REVIEW: CHILDREN OF BODOM – “Hexed”
Children of Bodom has always been an unfortunate victim of their own legacy. Coming out of the gate with successful consecutive releases during their early years established a preconceived notion in the mind of fans of what Children of Bodom should sound like. It’s this onerous heritage that the band has held onto throughout their career while striving to grow and ‘one-up’ their fast melodeath sound to further their overall appeal. This often didn’t hit the mark it intended to and as a result, has left many fans longing for a return to the band’s roots. While Bodom’s most recent offering “I Worship Chaos” was dubbed as a return to form for the band, their 10th and latest studio album Hexed sees the band progressing even further down that path and realizing the power of their legacy and how to utilize it to take their music forward for a modern audience.
The first thing that stood out on Hexed was the considered approach to songwriting that Bodom has used. This was apparent on “I Worship Chaos”, but seems to have really hit refinement strides on Hexed, the likes of which haven’t been seen by the band since their “Are You Dead Yet” years. The songwriting approach makes tracks on Hexed really feel fleshed out and purposeful through their timing changes and nuanced structures, but the band has also used the new album as an opportunity to try some new things. While songs like the title track, ‘Glass Houses’ and ‘Kick in a Spleen’ feel familiar to classic Bodom and exude their trademark aggression and speed; ‘Hecates Nightmare’, ‘Under Grass and Clover’, and ‘This Road’ are a bit different and dial down the aggression for a stronger rock or progressive vibe. These songs are all objectively different in their delivery and incorporate newer stylistic elements to give themselves a unique feel, and it’s a welcomed change from the band.
Vocally, Alexi Laiho has continued on the journey that he has been going on throughout his career. It’s still more of his same gravelly sharp vocals delivering well-constructed lyrics, but it feels a lot more organically delivered and less forced this time around. Additionally, his guitar work is at its always exceptional level of brilliance, with many songs being driven by his fast-paced fretwork.
The addition of Daniel Freyberg on his first recorded outing with the band is also quite noticeable, both in a sonic sense and also from a songwriting perspective. While the band has maintained that fairly ‘samey’ sound in their songwriting throughout their career, Freyberg’s inclusion definitely feels like it has given the band a broader perspective of ideas for Hexed. The two distinctly differing guitar playing styles are well layered on this album, giving each guitarist their own moment to shine. In addition, while the songs on I Worship Chaos at times felt devoid of having that authentic feel of having a second guitarist due to Laiho writing all of the guitar parts following the departure of Roope Latvala, Hexed overall feels like an extremely synergistic package that has had the full involvement of both guitarists from the very beginning.
It wouldn’t be Bodom without mention of the keyboard work, and again Janne Wirman has managed to create key passages that feel strikingly familiar, yet different and innovative at the same time. It is also worth mentioning that the band’s seamless transitions between Laiho and Wirman during solos are again present, and the title track principally demonstrates the cohesion that these two artists have with each other and how they can effortlessly transition the same passage of music between their two instruments.
Propping the melodic side of the band up though is the backline of Henkka Seppälä on bass, and Jaska Raatikainen on drums. While there aren’t any real strong points to drive home in relation to the bass, being respectable and what would normally be expected from a Bodom album, the drumming of Raatikainen feels like it has more of a groove to it than ever before. It audibly sounds simplistic when first listening to it, but spending some time with it you can identify that it has a feel and emotion behind it that hasn’t necessarily come across in the band’s music for some time. This is perhaps best exemplified on tracks ‘Under Grass and Clove’ and ‘Platitudes and Barren Words’.
Track-wise, the album holds a good blend of styles across its runtime. At 11 songs long, the 45 odd minutes that the album is playing never feels like a forced listen. Hexed has taken a more conservative approach to its album pacing over the usual ‘million miles per minute with a slower song thrown in here and there’ strategy that many of the band’s previous albums have shown, and it makes it much more appealing to digest without feeling tiring or boring. The re-recorded version of ‘Knuckleduster’ off the “Trashed, Lost and Strungout” EP to close out the album is likely to catch many fans by surprise, and the band has picked the perfect time to re-invigorate this underappreciated track with the song blending seamlessly in with the rest of the album.
The album isn’t without its faults though, with the most obvious criticism relating to the mix. While there is predominantly a general balance to the overall mix, there are circumstances where the drums sit too high and drown out or distort the vocals or other instruments. This occurs infrequently, and is most apparent on album opener ‘This Road’, but was still enough of a lingering consideration after a few repeated listens. While there are also other very small and easily overlooked blemishes throughout, these are more than likely personal gripes and were ultimately inconsequential in the scheme of the overall album.
Make no mistakes, Hexed is a strong release from the Finnish quintet and one which not only pays respect to their past and shows how far they have come during their career, but also highlights how far they have left to grow, particularly in light of the injection of new blood into their ranks. This release isn’t likely to blow the pants off the broader metal community that are searching for the next big thing, but it does mark the second coming of a beloved band that people still look to for inspiration some twenty-five years on in their career. While not without its drawbacks, this is still an enjoyable album and is definitely a good showing from what feels like a Children of Bodom that is finally realizing their full potential.