' that is a two-edged tribute to the Russian capital. The song contrasts the city's beauty with its ugliness looming under the surface. Having visisted Russia myself, this description is perfectly accurate. Tourist attractions look sharp, clean and beautiful and leave excellent impressions. If however you go to the suburbs, you will discover shocking degrees of poverty, dirt and destruction. Rammstein doesn't spread any political message here but instead points out that nothing is perfect in our world.

    The band ends the record in a surprisingly smooth way with two very different ballads. ''Ohne dich'' is a song of epic proportions with string arrangements, oboe and mandolin sounds that tells a moving story of separation that can be interpreted in different ways. The elegant music video that comes along with it might be the best the band has ever made which is quite something considering the sextet's elevated number of high-quality clips. It shows the band climbing Austria's Grossglockner when singer Till Lindemann falls and gets badly hurt. As gangrene is eating away at his injured legs, the singer desires to reach the peak of the mountain before he dies. With the help of his friends, he makes his final dream come true and peacefully passes away. This epic music video is a visually stunning and emotionally moving experience.

    The other ballad and closing tune ''Amour'' is much quieter and quite introspective in a way one had never heard Rammstein before. It ends a creative, epic and intense record on an appeasing note and makes the release feel whole.

    While industrial rock purists thought that Rammstein experimented too much on this output and even sold out with its few quieter tunes, Reise, Reise is actually the band's most remarkable artistic accomplishment and has shaped the more adventurous records that followed later on. This album is both a milestone in the Neue Deutsche Harte genre and a turning point for a band that was considered loud and provocative until then but intellectual and creative from then on. This release has stood the test of time and remains Rammstein's most important album to date.

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  • The 69 Eyes - Devils (2004)

    Fifteen years ago, gothic rock music was quite in vogue in Europe with bands like Oomph! and Rammstein domineering national and international hitlists and groups such as Apocalyptica, HIM and The Rasmus hitting their creative peaks. One of these bands that suddenly got some unexpected mainstream success was Finland's quintet The 69 Eyes. True fans of gothic rock had already known the band back then that had been around since the late eighties and released seven albums before Devils struck a chord with younger audiences around the globe and propulsed the charismatic quintet towards brief international stardom.

    There are several elements that make The 69 Eyes stand out among many other popular gothic rock bands. First of all, the band's sleaze and hard rock origins always shine through. Secondly, the band's long career makes for experienced song writing in form of concise, fluid and memorable tracks. Thirdly, the group's charismatic appearance on stage isn't a far call from horror punk bands such as The Misfits or even more traditional punk veterans like The Ramones. Fourthly, the band opts for melody over heaviness and especially convinces in the calmer and smoother tunes. Fifthly, the band's balanced mixture of glam rock, gothic rock, horror punk and rock 'n' roll appeals to quite a large number of fans. As a matter of fact, those who like this release will probably like most of the band's other outputs as well.

    Things starts promisingly with the gloomy, menacing and raw title track ''Devils'' that manages to stay on your mind upon first listening to it thanks to a passionate chorus. The band's smoother side is presented immediately after with the less atmospheric and more dynamic ''Feel Berlin'' that captures the spirit of the German capital like few other tunes. ''Nothing on You'' combines the more melodic vibes of the second tune with the energy of the opener and makes for one of the band's most balanced but overlooked gems. ''Beneath the Blue'' features HIM's lead singer Ville Valo who was very popular among gothics back then and certainly helped increase sales figures for this particular album. First single ''Lost Boys'' mixes gloomy atmosphere and cool rock vibes and was promoted with a dark music video that underlined the band's sound and image.

    This record's crowning achievement is however epic sacral ballad ''Sister of Charity'' that oozes with atmosphere thanks to smooth lead vocals, melancholic piano sounds and ethereal choirs culminating in an unforgettable chorus. To this day, this is the best song the band has ever written and one of the greatest gothic ballads in history.

    Gothic rock was only commercially successful for a few years at the beginning of the millennium and many bands like Nu Pagadi or Ubermutter are long forgotten now. However, The 69 Eyes are still touring the world, releasing records and staying faithful to their unique mash-up of gothic subgenres. The 69 Eyes' Devils isn't only a remnant of a unique period of time for the gothic scene. It has stood the time as charismatic gothic rock album that hasn't lost any of its bleak charm. 

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