(DGR reviews the latest effort by Finland’s Children of Bodom.)
Almost every review dealing with Children of Bodom these days tends to open exactly the same way. Someone will start talking about how awesome they were years back, and inevitably the discussion becomes focused on how people think the band has stagnated…and why. I have no solutions or magical spells to chant that can make up for CoB’s past two somewhat uninspired efforts. However, let’s just get this bit out of the way: Yes, there was a time when Children of Bodom were one of the most important bands out there for me (and I assume the same for many others). The guitar work alone was enough to bring me over, and worshiping at the altar of Alexi Laiho felt so much better at the time than the alternative of drowning in a tide of interchangeable metalcore.
It may have been that as I heard more of their music, I burned out on this band. I definitely fell into the block of people for whom a lot of their music was beginning to feel like the same song over and over again. While you could make the argument that a lot of folks complain when a band changes their sound too much, and other folks complain when a band stays the same and sticks with what got them to where they are, I think there’s a way for a band to do both and still retain people’s attention.
With Children Of Bodom’s latest releases beginning with Blooddrunk, there were maybe three or four songs on each disc that you could probably combine into one hell of an EP (I actually liked a lot of Are You Dead Yet – though I don’t view it as integral as everything up to Hatecrew). Halo Of Blood on the other hand, feels a little different. If you were to view each disc as an incremental improvement on their sound after some unspecified dip in quality, then Halo Of Blood is once again a step in the right direction. There are glimpses of something here that were missing on Blooddrunk and Relentless; it’s small, but enough of a change that I found myself enjoying about half of the disc this time – as opposed to my rigid three-to-four-song grumpiness from before.
In the lead-up to Halo Of Blood, the band made much of the fact that they were recording the disc in the same spot where they had recorded Hatecrew Deathroll, with basically everything set up in the way. Bands will often do such things as if it were some guarantee of quality, but far too often they forget that you can have all the ingredients that made something special in the past, but if you’re not in the state of mind you were in then, there’s no assurance the music will even harken back to past glories. Tastes change and people mature, and although Halo Of Blood has all the ingredients of CoB’s earlier discs, it doesn’t line up with them.
However, even though they may not have the right frame of mind for what they were writing in the Hatecrew days, it doesn’t negate their ability to do good things with what they do have. Not every song works on Halo Of Blood, and this isn’t an album that is going to win over people who have left the fold, but the album includes some really good tracks (alongside a couple of oddballs), which is what I really want to focus on, because even that initial dopamine rush from some of them was enough to make me want to talk about Halo Of Blood.
The pattern for previous albums has played out a little the same here, too. The past two albums have had both the fastest and the slowest songs the band have ever written, according to Alexi. They do move at a pretty good clip throughout much of Halo Of Blood, and the title track is a blast-filled bit of aggression and probably the most core-band-focused on the disc.
I think one of the things that has really burned me out on Children Of Bodom over the years has been how the keyboards never seem to change. For the love of god, I don’t know how many of those keyboard stingers straight out of Mortal Kombat I can handle anymore. Janne Warman is a master keyboardist and knows his way around a synth like there’s no tomorrow, but the tones and sounds he has used over the years have become repetitive. While each scale he plays and each dextrous bit of showmanship he pulls off is technically impressive, something close to ninety songs’ worth of it can get pretty tiring. It seems like the music changed, but his playing stayed locked in. He fucking nailed it on songs like “Trashed”, “Lost”, and “Strungout”, which has perhaps the most lined-up and perfect combo of guitar and keyboard Bodom have ever done. I’ve found that the best Bodom songs of late are the ones where he keeps it light and stays away from the constant DUN! stings throughout songs.
The title track I was referring to pretty much checks off each box I listed. Blast beats have returned to the band (the last really fast, almost death-metal style drumming like this was on, what, Something Wild?), and they also incorporate a couple of riffs that veer really close to the melo-death scene, as opposed to the almost punk and thrash that CoB will usually pull from, and those ingredients make “Halo Of Blood” a good tune.
