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Finnish melancholy goes MZA - 72%

kluseba, May 26th, 2014

Finnish melodic death metal band Children Of Bodom is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial and famous metal bands around the globe. Many people claim that the band keeps releasing the same record all the time, with only minor changes between each release. This is definitely true, but at the same time the band has developed a signature sound with heavy riffs, melodic guitar solos, stunning keyboard sounds, rebellious lyrics, and the dirty vocals of Alexi Laiho. I often hear people say that the band’s last great record was “Hate Crew Deathroll”, now more than ten years distant. Personally, I also liked the controversial “Are You Dead Yet?” quite a lot, but must admit that the last two studio releases “Blooddrunk” and “Relentless Reckless Forever” were only of an average quality. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the band’s greatest hits release that came out one year prior to this release, entitled “Holiday at Lake Bodom”. It included the amazing new covers of Dropkick Murphy's classic “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” and especially Rick Springfield's jealous stalker anthem “Jessie’s Girl”. Usually, I’m not at all into greatest hits releases as they lack atmosphere, coherence and tend to warm up old things but in this case it was different as all essential Children Of Bodom songs were finally united on one well filled record. When I read several positive reviews of the new “Halo of Blood”, I noticed a lot of people saying that this album was the band’s greatest record in at least ten years. I figured there was hope for me, and I immediately tried out the new release.

The first single, “Transference”, immediately appealed to me. The great duels between guitar and keyboard go back to the band’s roots, and sound much more joyful and unchained than the darker and heavier records that the band has released in recent years, despite the dark lyrics and the creepy video clip.

Despite my positive first impression, after giving the entire new effort two spins I felt a little bit disappointed. It’s a little hard to describe, but it feels like the band basically did another "safe" record with their typical trademarks, and rarely offers anything courageous or outstanding. Let’s take the opener “Waste of Skin” as a perfect example. The song is energizing and fast, offers solid riffs and a great guitar solo, some dominant keyboard passages, and powerful vocals. This sounds positive, but the whole thing sounds directionless, has no truly catchy passages, and feels like almost any other song from the band’s early years. It’s definitely not a bad track, but I miss the certain something that makes it stay on my mind. From that point of view, I really preferred a more developed and modern opener like “Living Dead Beat”... nine years ago – I think I’m getting old! Many tracks are exchangeable and have exactly the same problem on here, or are even less interesting than the opener.

The two songs that really stand out on this release are “Scream for Silence” and “Dead Man’s Hands On You”. The first track has a very melancholic melody that I would describe as very identifiably Finnish. The beautiful instrumental work of this mid tempo track reminds me a lot of other Finnish bands like Eternal Tears Of Sorrow or even the great Amorphis. The only difference is the vocal work of Laiho. While this kind of song sounds a little bit unusual from Children Of Bodom, I feel positive about this experiment and the song shows a lot of potential. I wish the band would have done more tracks of this quality, and hope for it on their future releases. “Dead Man’s Hands on You” is one of the most unusual, and perhaps one of the best tracks that the band has ever written. It’s a slow and atmospheric half-ballad with great keyboard work and dark spoken word passages. The song keeps on developing, and offers a very diversified and passionate vocal performance which instills a very melancholic atmosphere. The longest song on this release has a truly majestic feeling, and is filled with enough creative ideas to remain intriguing until the end.

Of course, one also gets some of the band’s famous cover songs on the limited edition version of this release. I was really pleased to hear that the band picked “Crazy Nights” by the legendary Japanese heavy metal institution Loudness which I like a lot. Even though Alexi Laiho’s vocals sound very limited in comparison to the original, the band has well-“Bodomized” the song, and it’s definitely the catchiest track on the entire release. The band simply knows how to pick great songs to cover. The other bonus song is a Roxette cover - “Sleeping in My Car”, which is a rather unusual track, and that’s exactly why it's so interesting to listen to.

In the end, the question you have to ask yourself is as follows: Are one good single, two truly creative and impressive tracks, and two cool cover songs enough to purchase an entire album at full price? This record is surely a step in the right direction, and better than the last two albums, but still not on the same level as the group's early material. Die-hard fans will surely get their hands on this record anyway, but more casual fans will be more likely to buy this album at a reduced price sometime around Christmas. Personally, I might just wait for another high quality greatest hits record to come around in another thirteen years or so, and would advise listeners to simply keep their precious money and just be patient.

Originally written for The Metal Observer