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I will kick right into the review stating that Children of Bodom are definitely back in the right direction. For almost a decade, most of us have been crying out for them to get back to their black metal-influenced, speed-driven sound and they have returned to just that. Halo of Blood is every bit what we wanted them to do and I daresay, there are some moments where they even exceed our expectations!
Talking about the overall sound of the album, it is halfway between being raw and being well-produced. The musical ideas pretty much wander around old school death, thrash, and black metal, giving us that raw, cold sound. On the other hand, a much more watchful effort has been taken to ensure that all instruments are heard in the best possible quality. The vocals and lyrics have also improved and have a fervent belligerence to it. Most notably, Dead Man's Hand on You, which deals with romantic emotions towards the Indian goddess, Kali...something I never expected Children of Bodom to do.
Alexi and Roope have concocted some really intense guitar work both in terms of the structuring of riffs and showcasing of their technical prowess. I personally am one of those few people who was not completely put off by the guitar work in the last couple of albums and it has now become evidently better, in Halo of Blood. The main reason is that the leads and melodies are driving the songs more than often and it adds up to the catchy-ness and flow of the songs, while Roope's rhythm section is strong and innovative.
Keyboards have always been a HUGE element of Bodom’s sound and while they are still there doing what they are meant to do, I felt certain parts could have had them a wee bit louder in the mix, especially in songs like Waste of Skin and Halo of Blood, as they are almost not to be heard with just some feeble choirs. However, there are some really melodic and technical keyboard solos this time around with admirable consistency. Scream for Silence, in particular, comes to mind. My only complaint with the keyboard parts, apart from them being negligently mixed, is that they continue to blindly accompany the guitars, which was NEVER the case in the first two albums. Janne Wirman should stop keeping his best ideas for Warmen (which is stupid to say cuz that is just an uninteresting, pop rock side project nowadays with only two instrumentals per album) and instead fully keep Bodom as his main focus. I hope he uses some new patches and "individually composed parts" so that it's not just Alexi who takes all the credit for songwriting.
Jaska was always an underrated drummer in the metal scene, but with the return of relentless blast beats and fast double bass work, he redeems his position as one of THE metal drummers out there. Not just in the fast songs, but also in the slower numbers like Dead Man’s Hand on You, he handles the drum lines with absolute composure and taste. It was a bit disappointing to see Henkka not getting that much to do, but he provides a solid backdrop to add to the heaviness of the songs.
As for the best song on the album, I would hand it over to Bodom Blue Moon. Simply because its the kind of song that Bodom are actually meant to be delivering. Both in terms of composition and skill, this utilizes the pinnacle elements from Bodom's arsenal. The intro itself is a guitar/ keyboard unison run with a change in key signature, something that might be a solo for certain bands out there. The chorus section is one of the tastiest arpeggios ever played by Bodom and the song has probably one of the most melodious guitar solos ever by Alexi to add to their humongous list. The song ends with a pinchy, death-thrash riff that culminates into a weird, alien-esque keyboard solo by Janne, which I am sure is gonna be immensely difficult to learn how to play.
This is the album where Bodom have embraced the Hatebreeder sound with some of the intensity of their latter albums. It is the kind of return which none of us expected, but were wanting very badly. If this is the direction they are going to take, then I am certainly a happy man!
Must listens: Halo of Blood, Scream for Silence, Bodom Blue Moon, All Twisted.