Friday, October 2, 2015

Album Review: Children of Bodom - "I Worship Chaos"

Children of Bodom has long since passed the point of necessary introductions, so the instant question for their new album “I Worship Chaos” becomes ‘what do we need to know?’  Well, here’s the rundown.  There’s one fundamental change to the band this time around, which is that rhythm man Roope Latvala is gone and was not replaced, which leaves leading idea man and axe magician Alexi Laiho alone in lifting the band’s heavy guitar weight.  So for the first time ever, we now see the Finnish metal masters as a four-piece, which means an altered workload for bassist Henkka Seppala and keyboardist Janne Wirman.

The record begins with the nominal helping of CoB’s powerful and characteristic flair.  “I Hurt” is both a certified earwig of a song with a big chorus and a great hook and also a thudding maul that relentlessly strikes the anvil time and again.  This kind of single has become part and parcel for the band, the kind of tunefully punishing anthem that has long served to distance CoB from the rest of the pack.

Not to be outdone, the album continues into “My Bodom (I am the Only One)” which is essentially a variation on the same song and also a stylistic throwback to the heady days of “Follow the Reaper.”  The song builds to a major crescendo on multiple points and accents Laiho’s underlying rhythm with a welcome heavy dose of Wirman’s keyboards, which is a tactic the band hasn’t utilized as much of in recent years.

Yet, what strikes most about “I Worship Chaos” is the way that long sections of the record…well, aren’t chaotic at all.  There’s a lot of new look from CoB this time around, a cadence that shifts slower and channels that speed into low-gear power.  Not necessarily in the headbanging capacity, but in the infectious simplicity of rock rhythms that allow these songs to be more than bite-sized chunks of accelerated death.  The band’s hand is steadier for this record, which not only shows some diversity in the band’s landscape, but also the confidence to take the risk.

Sure, it’s a more mature sound with greater deliberation and less purely virile frenzy, but that’s hardly something to note in the loss column.  “I Worship Chaos” wants you to hear and feel it beyond just letting it breeze by and pick you up in swirling winds.  It’s a new face for CoB, but not a bad one.  “Prayer  for the Afflicted” is a totally new face of the band, injecting something bordering on sentimentality into the usual metal proceedings.  In the intervening space, Laiho uses his talents to craft an artfully executed solo, which sacrifices his usual biting speed for a soulful, borderline inspiring presence.  It’s a change of pace and paradigm that requires a little getting used to, but the end product is one of the album’s better selections.

“I Worship Chaos” essentially works like a cosine wave, starting with the ferocity of “I Hurt” and dipping into the drama of “Prayer for the Afflicted” before coming back again.  There are fluctuations of both idioms on the album’s second half, as the title track pounds cement with galvanized fists, but then “All for Nothing” immediately takes us back to a more introspective place.  Nevertheless, the album concludes high on tempo and excitement with “Widdershins,” (which means essentially to go counterclockwise, but also sounds like the name of a Welsh rugby club.)  The finale’s outro is interestingly marked by a chain of punchy guitar chords played in repetition, sounding curiously like a hardcore anthem, but it still fits the overall picture of the album.

So for the first time we see Children of Bodom as a four piece, and the result is a record that is in many ways superior to the previous album “Halo of Blood.”  The measured pacing and deliberate delivery are both nice additions to the general deck of CoB and make for a more versatile experience that can adapt to different listening situations.  The band is no long simply a straight-ahead bullet train, and while they were great then (“Relentless, Reckless, Forever” is one of the all-time great records,) this new affect gives extra dimension and a greater array of possibilities down the line.

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