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There has probably been no European metal band more innovative and more important in the twenty first century then Children of Bodom. In no short order, the band has created a new strain of melodic death metal that many critics believe is worthy of getting its own sub genre and they have legions of fans in virtually every corner of the world. Despite their acclaim however, Bodom had been in a band in a state of decline. Between experimenting with industrial influences, Alexi Laiho injuring himself at a bowling alley, the band member's rampant alcoholism, and probably all the global acclaim, resulted in the band producing three albums that were so so at best (eg. Blooddrunk) and god awful at worst (eg. Relentless, Reckless, Forever). The Bodom boys seemed more energetic about covering Eddie Murphy (for the record, I like their pop covers), Janne Wirman wanted to have more drunken homosexual innuendo ridden encounters with Alexi then play keyboard, and Alexi himself seemed like he was a slowed down, drunken shadow of the metal guitar master that he once was. Fans of the band then had honest questions to wonder where Children of Bodom were going to do when they found out that they were making a new album for 2013, and I imagine they expected Bodom to only regress further, making us long more and more for their amazing first four albums from yesteryear.
Instead, Bodom have done a near 180 degree turnaround. In the span of a few years, Children of Boodm shed themselves of most of the elements from their past three albums, reinserted most of the good stuff from the first four albums, and have come up with one of the best albums they have ever created. Children of Boodm have done something special with Halo of Blood. Not only have they "returned to form", but they have actually managed to create music that, at several times, sounds like nothing the band has ever done, and all of it is resoundingly successful.
Critics who reviewed this album before me have noted two things that separate Halo of Blood from Are you Dead Yet, Hate Crew Death Roll, and Relentless Reckless Forever. First and foremost is the abandoning of the ever growing feel of chugging that you can hear on all Children of Bodom albums after Hate Crew Death Roll. Right from the opener, Waste of Skin, Halo of Blood is littered harmonies that are strung together as good as Alexi and company have done since Follow the Reaper. Though the harmonies and their transitions are not quite as accomplished or epic as that album, they more then make up for lack harmonies on the last three albums. Not only that, Halo of Blood finally puts to bed the idea that Alexander Kuoppala's departure and Roope Latvala's introduction as Bodom's rhythm guitarist was somehow detrimental to the band, an argument that I am happy to see die after this album.
The other aspect of Halo of Blood that critics have noted is keyboardist Janne Warmen's return to prominence. Janne's performance on Halo of Blood is a highly commendable one, returning with some of the jazziest and slickest work he has done on a Children of Bodom album. Using a mix of sounds from the synths of Are you Dead Yet to harpsichord keys that were so prevalent on Follow the Reaper, the keyboard work on Halo of Blood is the best that Children of Bodom has done in years. The key lines provide some of the eeriest ambiance that has ever been heard on a Children of Bodom album, with the orchestration on Dead Man's Hand on You being one of the most beautiful that Janne has ever played, and his performance is thoroughly impressive.
And there are even more "return to form" elements. Alexi's guitar solos, after being somewhat lacking on the three albums that preceded Halo of Blood, have returned with a vengeance, being some of of the fastest and most accomplished that he has done. The chanting background vocals, a hallmark on Bodom's earlier albums, are back in a much more full force role, opting for one to two word shouts rather ten the whole lines of words that were so prominent on Relentless, Reckless, Forever. Jaske Raatikanen brings one of the most inspired performances he's ever done on a Children of Bodom album, breaking out blast beats on the title track the likes of which he has not played since Hatebreeder. There is even a visceral improvement in Alexi Laiho's vocals, vocals which have never sounded more guttural or vicious then ever before.
Credit also must be given to Peter Tatgren, the producer of this album. Tatrgen, for those who do not know, was the producer of Follow the Reaper, and his contribution deserves a little bit of praise. Perhaps sensing a need to get back to basics, Bodom enlisted Tatrgen to help guide them in the direction that they had taken up earlier in their career. While I do not know exactly how much Peter contributed to the overall composition of Halo of Blood (chances are it was probably was not as much as I think), the production values and mix on this album are top notch. Children of Bodom albums are not meant to be "walls of sound" or extremely loud. They are not meant to bombard the listener with an overload of sound waves. Tatrgen opts for a mix very much akin to Halo of Blood, with very dirty sounding guitars, more organic sounding drums, and high levels of vocal production. It is an impressive album to listen to, and I cannot thank Tatrgen enough for making sure it was.
Is Halo of Blood perfect? No, not by any stretch. Does it have it's flaws? Sure. The band still seems to want to get into a few unnecessary palm muting chug sessions, but those are livable and fewer then they have been then the past three albums. Are there times when I think there is still too much singing and not enough instrumentation? Sure, yet I am willing to overlook that. Perhaps the album's biggest flaw is that at times Bodom seems too eager to atone for past mistakes and simply redo certain songs. For example, Scream for Silence sounds like a redux of Roundtrip to Hell and Back (from Relentless, Reckless, Forever), with better arrangements and a stronger composition. The same goes for Your Days are numbered, which is an almost shameless redo on Blooddrunk's track Smile Pretty for the Devil. The last thing I want Children of Bodom to do is try to go back and correct past mistakes, I would prefer if the band just moved forward and learned from what they did rather then try to correct what they have already done.
Despite these flaws, Halo of Blood is a great album by Children of Bodom, and the first truly strong album they have done in nearly eight years. Getting back to the fundamentals of their sound while making improvements in certain areas, Children of Bodom have shed away any signs of rust and decay that may have been apparent on the past few albums and instead shine brightly like a great star over the Scandinavian sky. So grab yourself a copy and let Alexi and company show you back to Lake Bodom, because times are good for Finland's leading guitar master and his motley crew of talented musicians.