05 March 2017

Children of Bodom career retrospective

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Time flies is as tired a cliché as you could ever hear, but it seems wholly appropriate when considering Children of Bodom (CoB) turn 20 this year. Beginning life as Inearthed in 1993, the band became Children of Bodom in 1997 to escape the clutches of a small Belgian label and enable them to issue their debut, Something Wild, through Spinefarm Records. Boasting an eclectic, explosive style that still defies genre classification, their technical proficiency and penchant for penning memorable hooks has won them legions of fans worldwide and spawned countless imitators, cementing their status as one of Finland’s most popular metal acts. With a 20th anniversary tour on the immediate horizon (including UK shows in Manchester and London), Mike Tasak (MT) and Kevin McDonald (KM) of the reviews team revisit their catalogue to document the highs and lows of their recorded output.

Something Wild (1997)

As with many debut albums coming from Scandinavia in the ’90s, the band, at the time of recording, were all teenagers and green as grass, a fact they themselves have readily admitted. Despite their young age and relative inexperience, the album itself is remarkably accomplished; fusing various sub genres together to create something that was, at the time, pretty new. This album is threaded through with the sound of a young band trying to find themselves; it’s a little awkward and rough around the edges, but songs like “Deadnight Warrior” show plenty of promise. A reissue followed in 1998 and started the Children of Bodom tradition of bizarrely chosen cover songs (more on that later). All in all, an album worthy of your time, especially when compared with some of their later output. A slightly shaky start, but a promising sign of things to come. (MT)

Hatebreeder (1999)

By this point Children of Bodom had a clearer idea of who they were and what they wanted to sound like. Years of touring their debut increased their playing and songwriting skills and it shows, so much so that it is impossible to picture a Bodom concert NOT ending with “Downfall”. In all honesty, there isn’t a bad song on the album, from opener “Warheart” to the deluxe edition closer of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High”; it’s a frenetic and breathless solo and riff riddled ride. The album is also notable for containing a Stone cover, considering Stone’s guitarist Roope Latvala would join the Bodom ranks in the future. (MT)

Follow the Reaper (2000)

Third albums can be tricky for bands, but with Follow the Reaper (FtR), Children of Bodom created what has to be their finest work to date. Benefitting greatly from furthered song writing skills and the stellar production talents of the legendary Pete Tägtgren, each song is a stone cold classic, with “Hate Me!” producing their first platinum single (a beyond impressive feat for an extreme metal band, even in Finland.). FtR also marks the point where, even with the addition of more power metal-esque elements into their sound, CoB firmly settled on who they were and their signature sound, something that blessedly continued on their next album. An absolute must have album for any self respecting metal fan, let alone a Bodom fan. (MT)

Hate Crew Deathroll (2003)

Despite (in this writer’s opinion) FtR being the better album, Hate Crew Deathroll (HCDR) is the album that garnered the band the most widespread recognition (so far) across Europe and the US, with the video for “Needled 24/7” (perhaps the catchiest song the band have ever written) gaining a spot on MTV2’s Headbangers Ball. Stylistically, the album is very similar to FtR, but thanks to a massively increased budget (due to Spinefarm now living as part of UMG) HCDR is as crisp and crystal clear as the band had always wanted. Particular tracks stand out; “Needled 24/7” for it’s catchiness and all round brilliance, “Angel’s Don’t Kill” for attempting to do something different and slowing the pace down to great effect, and “You’re Better Off Dead” for managing to stay in Finnish singles charts for a staggering 20 weeks. HCDR is considered by many Bodom fans to be the last truly great album the band wrote and given the majority of what was to follow, it’s a claim that is hard to refute. (MT)

Are You Dead Yet? (2005)

Alexander Kuoppala’s departure from Children of Bodom also saw a significant shift in their sound. With legendary Finnish guitarist Roope Latvala joining, Are You Dead Yet? features more basic, stripped down songs and less reliance on atmosphere. Janne Wirman’s keyboards are not quite as prominent, with greater focus on riff orientated material. It feels a little less energetic than previous efforts, with even the frenzied quasi-thrash of “If You Want Peace… Prepare for War” sounding restrained. The title track is perhaps more sparse than any Bodom song before or since, making the pulsing guitar lick under the chorus all the more effective. “In Your Face” is the undoubted highlight, the brisk urgency of the verses countered by the heavy groove of the prechorus and the ultra melodic sing-a-long refrain. “Trashed, Lost & Strungout”, released as a single/EP a year prior (which features the hidden gem “Knuckleduster), serves as a throwback to the Hate Crew days, with “Bastards of Bodom” and “We’re Not Gonna Fall” also striking the perfect balance of heaviness and melody that the 2003 album did so well. Although not quite up to the standard of the first four albums, Are You Dead Yet? still has a plethora of great songs that make it worthy of your time. (KM)

Blooddrunk (2008)

