Children of Bodom are one of the few metal bands who actually sound like they’re having fun being a metal band. Not that other bands aren’t having fun, but how many other bands use keyboards as giddily, or scream lyrics as hilariously straight forward as Bodom?(A real lyric: “Would you ever really think that I dug you, hit me with a shovel if I do,” from the just as humorously/awesomely named “Shovel Knockout.”) They never reach Iced Earth or Blind Guardian levels of cheese (of which I’m grateful), but there is a lightness to Bodom that’s refreshing. Because any humor and lack of pretense is a rarity in the metal scene, their latest album, Halo Of Blood, is a bit of a letdown. It’s not a terrible record, but here they play a little “heavier” and more seriously than in the past and in the meantime lose what makes them unique.
Lead single “Transference” is a good example of the album as a whole. The bridge has a neat syncopated riff, and the melodic guitar in the chorus is pretty cool, but that rush that marks the best Bodom tracks is absent. It’s the same with most songs on the album. While Halo of Blood is just as technical, it isn’t as “relentless and reckless” as past records. Rather, it feels more heavy and serious, like they needed to prove they’re a real metal band and not just a talented group of musicians having fun. Just listen to the Spotify album commentary and count how many times they call a song “super dark” or “super heavy.” Good for them for achieving their vision, but I just wish that along with being “dark” and “heavy” they added “fun” as a priority.
There are a few moments that remind listeners of classic Bodom quality, like opening track “Waste of Skin” and “Bodom Blue Moon,” but songs like “Damage Beyond Repair,” “Halo of Blood,” and “Scream for Silence,” while strong, lack the hooks and breathlessness of just about every song on Hate Crew Deathroll. It also doesn’t help that they only ever play loud and busy, without ever holding back so that they can hit full speed again with increased impact. That’s par for the course with Bodom, but it’s more of a problem here since the playfulness that used to engage is missing.
So while most of the songs are acceptable, if unremarkable, “Dead Man’s Hand on You” hits a career low. Guitarist and vocalist Alexi Laiho does this weird croak, rasp thing with his voice that sounds like the ghost chick from “The Grudge” just woke up from a bender. Put bluntly, it sounds stupid, which is a shame because the song breaks Bodom tradition by utilizing some very nice piano and clean guitar in the verse. It’s great to see them try out new ideas, but those vocals just suck, and it doesn’t help that with its sluggish tempo, it’s the longest song on the album. Just skip this one, you’re not missing anything.
So depending on why you enjoy listening to Children of Bodom, you’ll either walk away from Halo of Blood satisfied or disappointed. If you just like how Laiho and co. can maneuver around their instruments, then you’ll no doubt be pleased. They play just as fast as they ever have. If, however, you were attracted to their gleeful bombast and lack of adherence to typical metal seriousness, then you’re better off listening to past records Follow the Reaper or Hate Crew Deathroll.