I’m supposed to be outraged by this? Ugh, I think people drastically overestimate Children of Bodom, that’s the problem. I think they saw an artistic glimmer in those early albums, and now they’re distraught because it’s gone. But, c’mon, laying heavy expectations the band that wrote songs like “Hate Me!” and “Taste My Scythe” is a little naive. Here’s the bottom line, COB were and will eternally be a good times heavy metal band. They used to play some of the fastest, most jaw-droppingly acrobatic rock music on the planet. Now they don’t. Now it’s slower. That’s basically all there is too it. Old = Fast. New = Not so much. But, it’s still the same band. The vocals are still ridiculous, and the lyrics are still moronic. On the same note, the riffs are still really clever, even though they’re not so fast. There are still enough squeal harmonics to raise the hair on the back of your mullet. And, of course, Alexi Laiho is still channeling the ghost of Eddie Van Halen. Keyboards … blah blah blah.
“Next in Line” is one of the best songs this band has ever written. The construction is pretty standard; thrashy opening riff, chunky verses, thrashier bridge, and then this brilliant cascading dual guitar harmony of the type that earned this band its ducats. Remember those dazzling interludes in songs like “Deadknight Warrior” and “Follow the Reaper” that got you into Children of Bodom in the first place? Yeah, man, it’s just like that. The title track is pretty reminiscent of “Angels Don’t Kill”, another mid paced track off their previous album, Hatecrew Deathroll. Again, it’s not about the speed, but the delivery. I’m actually surprised this song worked, with the dissonant arpeggios and not-so-melodic solo. However, there’s another one of those shiny intervals that is sent absolutely through the roof by the melodic compliments added by bassist Henka Blacksmith.
I don’t want to trick you into thinking this album is flawless in the process of defending it from its jilted detractors. The transition from neoclassical to industrial is pretty discouraging. Sometimes it makes for cool tunes, but the body of riffs in songs like “Punch Me I Bleed” and “Living Dead Beat” play like nothing more than space filler between guitar and keyboard solos. These guys are capable of more than that.
I’ve also got some minor production gripes. The guitar tone here is really…dry and mechanical. It’s not unbearable, but really takes the flavor out of some of the tastier riffs. The bass is gratifyingly present though Kudos on that.
Polarizing bands like this usually get shafted on both ends when they take their music in a different direction. Are You Dead Yet? is too slow, too Americanized, too whatever for the old heads. And those who never took this band seriously in the first place will probably refuse to believe that COB are in fact extremely tight and capable of some compelling songcraft. But, I’m willing to blow all my street cred by admitting that this album is pretty fun. Whatever, there’s a Britney Spears cover. Just buy it.
Both the most reviled and celebrated extreme metal band, Finland’s most exalted musical export has just released its fifth album, Are You Dead Yet?, and it will undoubtedly break many an old fan’s heart while winning more and more of the so-called Hot Topic crowd over.
Make no mistake. This is a self-sustaining band, meaning it’s looking to support its members personal lives solely through the music it creates, outside endeavors be damned. These guys aren’t working as high school janitors between studio sessions so their albums have to sell, one way or another. You can either choose to believe that vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho and gang are continuing to preserve its schizophrenic brand of extreme metal while pushing elements that are both appropriate additional layers to its speed metal roots and accessible to a larger population, or you can make the argument that they’ve pushed the band’s accessible elements so far to the forefront that any ounce of the brand/style the group established with earlier releases like Hatebreeder has evaporated.
Contrary to popular belief, if you were receptive to Hate Crew Death Roll, there is no guarantee that you will like Are You Dead Yet?. True, the two both embrace thrash more readily than Something Wild, Hatebreeder, and Follow the Reaper, but the degree to which the two individually adopt industrial and thrash sensibilities is so vastly different that making the argument that one’s ability to like both is one in the same given one’s liking of HCDR is completely asinine. I fell in love with HCDRimmediately, and Are You Dead Yet? has been a grower, and a slow grower at that.