Sixth album Blooddrunk saw a return to more energetic material, but also saw a remarkable drop in quality. To date, this is truly the nadir of Bodom’s career. Alexi Laiho’s aggression was channeled into the conception of more thrash-orientated songs, which saw the band completely cast off the ambience and atmosphere that made those early records so special. Riffs spit and froth without conviction, whilst the melodies, once seamlessly integrated with ease, now feel awkwardly shoehorned in, as if to try and give the music some sort of identity. “Smile Pretty for the Devil” is perhaps the only song that manages to escape this musical void, with a competently crafted melodic chorus, but even so, it’d be cast off fodder on any other Bodom record. Opener “Hellhounds on My Trail” also shows a bit of spirit, but it’s mostly downhill from there. On the other end of the scale, “Done with Everything, Die for Nothing” is a waste of three and a half minutes that stakes its claim for the worst Bodom song, with the clumsy “Lobodomy” giving it a close run for its money. One for completists only, and even then, make sure you’re not shelling more than a quid or two. (KM)

Skeletons in the Closet (2009)

Covers albums are always a tricky proposition and generally speaking tend to fall flat on their face. The main difference in this case is that the covers in question are culled from bonus tracks and B-sides dating back to 1998. As a result, the quality (and choices) vary wildly, making it a bit of a hit and miss affair. There are the traditional band covers you’d expect from a metal band, such as “Aces High” by Iron Maiden and Slayer’s “Silent Scream” for example. But CoB have never really been a straight forward traditional band and so we find covers such as “Talk Dirty To Me” by Poison (which is actually a lot of fun and not too bad!) and “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rodgers that seem to come completely from left field. The jewel in this somewhat dubious crown has to belong to a simply ridiculous (and highly entertaining) version of “Oops, I Did It Again” by none other than Britney Spears. This is an album to listen to while drunk or partying, not one to take seriously, but well worth the effort for the entertainment value alone, as it’s often the cheesiest pop songs that make the best metal covers. (MT)

Relentless Reckless Forever (2011)

The only way was up after the near creative bankruptcy of Blooddrunk, and whilst Relentless Reckless Forever (RRF) didn’t completely shake them free from the shackles of mediocrity, it showed that Bodom were no longer in freefall. Reeling in the aggression a touch, the album shows that all was not lost and that there was still semblance of the band that took the metal world by storm in the early ’00s. “Shovel Knockout” comes out swinging with a rapid, full on instrumental bombardment and the sort of melody that was sorely missed on the dismal predecessor. The scant verses of “Was It Worth It?” allow the band to heap on ultra melodic layers in the chorus, whilst the transitional groove riff into refrain melody of “Pussyfoot Miss Suicide” is one of the most underrated treasures of the modern Bodom catalogue. Conversely, the title track, “Roundtrip to Hell and Back” and “Cry of the Nihilist” are all middling missfires, despite the latter housing an utterly incredible riff about half way through. RRF was not the Bodom album fans were clamouring for after Blooddrunk, but it’s also not nearly as bad as many make it out to be. Definitely worth a look, if only to pick and choose the tracks you think are keepers. (KM)

Halo of Blood (2013)

In the eyes of many in the metal community, Children of Bodom were skating on thin ice following their output between 2005 and 2011. So it was something of a surprise when Halo of Blood dropped in 2013. Largely seen as a return to form, the album captured the sound of a band reinvigorated. The catchy melodies, effortlessly woven into atmospheric, sonic landscapes, are here in abundance, as Bodom roll back the years for their finest album in a decade. “Waste of Skin” possesses the sort of irresistible bounce that made “Hate Me!” a fan favourite; the title track is a throwback to the black metal charge of their formative years; whilst the combo of “Scream for Silence” and “Transference” are more measured in their melodic approach. The brooding crawl of “Dead Man’s Hand on You” sees Laiho try his hand with a cleaner vocal approach, and is probably the only miss on the record. The closing cluster of “Damaged Beyond Repair” (which, at times brings to mind the sound of genre compatriots Kalmah), “All Twisted” and “One Bottle and a Knee Deep” see out the album in style, making the fact that none have been played live all the more bothersome. A top notch album from an act many had written off, Halo of Blood is the closest the band have come to matching the quality of their glory years, and shows that Children of Bodom still have plenty more left in the tank. (KM)

I Worship Chaos (2015)

After 2013’s reprieve for the once infallible Finns, the band had to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Recording for the first time as a four piece following Latvala’s exit, I Worship Chaos steers clear of replicating its predecessor, instead opting to walk a more direct path. It’s the most basic Children of Bodom have been since Are You Dead Yet?, with their trademark melodies built into the riffs, rather than around them. The main riff of “I Hurt” harmoniously hopfoots around the fretboard before settling into a blasting groove, whilst an atmospheric splendour encircles the tour-de-force of “Morrigan”, which sits head and shoulders above every other track on offer. The mournful, doom-laden licks of “Prayer for the Afflicted” and the haunting melancholy of “All for Nothing” give respite from the misanthropy, with the latter providing the sort of superb key/guitar duel that Laiho and Wirman did so well in the band’s earlier years. When on point, the duo are as potent as any twin guitar team in metal, and I’d go as far as to say the album has Laiho’s most inspired lead work since 2004. Whilst I Worship Chaos doesn’t strike quite as hot as Halo of Blood did, it’s nevertheless a solid stepping stone on Bodom’s road to redemption. (KM)

Children of Bodom play Manchester Academy 2 on March 11th and London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on March 12th, as part of their “20 Years Down & Dirty” anniversary tour. Support comes from Forever Still and Oni. Tickets available here.

For more on Children of Bodom, visit: Facebook, Official Website

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