(This is DGR’s review of the new album by the Finnish icons Children of Bodom, which was released on March 8th by Nuclear Blast.)
Fathoming what a “return to form” by Children Of Bodom would sound like is an exceedingly difficult task. It seems that every new album from the Bodom crew is referred to as a “return to form”, and yet what “form” the group are returning to is never fully explained.
If anything, for better or worse, Children Of Bodom have been one of those groups who have been the very hallmark of consistency. You could throw on any of the group’s ten main albums (including their latest, the one discussed here) plus a few of their EPs and have a generally good time with the guitar-shred and keyboard-cheese therein. Yet within that consistent discography there have absolutely been different eras of Children Of Bodom songwriting.
You can begin with the thrashier form of Something Wild, then move to the neo-classical hybrid that the band would become in the Hatebreeder/Follow The Reaper/Hatecrew Deathroll era that is a high-point of the group’s career (which one would guess is the “form” people are often saying they’re returning to), to the chunkier and Americanized-groove of Are You Dead Yet? and Blooddrunk, and on to the group’s most recent three, which have been all over the place stylistically.
Two of the latter I think I’ve covered here and generally enjoyed — Relentless Reckless Forever and Halo Of Blood — with the third, and most recent up until now, being I Worship Chaos, which I don’t think found much traction here.
Hexed, the group’s latest album, is an interesting beast: It’s their second album after guitarist Roope Latvala’s exit from the band and the first with former Norther member and new guitarist Daniel Freyberg. It’s also interesting because I think in large part the aforementioned “return to form” can often depend on whatever keyboard effects Janne Warman is rolling with on an album, and in Hexed he sounds the most like Follow The Reaper/Hatecrew Deathroll that he has in some time. Finally, this may be the most I’ve found myself enjoying a Children Of Bodom disc in recent memory, though we’ll see how much this holds.
In some unconcious way the Children Of Bodom guys may have been aware that there was something special with Hexed, as evidenced by the fact that they actually close the album by resurrecting “Knuckleduster”, a track that had only appeared on the Trashed, Lost, & Strungout EP alongside covers of Andrew WK and Alice Cooper. The new recording plays it relatively straight with the song, making it seem as if COB brought it forward in time for more brushed-up production techniques and some beefier mixing than it had before. But otherwise “Knuckleduster” exists as it did on that 2004 EP. The presence of a song from an EP fifteen years ago actually does a lot for the aesthetic of the new disc, even if it is the closing song.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell if much has changed on Hexed because, writing-wise, the Bodom formula hasn’t shifted all that much from what it has always been. They exist like clockwork for the interplay of guitar and keyboard lead, with a steadily rumbling rhythm section behind them and plenty of opportunities for Alexi Laiho to yowl over the top of it. Yet the first few songs on Hexed seem to have more in spades than what the last few releases mustered up. Instead of being a collection of steadily fast rhythm-riffs spilling into a wall of guitar and keyboard solos, Hexed seems to have embraced the melodic lead again, and so those first three songs — “This Road”, “Under Grass And Clover”, and “Glass Houses” — actually have some severe staying power. That’s particularly true of “Under Grass And Clover”, which is the most throwback of the three as it weaves its lead melody into the very bone structure of the song on both the guitar and keyboard front. The tradeoff solos especially call to mind some of that “neo-classical” shred that made up the group’s earlier works.
“Hecate’s Nightmare” is probably the most experimental song on Hexed in some respects. It remains relatively mid-tempo on an otherwise fast album, and its keyboard effects are both “classic Bodom” in nature (they sound eerie, like they could’ve been on the soundtrack to a horror show) and also very different from the rest of Hexed. “Hecate’s Nightmare” has a stomping nature that helps break up the initial speed-guitar assault that the group dish out. It’s also another surprisingly catchy track on an album that feels like certain segments were built specifically to get stuck in your head.
“Platitudes And Barren Words” is another track that’s heavy on the keyboard melody — much like “Under Grass And Clover” earlier on — and it brings a whole lot out of looking backward as well as driving itself forward. It’s a little more blatant about bringing some of the older sound back than earlier songs, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that the main melody of the track is another one that seems to glue itself to my brain every time it pops up. It also has what must be the fifteenth or so usage of the sudden Start/Stop/Start riff transition that the Bodom crew love so much, and they get plenty of mileage out of it on Hexed. You’ll be rolling along with a song and a segment will close out with a sudden “Dun! Dun! Dun!” and you’ll know that you’re headed somewhere new after that.
You might think “Hexed”, with it’s five-minute runtime, will be one of the slowest songs on the disc, but it’s instead one of the more densely packed tracks. It’s got a shout-chorus and plenty of guitar and keyboard fights, with a pretty solid gallop leading into each chorus. The main guitar part is a driving rhythm section that seems partially built for circle pits with the sense of speed it provides. It’s one of the heavier songs on Hexed — which means there’s still plenty of power-metal-esque cheese buried throughout, and the guitar and keyboard solo section in particular on this one feels like a case of oneupsmanship gone wild.
Despite all of this, Hexed is still a latter-era Children Of Bodom album in some regards. The band have certainly locked into an ear for catchy melodies and ways to tie them all together this time around, far more so than on previous discs, but there’s still just enough faceless riffing in some of the songs that you can get a little lost. Eleven songs is a lot of this style, and though Children Of Bodom sound tighter than they have in a long time, you can still hear Hexed coming a little loose right as you reach the closing re-record of “Knuckleduster”.
Unfortunately, this means Hexed is a little front-loaded and peters out a bit in the back-half, which is a bit of a bummer considering I have personally enjoyed how quite a few of Bodom’s albums have closed out, most recently with “All Twisted” leading into “One Bottle And A Knee Deep” on Halo Of Blood way back in ye olden days of 2013. Hexed has some solid closers, but “Soon Departed” doesn’t quite have that closing-song strength that previous discs have had.
Who knows what the historical record will say in regard to Hexed and it’s purple and painterly representation of the Reaper, but as of this writing Hexed is the most I’ve enjoyed a Children Of Bodom album in a long time. It certianly made one hell of a first impression, and consistent and repeated listens have done little to wear the shine off of its initial lustre. The slow, dawning realization after the first few songs that the Children Of Bodom crew were actually nailing it from song to song was something special.
Hexed may not be a perfect album, and who knows, maybe all it took was for me to accidentally gloss over the band’s last album, but this new one doesn’t seem nearly as prone to descending into facelessness as the last few records have been. Hexed may actually be the strongest collection of material Children Of Bodom have whipped out in many years.