With the addition of Roope Latvala, guitarist for speed metal titans Stone, I was naively hoping for a return to a more frantic pace. The incorporation of more industrial tones was completely unexpected, to say the least, but that’s exactly what one hears within the first ten seconds of this album, and I can only imagine how many loyal, older fans will emit groans upon first listen. I remember reading how much of a disappointment this album was from other writers, and I couldn’t help but want to bitch slap every single one of them after hearing the first three tracks, which, although slightly industrial, are all solid. In fact, “If You Want Peace…Prepare for War” is now one of my favorite CoB songs. With crushing speed and melody, it sounds like a product of a Hate Crew Death Roll recording session, and there are a few songs from this album that fit that description, namely “Bastards of Bodom,” “Trashed, Lost & Strungout,” the title track, and most of “We’re Not Gonna Fall.”
Most of Are You Dead Yet? is boring, and therein lies all of Children of Bodom’s current problems. CoB is supposed to be that fun extreme metal group that shits all over the pretentiousness of the rest of the genre with wickedly positive-sounding riffs, a lack of seriousness, originality, and playful themes. Are You Dead Yet? is watered-down CoB, laden with slower, often times more depressing songs. All I’ve read thus far from reviewers is how much Maiden influence can be heard on this album, and there are two problems with that: 1. There are no noticeable Maiden influences outside of a few seconds in “We’re Not Gonna Fall” and 2. CoB is best served with as few outside influences as possible. What made Bodom so attractive in the beginning was this sense that one was listening to something original. Very few extreme metal bands were combining such unrelenting speed and aggression with melody. Which leads us to a question and its ironic answer. Question: What is CoB without melody and speed? Answer: Are You Dead Yet? Well, at least this band will be dead to the underground so long as it continues to play this slow, boring brand of pop metal.
Poor Children of Bodom. They do one tour with Lamb of God, Fear Factory, and Throwdown and all of a sudden their once rabid fanbase is crying “nu-metal!” It probably didn’t help that their last album, Hate Crew Deathroll, came out of the gates strong but grew tiresome after repeated listening. This one seems to be having a reverse effect, actually improving over time. How long that will last, I don’t know, but for now, I’m perfectly content to scoff at the traitors and call this a damn fine piece of metal.
Has the band changed? Indeed they have. Whether its for better or worse, though, is entirely subjective. Personally, I found some of their earlier work as being a bit heavy on the wankery for wankery’s sake. I love a good lead as much as the next guy, but it’s got to have a place in the song. In that regard, the band’s songwriting has only gotten stronger. Frontman Alexi Laiho still loves to masturbate on the six-string, but the reckless abandon has been replaced with singular focus. “Living Dead Beat” may be their best album opener since “Deadnight Warrior”. The title track and “If You Want Peace, Prepare For War” have these great sing-along choruses that are sure to please crowds and give more than one pit fiend a reason to knock an unsuspecting victim on their ass. On the down side, “Punch Me I Bleed” sees the band slowing things down a la “Angels Don’t Kill”, and I find myself checking my watch to see how much longer this one is going to last. Also, my testosterone pumps and my IQ threatens to drop to jock levels on “In Your Face”, when Laiho screams, “I don’t give a flying fuck, motherfucker!” over and over again. Great in conversation, the line doesn’t translate well to music. “Bastards of Bodom” is vintage CoB as guitars and keyboards trade licks like they did on Hatebreeder.
I feel obligated to talk about the two cover songs not included on the U.S. version, and are only available in Europe and/or Japan. First up is Britney Spears’s “Oops I Did It Again”, a deliciously odd choice that comes out positively surreal. Its pretty much a straightforward rendition with guitars in place of whatever heartless machine produced the original music. Weirder still are the seemingly sampled vocals of Mrs. Federline reminding us that she’s “not that innocent”. Ultimately more of a novelty than anything. Much more enjoyable is Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me”. In a time of hair and sleaze, Poison were some of the hairiest and sleaziest, as this testosterone-fueled track reminds us. Of course, even they couldn’t rock it like this – double the punch, double the balls.
Children of Bodom spent years helping to pioneer melodic death metal (or progressive black metal, depending which subgenre official you speak to), and are now content to rest on their laurels and make albums that may not innovate, but are still great for rocking out to with an air keytar. This one may sneak its way onto my top ten list when all is said and done.