A recent survey of possibly dubious reputation has determined that Finland is officially the world’s most metallic country. This hardy Baltic republic contains more heavy metal bands per head of population than any other. So, here I’ll raise a metaphorical glass of vodka to this country, where tinnitus is just a way of life, by reviewing the first career retrospective of one of the most internationally successful of all Finnish bands.
Formed in 1993 in the city of Espoo, Children of Bodom are essentially a showcase for the talents of singer/ songwriter /lead guitarist Alexi Laiho. Although critical consensus suggests their career highspot is their fourth album (2003’s Hate Crew Deathroll, which was a big commercial breakthrough), I’d argue that all the elements of their sound were in place from day one. Indeed, they immediately created a very distinctive niche in which they have operated in since their 1997 debut. They generally are labelled ‘melodic death metal’, which isn’t inaccurate given that their songs usually have strong melodies, and their sound loosely resembles In Flames, the Swedish band who encapsulate this subgenre. However, I’d add the caveat that Finnish metal usually has a more quixotic edge than the output of their Scandinavian neighbours in Norway and Sweden. CoB do include other influences in the mix, as there is a punky, thrashy element to their art; generally their songs are faster and (ironically) livelier than most death metal bands. Also, their heavy use of keyboards show a kinship with symphonic metal. And that’s before we get to their keenness for cover versions….but I’ll save that for later. (As an aside, the ‘Genre Debate’ section of their Wikipedia entry is very amusing, as they are linked to nine separate subgenres, including one which has been apparently invented to describe their bespoke sound.)
This is a non-chronological collection is a testament to how consistent they are. Containing tracks from all their albums, it concentrates on their more accessible efforts, and as such serves as an ideal introduction to the band. Soaring melodies abound, and it’s easy to marvel at Alexi Laiho’s ability as a guitarist. His ultra-fast shredding is surprisingly disciplined, as he delivers tight solos with no hint of excess noodling. Their music is so well-balanced; nothing gets in the way of the brutal riffs, but those riffs are stapled to catchy tunes. And, even as Janne Wirman’s keyboards threaten to add gloss to the picture, the rasping vocals and raw guitar sounds prevent proceedings from becoming too polished. As for the songs, my highlights occur where chorus break out into what British people like myself might describe as a ‘football terrace chant’; the gloriously nihilistic ‘Hate Me!’ falls into this category, as does the scintillating ‘Are You Dead Yet’ and the keyboard-dominated ‘Blooddrunk’, the latter being possibly their most commercial moment. If I have a criticism, it’s that the lyrics often descend in a tired cartoon Satanism that evokes schlocky horror movies. It’s perhaps telling that their album sleeves always literally feature the Grim Reaper. This isn’t overly important though, simply because Laiho’s vocals are so distorted, it’s usually impossible to work out what he’s singing.
As a final note, I’ll return to the subject of the band’s love of cover versions. Often these are logical choices of songs by Iron Maiden, Slayer, The Ramones and so on, but occasionally they slip out of their comfort zone and take on Kenny Rogers and even Britney Spears (believe me, you don’t want to hear what they’ve done to ‘Oops, I Did It Again’…). For this compilation, they’ve specially recorded two new covers. Firstly, they tackle Celtic folk-punkers Dropkick Murphys on ‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’. They make this sound like any of their self-written songs, with only a widdly Irish folk melody in the chorus line betraying its origins. The other cover, of Rick Springfield’s ‘Jessie’s Girl’, demonstrates a taste for 80s cheese previously witnessed on their earlier cover of Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ and is great fun.
Make sure you book your holiday at Lake Bodom today. Just remember, it’s cold up there, so pack your thermal underwear….