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Ah, Children of Bodom... probably the most influential and greatest melodeath band ever (in their prime that is). While In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and At the Gates pioneered the genre, Children of Bodom took it to a whole new level, mixing it with power, neo-classical, and black metal influences that fascinated the heavy metal world and inspired countless bands to follow in their footsteps, While some good acts like Norther and Imperanon came out of the Finnish melodeath/power metal scene soon after, none of them came close to matching the perfection that Bodom achieved with their early albums.
It always annoys me to hear Bodom fanboys constantly praise 1999's Hatebreeder" as their strongest release. A good album yes, but in my opinion, vastly overrated and does not come anywhere close to "Follow the Reaper," which is perfect in every single aspect. There is not one bad song on this album, each track is completely original and composed in its own unique way. The musical format is considerably more straightforward than its two predecessors, as it focuses less on the shredding and more on the songwriting. That's not to say that this isn't one hell of an impressive guitar album, but the band drops the 15 riffs a song format and instead develops a formula for using less, but more heavy and tighter riffs. The classical influence is still here, although less prevalent, and honestly, that works much better here unlike Hatebreeder, when it was used just a little too excessively. On "Follow the Reaper," they get it just right and perfect the concept of fusing technicality, with excellent songwriting for an outcome of just pure delicious, refreshing melodic death metal.
After listening to "Follow the Reaper" for who knows how many times it's been now, I still can't find a single flaw. It's probably been said and heard a thousand times already but I cannot emphasize enough just how talented Alexi Laiho is. He possesses every single aspect of what makes up an excellent guitarist. His technical ability alone is impressive but what makes him so special is how his playing SOUNDS GOOD. Each solo is carefully composed with a specific purpose, that transitions from one part to the next like a story. And while he shreds like the one of the baddest motherfuckers the world has ever seen, he always incorporates structure, melody, and emotion with absolute mastery. And did I mention that he was only about nineteen years old when he wrote this? From the technical brilliance of "Kissing the Shadows" and "Children of Decadence" to the emotional soloing in "Everytime I Die", Laiho delivers the finest guitarwork of his career, and any guitar player who listens to this record all the way through surely can't deny that he is one of the masters.
While the impressive guitar work is obviously a main staple here, the keyboards are what really make the album if you ask me. Take them away and all of a sudden "Follow the Reaper" loses that icy feeling and half of the melodic juice it contains. Oh, the intro to "Mask of Sanity," it sends chills down my spine every time I hear it... To all you cheap carbon-copy melodeath bands out there, this is how it's done. They aren't over-saturated fills that are there just to be there, they're always providing their own useful contribution to the music. I've never been a huge fan of key shredding, but it works well here, as both musicians are at the top of their game and form a tight partnership, as Alexi and Janne trade off solos, harmonize, or simply layer their individual parts into an eargasmic outcome.
"Follow the Reaper" really is mostly all about the guitars and keys, but that isn't to diminish the accomplishments of the other areas. Jaska's drumming is tight as always, and something that is really enjoyable about "Follow the Reaper" as opposed to later Children of Bodom records is that Alexi was still a decent vocalist who wrote semi-decent lyrics as opposed to more recent efforts. The vocals are where the black metal influence comes into play, and as my heart bleeds for black metal, I personally love it and wish Alexi's vocals didn't go down such a generic road in later records. Here, his voice possesses a vicious, black metal rasp that complements perfectly with the icy atmosphere of the music. The lyrics are pretty much normal Bodom stuff about the Lake Bodom murders, suicide, alcohol, and all that lovely shit. Nothing too artistic about them, but then again, who actually listens to Children of Bodom or this style of music in general for lyrics?
"Follow the Reaper" set the bar high for melodeath back in the year 2000, a bar that countless bands tried to shoot for, but could never quite match. Maybe that's why the genre has gone downhill since, including the band themselves. But that's another matter. What Children of Bodom achieved with their first four albums is set in stone and forever hailed as masterpieces in the hall of heavy metal. This is it right here, the strongest offering of a band in the prime of their career, and arguably the most definitive and greatest melodic death metal album ever. Just sit back, relax, and let the reaper engulf you in melodic, breathtaking darkness.
Highlight Tracks: Follow the Reaper, Children of Decadence, Everytime I Die, Mask of Sanity