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The second coming. - 70%

Diamhea, January 22nd, 2014

Released to little fanfare, just like Relentless Reckless Forever before it, Children of Bodom's latest opus has once again resulted in a massive paradigm shift in the public opinion of the band, only this time to their benefit. I still can't help but feel like these guys are continuing this on-and-off pattern of going halfway back to their early sound in an attempt to win back their original fan base, only it really seemed to work here. Just like Blooddrunk before it, Halo of Blood attempts to hearken back to the group's earlier sound, only this time more convincingly and enthusiastically. While still a far cry from even Hate Crew Deathroll, the material here is definitely a step in the right direction.

To go positive first, Halo of Blood features two mid-paced, atmospheric romps in both "Scream for Silence" and "Dead Man’s Hand on You". The band is at its best during these slower tracks, and on each of their previous albums (save for maybe Are You Dead Yet?) the mid-paced numbers were always the most convincing and as a rule showcased the band's melodious edge at it's finest. Quite ironic for a band lauded for their high energy above all else. Alexi is also vocally more tolerable and less monotonous here. He shifts into a half growl-half shout during some passages, and his inflection is less intelligible than on the last few albums, so another move in the right direction.

What is really missing here for the most part are the triumphant melodies that were present on albums even as recent as Are You Dead Yet?. You can hear the band trying to replicate past glories as far as phrasing and playing style are concerned, but just like the past two albums, the melodies often start strong yet never fulfill their melodic potential. I understand that the band is going for a darker atmosphere here, and an easy way to do that is to inject a dissonant edge to the proceedings. The prime issue with that approach is that it guts what is perhaps Children of Bodom's greatest asset: the catchiness. Some tracks, such as "All Twisted" and the title track can get away with it due to a superior riff set, but it renders most tracks not already mentioned forgettable.

The lack of keyboards is again a concern. Wirman is again going for the atmospheric approach for the most part, and he ends up shadowing his performance on Hate Crew Deathroll minus the keyboard solos. Even the last album had one killer keyboard solo on "Roundtrip to Hell and Back", a card that Halo of Blood sadly doesn't have in its deck as they are all forgettable scale runs. There are sporadic keyboard leads, but they are almost always harmonized or doubled-up with the lead guitar, rarely taking center stage. While Raatikainen at least delivers a fairly interesting performance on the kit, Latvala continues to do nothing interesting, as the album could have really used a second mind to spark variation in the guitars.

The band also sacrificed a lot of their recent heaviness on a more natural sounding mix. The guitars have never been more buried, especially the rhythm section. The leads will make this album a keeper to most listeners, but I for one miss the crushing groove of tracks such as "Sixpounder" and "Living Dead Beat" here on Halo of Blood. It isn't a deal-breaker, however, as this is still a good listen with at least four or five tracks that can hang with anything the band has released in the past decade. Keep it going guys, you are halfway there.