“Scream For Silence” – the immediate followup – is one of the slower songs that Bodom has written that I’ve enjoyed, too. That may be due to the fact that the chorus comes dangerously close to being an exact copy of In Flames’ “Free Fall” from Reroute To Remain. The rest of the song, though, has a catchy guitar lead that carries a bit of the song, which is something that seemed to be missing from earlier CoB slow tunes.
Other songs that tend to stand out are opener “Waste Of Skin”, closing track “One Bottle and A Knee Deep”, and a personal highlight that lies in the song “All Twisted”. “Waste Of Skin” is probably the most Bodom-esque song to ever Bodom in a long time, and it lays out a pretty good case of what Halo Of Blood is going to be like. It even out-Bodom’s the usual track containing “Bodom” in the song name on this album (“Bodom Blue Moon”). I’ve always felt that if anything, CoB can write a good opener and a good closer. “One Bottle And A Knee Deep” makes that case stand to this day.
I developed something of a dumb habit of always liking the closing songs on Bodom discs, even on efforts like Are You Dead Yet?, Blooddrunk, and Relentless Reckless Forever – the three where fans start to get a little polarized. I thought “We’re Not Gonna Fall” was great, if only for the fact that it could’ve stood in well with much of Hatecrew Deathroll. Blooddrunk has “Roadkill Morning”, which is the fastest and angriest song on that disc — and one of the best because of it. Relentless gets a bit of a pass simply because the last track for me (a bonus) was the gloriously stupid cover of Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”. Of course, if you didn’t get the bonus version, then “Northpole Throwdown” was the closer and followed in a similar pattern to “Roadkill Morning”.
So yeah, it was probably a forgone conclusion that I was going to enjoy “One Bottle”. However, you know how I mentioned that there are occasional flashes of the earlier discs on here? Well that credit lies at the feet of the song “All Twisted”. Holy shit, you guys. I know it sounds crazy to be recommending a Bodom song these days, but folks should really check out “All Twisted”. It really does feel like it came from the earlier era of Bodom, as opposed to the groove-focused version of now. The keyboarding is super cheesy, but it lines up well with the guitar, and so it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The thrashy riffs of yore return and the whole song feels like it was made to be played live. “All Twisted” and the title track may be the two reasons solely responsible for me taking on a Halo Of Blood review.
And so, I find myself giving a bit of grudging respect to Halo Of Blood. It’s not a perfect disc by any means, because while I may have come out with five pretty good tunes to listen to, there is still a bit of blandness there. I couldn’t be assed to tell you what happened in “Transference”, and “Bodom Blue Moon” tends to just chug along. I think that the “Bodom” series of songs can be a bit overplayed though, and this one just doesn’t stand out. “Dead Mans Hand On You” is the slowest song they’ve ever done and it just doesn’t work for me. It’s brave of them to have written it for sure, but I’ve never liked Bodom going slow and that includes stuff like “Angel’s Don’t Kill” – which is a live staple for the band. I think at this point, “Damaged Beyond Repair” may only stick out in my mind as noteworthy because it contains Bodom’s version of a groove-metal riff. A down-tempo, chug-focused riff. No idea from the top of my head what else happens in that song, but the chugging rhythm that makes up the song has stuck.
Yes, the band are moving in baby steps to making great discs again, but I suspect that people have the band chasing an invisible hockey puck in their minds, and nothing will ever be good enough. For me, it’s never been the case of wanting them to recapture old glory. When they do, it feels so fucking good – but what I’ve always wanted from the band are songs that have some character again, and for a good chunk of time they have simply been ticking off check boxes of what they felt made up a Bodom tune. It became reliable that every two years you’d get a Bodom disc, and it’d be the exact same quality as the one before it.
Halo Of Blood has some passion again, and in that sense it has won me over somewhat. It has reignited a long-dead flame into the tiniest of embers in my heart. It makes me want to cheer for them again, and I do enjoy cheering for an underdog to become great once again. With the promise of songs like “All Twisted” (which again, you folks should really look into) and the others I mentioned on the horizon, it’s enough to justify at least keeping Bodom on the edges of the peripheral for now.