'Hexed' - Children Of Bodom / Turned Up Louder
Coming off the back of their 20th anniversary tour last year, Children of Bodom returned to the studio to record their tenth album Hexed and their first since the addition of rhythm guitarist Daniel Freyberg. Ten albums is no mean feat for any band, but it is a particular achievement for the Finns who have pushed the boundaries and blurred the lines between genres so much throughout their career to get to this milestone. Unfortunately though, their new album has not been as highly anticipated as they might like. Not all of the previous nine albums are equal in the eyes of most metalheads, and in particular their later albums have come in for their fair share of criticism from fans and the alternative media alike. Their blend of atmospheric melodic death metal and technical wizardry on guitars and keyboards had them leading the way for alternative metal in the early 00’s, but recently they have shunned this innovative edge for more standard riffs and grooves that have smacked of complacency and often led to them being forgotten about in much of the discourse on heavy music.
Having said this, the pre-emptive release of the album’s first single ‘Under Grass and Clover’ back in December and the album’s opener ‘The Road’ did raise hopes amongst long-standing fans of the band that Children of Bodom may be on their way out of their rut. Certainly, starting the album with ‘The Road’ is a statement of intent if ever there was one. There is no slow fade-in here – just a furious thrashy intro that sets the song off on a terrific pace that is maintained until the end. Under Grass and Clover’, which is the next song, on the other starts off with a much more melodic riff, but this is soon met with a pummelling rhythm section. This is used to great effect in both the verses, where Alexi Laiho screeches his trademark vocals over the background bass and drums and in the chorus where the guitars kick back in for a powerful uplift. The song also features one of many excellent keyboard solos from Janne Wirman which help made the band so distinctive, particularly in their early years.
Despite the fury of these two songs, they are probably the lightest and most accessible songs on the album. The following tracks are all far more intense songs, though in slightly different ways, which show that Hexed is not just about a simple return to the past, but also about celebrating everything that makes Children of Bodom so distinctive. ‘Glass Houses’ ups the tempo once more and bulks out the sound a bit more; whereas ‘Hecate’s Nightmare’ is far slower and incredibly menacing, making it the first song which really lives up to the expectations set by the dark and brooding album cover, and also featuring an especially mind-melting guitar solo form the multi-talented Laiho. The next song ‘Kick in the Spleen’ turns everything up to ridiculous both in turns of speed and brutality, fully earning it its title. The third single form the album ‘Platitudes and Barren Words’ was only released last week, is possibly the strongest on the album. If not the strongest, it is certainly the catchiest and the one which benefits most from a detailed approach in both the writing and production of the album.
Although the melodic hooks, stellar riffs and immensely talented solos continue throughout the album; the second half of it is notably a bit of a step-down from the first. Songs such as Relapse (The Nature of my Crime) and ‘Soon Departed’ have all the right elements in them, but lack the direction and staying power of other songs on the album. The album finishes on an interesting note though with ‘Knuckleduster’, which is a song that first appears on their 2004 EP Trashed, Lost & Strungout. Perhaps this is the biggest indication of all that the band too have been looking back to their glory days for inspiration to bring into 2019. Hexed is not quite up to the standard that Children of set so high all those years ago, but it is a definite return to form. Indeed, it is their best release since 2005’s Are You Dead Yet? which should please their fans greatly and may even win them a few more along the way.
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