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HIM, ‘Venus Doom’ (Sire)

HIM have superfan Bam Margera to thank for their early exposure, but it’s frontman Ville Valo – a Byronic goth-metal pinup – who makes these Finns potentially iconic. Valo’s steel-melting baritone, dipping so eerily low that you can actually <I>feel</I> it, infuses <I>Venus Doom</I> with melody and drama, and his once-faceless band finally gets a chance to stretch out alongside him. The result (see the 11-minute, Sabbath-via-Muse expanse of “Sleepwalking Past Hope”) may be the year’s heaviest, creepiest, and sexiest hard-rock group effort.