CHILDREN OF BODOM - Hexed
March 13, 2019, a year ago
The easy, but untruthful, Children Of Bodom narrative is that this Finnish band peaked commercially back in 2005 with Are You Dead Yet? and it's been all downhill since. As with many things, reality is more complicated than the linear way of perceiving things. Though 2008’s Blooddrunk was pretty much universally thought to be a disappointing follow-up to Are You Dead Yet?, each of the albums that followed Blooddrunk - Relentless Reckless Forever, Halo Of Blood, and I Worship Chaos - had moments that rivaled the best of Bodom's catalogue, though none of these efforts in their totality could match the unparalleled critical and commercial success that Bodom enjoyed between 1999's Hatebreeder and 2003's Hatecrew Deathroll. Both Relentless Reckless Forever and I Worship Chaos, despite their boasting titles, left listeners cold for a good half of the time, while Halo Of Blood was wildly inconsistent. Still, like Megadeth's latter-day work, if you take the best moments from those three albums, you get a pretty strong Bodom LP (and, for the record, the highlights of this hypothetical Relentless Halo Of Chaos would, without a doubt, be "Northpole Throwdown", "Your Days Are Numbered", and "I Hurt").
So, yes, Hexed finds itself brought into the world in a context of mid-career semi-doldrums for Children Of Bodom. Again, there's been nothing awful about most of the Bodom catalogue since Are You Dead Yet?, but we haven't been genuinely and magnetically impressed in the way Hatebreeder, Follow The Reaper, and Hatecrew Deathroll managed all those years ago. Which is natural, of course: most band catalogues peak towards the beginning for so many reasons that we don't have the time to get into here. But the truth is, as someone who still regularly listens to the aforementioned classic Bodom albums (and, after many, many, (many!) spins, have finally declared Follow The Reaper to be the group's best, followed by Hatrecrew Deathroll), it's not like all that much was expected of Hexed given the last ten years or so of Bodom output. I mean, this isn't the how-will-they-disappoint-us-this-time of In Flames but it's also not like Hexed was provoking feelings of excitement like a new Entombed album (please let this happen!) either.
But we should have known better. Hexed, it seems, was announcing Bodom's re-birth to us both visually and aurally. In terms of visuals, the album cover is the first not to feature a highly stylized/computer graphic-esque grim reaper, and instead is an old-school painted cover reminiscent of many '90s classics. In terms of the songs, first single "Under Grass and Clover" is something we've never heard from Bodom before, the track's main riff being almost a complete major note melodic progression instead of the usual minor note dischord. When taken together, Hexed's first impression seemed to scream, "Things are different this time!"
And while they are indeed different because the cold, mechanical, indifferent feel of the last three albums is thankfully gone, things are also the same. But, this time, "the same" means Hatecrew Deathroll. Seriously. Though not as grandiose and perfect as Hatecrew Deathroll, Hexed is a total throwback to that era of Bodom's career. The attitude-is-everything riffs are back, as are the leads that seem to re-affirm Alexi Laiho's love of the guitar and all the hyperbole it provides. In a sense, it's jarring to hear Bodom so alive again but it's also welcome as the band whose rise once seemed unstoppable has finally lived up to its potential once again (and, lest you think that "unstoppable rise" bit is an exaggeration, this writer will never forget seeing Bodom on the same bill as a major metal headliner - with fans as devoted as they come - in 2006 and noticing that the crowd was almost completely made up of Bodom t-shirts, even though Bodom had no merch on sale that night. It was, literally, a jaw-dropping and surreal scene).
Of course, despite the acclaim, Hexed isn't perfect. The album has the very annoying habit of adding totally out of place technical parts right as a song is absolutely peaking (it's the same thing Max Cavalera does in Soulfly a lot of the time, except Max will throw in a mellow, dub part to everyone's frustration) and there are a couple of tracks that feel maybe like the songwriting inspiration battery was draining (or drained) by the time they were written. As well, as expected, the first three singles ("Under Grass And Clover", "This Road", and "Platitudes And Barren Words") are among Hexed's best moments. But, really, the overwhelming sentiment during so much of Hexed is that this is such a welcome return to form, Children Of Bodom once again a snarling band that's half influenced by extreme metal and half obsessed with huge, '80s rock choruses and solos. Welcome back, Bodom.