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I never did really like Children of Bodom. I always wrote them off as another overhyped, undertalented byproduct of the modern metal movement. But then I heard Something Wild and, try as I might, I can’t help but enjoy the damn thing. Here on their debut, their unique OTT brand of extremist power metal is fresh and uncompromised by the growing popularity that would trendify their later work. Here everything is insane, but well-placed, leading to a product that is, for lack of a better phrase, truly something wild.
The primary pack-separating aspect of this band is their extreme take on what would otherwise be standard ‘ol melodic power metal in the vein of Stratovarius. They demonstrate this in several ways. Firstly, the drumming is uncharacteristically intense, incorporating blast beats into power metal in a manner that would not be again attempted until Dragonforce did it half a decade later. This, coupled with the heavily distorted guitars, has even led some to go as far as to call this thrash metal. While it’s not even close, that is the kind of sonic intensity this calls forth, even on the jaded listener. Secondly, and much more noticeably, is frontman Alexi Laiho’s vocal performance, which is one of the band’s defining aspects. No soaring falsetto or catchy melodies to be found here: Laiho utilizes a raspy roar that would be much more at home in the realm of black metal, but it grows on you as the album progresses. Thirdly, elaborating on my last assertion, there are no catchy VOCAL melodies to be found on the album. Guitar melodies are an entirely different story, as Laiho’s Bach-inspired guitar work, while not quite at the level of say Michael Romeo, is nonetheless pleasing to the ears, serving as a unique contrast to his harsh vocals. Lastly, there are full-time keyboards at work here, at times similar to the way they are utilized in Sonata Arctica (must be a Finnish thing). Of course the context is entirely different due to the band’s sound, but they add immensely to the album atmospherically (as keyboards often do) and serve to enhance the guitar melodies rather than compete with them the way they do in Malmsteen’s work (though these guys do imitate Malmsteen at times). There’s a fair amount of interesting breaks involved as well to add even more variety to the compositions. To be fair, the orchestra hit sound gets somewhat annoying (this isn’t the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, after all), but the various string, choir, and harpsichord synths are more than welcome.
Structurally, the songs are just as over-the-top as the music itself. What the music lacks in abrupt time signature changes and overtly progressive elements it makes up for in non-cyclical riff progressions. Rarely does it seem that these guys adhere to traditional song arrangements, choosing to just add riff upon riff, seasoned with leads and interludes, until the song’s end. In a way, this further affect the band’s catchiness, already impeded by the rough vocals, but it’s only a problem if you see it as one.
The only problem I can really find with this album, aside from the occasional lack of catchiness, is the lyrics, which were supposedly mostly improvised at recording time. It shows: there’s nothing here worth repeating and at times it’s even a bit embarrassing. But since the words are mostly indistinguishable anyway (aside from the chorus of the first part of “Red Light in my Eyes”), it’s hardly a scratch on the surface of an otherwise fantastic debut. Shame they couldn’t keep up the pace they set on here, as their future releases merely shadow this one. Ah well, they gave us one classic, that’s enough for me.
Highlights: “Deadnight Warrior,” “Lake Bodom”