H.I.M., Hammersmith Apollo, London
The Rasmus, Academy, Bristol

What's the word for a Finnish Goth in a pink bra?

The Finns are coming. After cutting sharkishly through the Baltic and traversing the North Sea, they're circling ever closer to the shores of British pop. This is new. In the past, Finland has made only a meagre contribution to popular culture: Hanoi Rocks, Jimi Tenor, then I'm struggling. Beyond a handful of clichés - they like a drink, they can see the Northern Lights, they kill themselves a lot, Santa Claus - the Finns have kept themselves to themselves. Until now.

The Finns are coming. After cutting sharkishly through the Baltic and traversing the North Sea, they're circling ever closer to the shores of British pop. This is new. In the past, Finland has made only a meagre contribution to popular culture: Hanoi Rocks, Jimi Tenor, then I'm struggling. Beyond a handful of clichés - they like a drink, they can see the Northern Lights, they kill themselves a lot, Santa Claus - the Finns have kept themselves to themselves. Until now.

Their current cultural emissaries are a pair of bands, one goth-rock (H.I.M.), the other goth-pop (The Rasmus), both of whom have been knocking around for a while, but are finally breaking into the British mainstream. The two reputedly hate being compared - rock bands, invariably, are convinced of their own uniqueness - but there are undeniable points of comparison.

Both bands play accessible, melodic rock with a romantic sweep to it (in the context of modern metal, they're more Edward Scissorhands than Freddy vs Jason, if you will). Neither band is breaking brave new musical ground. Both bands have their Bryan Adams/Bon Jovi moments, ripe for the ascent to stadium status (The Rasmus's "F-F-F-Falling" bears a disconcerting resemblance to Phil Collins's "Another Day in Paradise", H.I.M.'s cigarette lighter-waving ballad "This Fortress of Tears" has a big hammy key change towards the end). Of course, there's nothing wrong with this per se: I've heard enough nu-metal crunch-riffs to last me a lifetime, and at least H.I.M. singer Ville Valo and The Rasmus's Lauri Ylonen don't adopt that juvenile throat-cancer bellow favoured by Slipknot and a billion sub-Slipknots.

Both bands have a penchant for some surprisingly mainstream cover versions. The Rasmus have recorded "Ghostbusters" and Björk's "Play Dead", and are playing Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin" on this tour. H.I.M. have recorded Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper", and at Hammersmith they play Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" (a recent single), a bit of the theme from John Carpenter's Halloween (since this is, indeed, 31 October), a snatch of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" (which they have also recorded) before "I Walk With the Zombies", and a snatch of Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" (showing a pleasing appreciation of goth history) before "Funeral of Hearts".

Both bands' own lyrics, meanwhile, are noticeably English-as-second-language stuff, which inevitably fall back frequently on cliché. H.I.M.'s songs are full of angels, tombs, shadows, blood and rain. "Your Sweet Six Six Six" is a typical title; the band's name stands for His Infernal Majesty. Valo doesn't seem to be entirely serious about the Satanist thing, but I'm not sure what's worse: actually being a Satanist, or not being a Satanist and cheaply using satanic imagery to seem kinda badass.

Both fans have a markedly young fanbase (if your daughter comes home with a tattoo which looks like a Star of David with a bum on top, H.I.M. are to blame: it's their "heartagram" logo, which has been very useful in cementing their popularity). Vallo knowingly dedicates one song thus: "This for the ladies in the house..." (scream, comedy pause) "...who are over 30." He knows that if there are any at all, they're probably mums. Meanwhile, when The Rasmus's Ylonen attempts some local banter down in Bristol by namedropping Portishead, it quickly becomes apparent that three-quarters of his crowd have never heard of the mid-Nineties trip-hoppers.

Good-looking chap as a rule, Johnny Finlander, and Valo and Ylonen both conform to the stereotype, in different ways. One (Vallo) is reptilian and cheekboney, the other (Ylonen) is cuddly and chipmunky. One likes to portray himself as a demonic sexlord, the other might have stepped out of Lisa Simpson's Non-Threatening Boys Monthly. "He looked at me!" squeals one pre-teen afterwards to a doting mother, "he looked at me!" The difference is emphasised by what the respective bands choose to drape over their amps. For The Rasmus, it's a fan-made banner: "Forget Reading - Your Fans Love You" (of which, more shortly). For H.I.M., it's a blanket coated in fan-thrown knickers and bras, with which the band have also lined their studio ceiling.

It's nice to see that Lauri Ylonen's shaved off the bumfluff of recent photos, and he's looking suave in pinstripes. It's a shame, however, that he has opted not to wear his famous black feathers tonight, shrouding his hair instead in a black woolly hat.

Despite his reportedly monumental vanity - the ego has landed in W6 tonight - Ville Valo is an engagingly witty frontman, ripping the piss out of Gatorade-guzzling American rockers with their fake exits and obvious encores, bigging up Black Sabbath but slagging off Axl Rose, joking about being the "Evil Chippendales" before getting topless (one wishes, however, that a couple of his Tango Man-bodied bandmates hadn't followed suit). Items thrown onstage at Hammersmith include a tampon (hopefully unused), a feather duster, more bouquets than Torvill and Dean, an old lady's hat (he's sporting enough to put it on), a Jack Skellington mask from The Nightmare Before Christmas (he puts that on too), and a pink bra: yes, he wears that as well. If the music ever falls through, Valo could try stand-up comedy.

Ylonen, whose grasp of English - and English humour - isn't quite as good (he shouts "rock'n'roll!" with no apparent irony), can't compete on that level. Musically, however, The Rasmus edge in front. The Rasmus began life as a goodtime party band playing ska-punk and funk-metal, and before he became a black-clad baby-goth pin-up, Ylonen sported blond and pink hair and garishly-coloured clothes. Whereas H.I.M.'s greatest hits, And Love Said No, was pretty homogenous stuff, the best of The Rasmus will be a more interesting patchwork.

Love it or hate it, their breakthrough hit "In the Shadows" was irresistibly catchy, "First Day of My Life" has a certain pummelling power to it, and Ylonen's voice has a certain emotional "catch", assisted by years of chain-smoking, never more evident than on "Still Standing" (not, thank God, the Elton John one), a song written about the death of his best friend.

They begin, however, with another single: "Guilty", the song which they were not even able to - ahem - finish at this year's Reading Festival. Back in August, The Rasmus famously became cannon-fodder for spotty gimps who just wanted to see Green Day, and they may never live it down. Lauri and co may always be remembered as the band who, when bottled, bottled it.

You don't have to like them, but did they really deserve that shower of mud and merde? As they would say in Helsinki, ei (no). And, as they say at the end of all the best French films, Finn.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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