Style: Melodic Death Metal
Release Date: 8 Mar 2019
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This is album ten for Finland's Children of Bodom, four years after 2015's I Love Chaos. That's the longest gap between any two of their albums and they must have been chafing at the bit because they race right out of the gate as it begins with This Road.
I liked this opener, the second single off the album after the next track, Under Grass and Clover. Both have a bouncy feel, courtesy of Janne Wirman's keyboards and Alexi Laiho's lead guitar, and that keeps going for much of the album. This is the most cheerful melodic death metal album that I've heard in quite some time. There are points where it's almost perky but it's never without that underlying crunch.
As the album ran on, I remembered why I've never been a big fan of Children of Bodom and that's the vocals of Alexi Laiho. He has a rather unique voice, which falls partway between the standard death metal growl and the standard black metal shriek. It's apparently an acquired taste, because many do love it, but I've never acquired that taste and this doesn't help. In fact, I'd much prefer it if the voice that sings the chorus on Platitudes and Barren Words took the lead and ran with it throughout. I have no idea who that is, however. It might be Laiho, for all I know, putting on a different voice. If it is, let's stay with it!
While I enjoyed the album from the outset, except for Laiho's grating vocal approach, it didn't wow me until Kick in a Spleen, five tracks in. The first four tracks are very much of the same mindset, with odd little touches that distinguish them, but this one ramps up the speed, led by the furious drums of Jaska Raatikainen.
It has everything I'm looking for from this band: an up tempo chugging riff that bounces neatly back and forth between Laiho's lead and new fish Daniel Freyberg; speedy vocals with catchy backing; and some interesting interplay between instruments, soloing keyboards handing over to soloing guitar, then back again. It's a peach.
After that, I was with the album more. Platitudes and Barren Words has an impressive chorus and an even better riff behind it. The title track, the only one to nudge over the five minute mark, has an agreeable pace and a chanted "Hexed!" in the background that's a very cool callback. There's an abundance of spotlight moments for band members here too: not just pounding drums and chugging guitars, but dancing progressive keyboards, which sound almost like a harpsichord at points, and a playful bass to wrap things up.
Hexed is the third highlight in three tracks, which means that this album starts with a decent four songs, then shines brightly for another three. I have to say that the last four aren't up to the same standard but they are far from bad tracks; they're just not as good as what went before. The best of them is the last one, Knuckleduster, which finds an agreeable groove for Wirman's keyboards to soar over until the album runs out.
Even excepting the vocals, which are a love or hate thing, it's generally agreed that Children of Bodom have had an inconsistent output over what is now more than a couple of decades. This is a good album, which should put them in good stead with old school fans and help them pick up new ones. It isn't, however, a great one, though it does get great for a little while in the middle.
Now, as I seem to be saying a lot lately, let's have another album sooner than another four years time!