HiM – Sworn Eyes

4 out of 5

Label: Perishable

Produced by: Brian Deck (recorded by)

This takes a while to get on its wavelength, and given the slow-crawl open – the 20-minute A Verdict of Science – you’re forgiven for not wanting to take the time. I didn’t, or haven’t, for years, as HiM’s early albums tended to lean towards the abstract – until Doug Scharin and crew kicked over into more active, genre-blended affairs with Our Point of Departure – and that abstraction sometimes just seemed like a purposeful opposite-direction from the band members’ pasts / contemporaries. And Sworn Eyes very much seems like it’s flowing in that same vein, with floaty jazz-horns and ambience and whispered percussion. Even once Science gets going, at about its midway point, if you’re waiting for some real breakout moment… it’s not there. And that is the disc’s m.o. It’s not about moments – it’s cumulative.

But that’s the wavelength. And frankly, it can be a little self-defeating, as once you find the groove across the album’s initial four tracks – which do ebb and flow relatively, mixing in strings and horns and breaks with Doug’s drumming snaking in and out, active and passive – the concluding title track is exactly that whole abstraction shtick to its extreme, tip-toeing away from the more structured shift the album otherwise applied to that and allowing the disc to peter out rather uneventfully. The plus side is that if you keep it on repeat, the juxtaposition is what adds clarity to the nuance and momentum present on the other tracks, which suddenly seem rich, and precise: A Verdict of Science is all build-up until its head-bobbing release; the tracks that follow are actually pretty intensely groovy.

But I get that that’s a journey, and one that takes full spins of the record – multiple spins – to make. I mean, heck, it took me nearly two decades of owning this album to really do so, and if the experience wasn’t ultimately so entrancing, I’d probably be more critical of that. But it’s a rewarding discovery nonetheless, and a nice reminder of the throughlines that make much of HiM’s catalogue incredibly worthwhile.