Friday, 16 August 2013

Children of Bodom's 'Halo of Blood' - Album Review

Finnish melodic death metal masters Children of Bodom are back with a bang with their eighth album Halo of Blood and prove once more why they are one of the best and most inventive bands of the genre. Children of Bodom have always been more than your average melodic death metal band. Beneath their grisly exterior and angst-filled songs lies serious natural musical talent and a desire to constantly move forward. Their last few albums, particularly 2008's Blooddrunk and 2011's Relentless Reckless Forever, have been enjoyable but nothing special and Halo of Blood rectifies this by going back to what made the band great in the first place and expanding on it. Therefore, in some respects, this is a 'back to their roots' album for Children of Bodom and the musicial virtuosity, which has been rained in slightly of late, is back up front where it belongs. The emphasis on creating melodies has also been brought back full on. The majority of the riffs, lead lines and solos (both guitar and keyboard) are instantly memorable and a lot of thought has clearly gone in to creating hooks to draw the listener in. I must also add the production sounds huge and mostly very clear. A lot of similar bands go for a very dense sound to make the album seem heavier and more brutal overall but doing this loses space for the music to breathe. On Halo of Blood producer Peter Tägtgren has done an excellent job giving each instrument the space it needs to really shine. The album still sounds heavy and angry, but there is a certain clarity about it that other bands could learn from. A massive, uncompromising wall-of-sound approach does not always work and this is an example of an alternative that does.

The album gets underway with Waste of Skin that instantly recalls the band of old. Guitar and keyboard fuse well in the intro to create a memorable lead before Alexi Laiho's trademark raspy vocals take over. His vocals sound better than ever on this album and he sounds much more menacing than before, making greater use of his lower register then previously. Of course, there is a technically brilliant guitar solo in the middle of the song and, despite the heaviness, the chorus is catchy. It ends with a sample from an old horror film, which again brings back memories of the band's old albums. The album's title track follows and this follows the more riff-based approach of the more recent albums. Some excellent blast-beat drumming from Jaska Raatikainen in the chorus shows that the skill here goes beyond flashy guitar/keyboard pyrotechnics but also does cloud the clarity of the song slightly. Thankfully, as mentioned earlier, the production on this album is mostly excellent and this sort of thing is few and far between. Scream for Silence is up next which is a melodic mid-paced rocker with a snaking riff replete with pinch harmonics and backed up by some excellent keyboard work from Janne Wirman. It is the most tuneful song of the album so far with lots of melody in the instrumentation and even in Laiho's vocals. This proves that the band do not have to be playing at break-neck speed to be interesting! First single Transference follows (with an excellent, creepy video - see below) with a slightly more commercial sound. The verses are simple, yet heavy and backed up by some doomy keyboards before the catchy chorus comes in. The keyboards that follow Laiho's vocals here are very 'power metal' and create and excellent contrast with all the overt heaviness going on. Children of Bodom have never been afraid to sound cheesy and it works to great effect here. The guitar/keyboard duel in the middle is excellent too, with lots of talent on display.

Bodom Blue Moon (The Second Coming) is up next (it seems each album has to have a song that contains the word 'Bodom' in the title!) and it again is more reminiscent of the recent albums. The power metal-style keyboard runs are still out in force however which helps the song to remain catchy and the trademark gang vocals are back in force here during certain parts of the song. The next highlight is Dead Man's Hand on You which introduces something new to the band's sound - clean vocals! Do not worry, the band is not turning soft, as they sound excellent and really fit the dark mood of the song. The clean guitar, piano and atmospheric intro really suits having clean vocals sung over the top of it but it does not last long before the usual harsh vocals take over. This is a slow song, and if you have ever wondered what a melodic death metal ballad would sound like then I think this is it! There is also an excellent keyboard solo in the song. I have always liked the way that Children of Bodom use the keyboard as a lead instrument instead of just relegating it to create an atmospheric backing. Damaged Beyond Repair follows with a metalcore-style main riff/drum pattern. Lots of double bass drumming help this song along and the guitar interplay between Laiho and Roope Latvala is tight and clever. While Laiho is always the star of the band, Latvala's rhythms and occasional extra leads are just as important for the overall sound. A couple of moments in this song in particular highlight this for me. The next, and final highlight, is the closing track One Bottle and a Knee Deep that is another really solid track full of melody and aggression. I really like the main verse riff in the song, plus the lead guitar line underneath the chorus is also excellent. Overall, this album could be called a return to form for the band. While their past couple of albums have some excellent songs between them, this seems to possess a certain urgency and energy that those albums lacked. Once you're the champions, you need to keep proving your worth among the competition and Halo of Blood should raise Children of Bodom back to the top of the melodic death metal tree.

The album was released on 7th June 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Transference.

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