Review Summary: By rediscovering their roots while also managing to progress naturally, Children of Bodom have crafted what is easily their best album in a decade.
Any band willing to experiment with their sound must face an inevitable crossroads at some point in their career: do they continue catering to their original fans while retreading old material, or risk alienating them in pursuit of a new direction? Finnish melodic death metallers Children of Bodom have been facing accusations of “selling out” for the last decade, as recent releases have seen the band incorporating components of thrash and industrial metal, while partially abandoning their heavy emphasis on melody. With Halo of Blood, however, the band has reignited the spark that made their early work so brilliant, combining elements from both phases of their career to form their best album since 2003’s Hate Crew Deathroll.
The album rips open with “Waste of Skin,” a vicious tune that fits into the “stadium metal Bodom” category. Rife with delicious guitar leads, triumphant gang vocals, and lightning-fast drums, the song not only sets the tone for the album, but introduces listeners to a completely rejuvenated band. Bodom haven’t sounded this visceral in a decade, and the following title track only ups the ante. On “Halo of Blood,” the group reaffirms its black metal origins with plenty of blast beats, creepy keyboard textures, and tortured vocals – which, by the way, are a high point on this album. On 2011’s Relentless, Reckless Forever, it sounded like 14 years of larynx-shredding screams were finally taking their toll on lead vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho. This time around, the 34-year-old singer sounds as fresh and volatile as on their most-acclaimed early output, as do his band mates.
Other highlights include “Transference,” which features a classic dual guitar/keyboard lead in the chorus (sounding like a Sonic the Hedgehog theme song in the best way); the dual-lead breakdown in “Bodom Blue Moon;” and some of the band’s best riffs to date in “All Twisted.”
Bodom have always been at their best when retaining their melodic death metal roots. Recent, more thrash-oriented releases have seen them trade catchy hooks and solid songwriting in favor of blinding speed, but on Halo of Blood, the band has found the perfect blend of melody and muscle. The album’s 10 tracks whip by at an astonishing speed, yet never seem rushed. For such technically demanding material, the instrumentals are never overbearing. The leads are tasteful, the rhythm section tight and concise, and the entire product has room to breathe.
The pacing could be largely attributed to the album’s one huge curve-ball. Track seven, “Dead Man’s Hand on You” opens at a crawl, with a clean guitar, atmospheric keyboards, and Manson-esque whispered vocals. After about a minute, the song comes crashing in with venomous growls and razor-sharp guitar and keyboard solos, never quickening tempo all the while. It’s probably the slowest tune Bodom have ever recorded, as well as their biggest stylistic departure. But contextually it works, and offers listeners some breathing room before the album’s crushing final third.
Children of Bodom have lost some sense of direction over their last several releases, but on Halo of Blood, they seem to know exactly what sound they want, and achieve it brilliantly. The band has kicked the overall musicianship and songwriting up several notches, and rediscovered the deadly combination of thrash, death, black, and power metal implemented on their best albums. By getting reacquainted with their roots while simultaneously progressing musically, Children of Bodom have not only crafted their best work since 2003’s Hate Crew Deathroll, but written one of the best albums of their career.