Many (other than hard-core Bodom fanboys) lovers of the melodic death scene, justifiably, have a kind of love/hate thing going on with Children of Bodom, but people denying that Something Wild (Spinefarm Records) and Follow the Reaper (Spinefarm/Nuclear Blast) are anything less than classics of the genre are being wilfully contrary, in some sort of weird sceptic denial, or simply being ignorant.
It is fair to say, however, that pretty much everything else after that became either self-plagiarising or pedestrian, replacing Bodom with Boredom as the sound has become ever more focussed on speed and regurgitation of the same old licks, riffs and hooks. The last two releases finally signalled some new directions, and I’m pleased to be able to tell you that Bodom’s latest offering I Worship Chaos (Nuclear Blast) continues that step up, though I don’t think they’ll ever match the straightforward brilliance of Follow the Reaper.
Finally ditching that dated, reedy, bee-in-a-box sound for something more modern and meaty provides instant aural novelty, but it’s not just the guitar sound that’s new here as a lot of growing up is reflected in this work. I think ego has been a huge problem for this band over the last decade – it has turned each release into either a competition speed-fest or a quick ‘n’ dirty excuse to get back out on the road – but this album feels painstaking and heartfelt. All the usual Bodom elements are here of course, but there’s a great deal of new (for Bodom, at least) ground broken.
‘I Hurt’ is a strong opener and a classic Bodom track, but the slower tempo and improved sound allows you deeper into the song and validates your reasons for liking Bodom in the first place. ‘My Bodom’ is a pretty simple, “less is more”, affair that’s all the stronger for it. ‘Morrigan’ is a big surprise, as it wouldn’t sound out of place (vocals aside) on a Blind Guardian album! The titular ‘I Worship Chaos’ is a shout-a-long crowd pleaser. ‘Hold Your Tongue’ is reminiscent of old In Flames and ‘All For Nothing’ could almost be a ballad if it had sing-song vocals. Lovely.
So all in all, I Worship Chaos is well worth an hour or so of your time and some of your hard-earned; a continuation of the return to form for Finland’s heroes.
“Unfortunately Roope and us, we went our separate ways” sighs Children of Bodom master of ceremonies, synths, spells and sonic illusions Janne Wirman as he contemplates the first change in the Finnish symphonic speed metal monsters line-up in over ten years and the departure of axeman Roope Latvala. “I think it matters to the fans too, to not have too many line-up changes” he states, clearly aware of the effect a change of personnel can have on a fan base and their loyalty to certain periods of a bands’ career. “There hasn’t been too many line-up changes ever, and we are a family and need to keep it that way. It was unfortunate what happened with Roope, and one of our strengths had always been that we keep a constant line up.”
Ninth album I Worship Chaos comes riding out of a blizzard on the back of 2013’s Halo Of Blood (both Nuclear Blast), a much vaunted firestorm of a return to form after the disappointments of their previous two releases Blooddrunk and Relentless Reckless Forever (Spinefarm). Darker in places, nonetheless …Chaos covers everything you’d want and expect from a Bodom release. “I think that sums it up. It’s a bit darker, but also catchier and more straightforward” Wirman agrees.
Changing the dynamic at this stage of the game, with a decade long stability broken against the backdrop of a band back on an upward curve, could have been a setback, but the timing of the change wasn’t one that adversely affected the Scandinavians. “(Roope leaving) was right around the end of the writing process, and fortunately the album had been written with two guitars as per normal.” It’s not unknown for one guitarist to record the majority of the part in other bands – indeed, James Hetfield and Scott Ian are known to record everything bar the solos in their not-insignificant bands – and Bodom had a ready-made replacement in mainman Alexi Laiho.
“It was not a problem – it meant Alexi played all the guitars in the studio, which was really not a problem for him because he can play both parts. It sounds crazy, but it wasn’t that different,” confirms Wirman. Seeing as the remaining four Children have been together since 1997, it’s no surprise that the change of second guitarist hasn’t derailed them in the slightest. And in terms of maintaining that family feel, Roope’s replacement was someone well known to the band. Or, at the very least, to the keyboard player.
“My brother, Antti, stepped in to help us with the live shows, because right after studio, we went on tour straight away.” confirms Wirman. “Luckily he had free time to join us for the summer and he is a great guitar player. I always felt he was one of the best ones in Finland, but he never landed a proper band. I’m so glad we’ve found someone within the family we all knew really well and it’s been a lot of fun. He’ll tour with us until the end of the year and then we are going to announce a new member for the band early next year.”
When we spoke about having to respect that which makes Children of Bodom distinctive, one of those elements is Wirman’s own role in the band. From the outset, the band has utilized keys as a lead instrument, and not just for ambience or to pad out a sound. Keys were treated with suspicion by some of the Guardians of Kvlt in the mid-90’s, but they’ve always been at the forefront of the Bodom sound.
“The keyboards are very crucial part of our trademark sound, especially with the early stuff. Then, the keyboards were really in your face and that helped set us apart and gave us a unique sound. Over the years we’ve experimented with things, sometimes we’ve had complaints that there are not enough keyboards on certain albums. I’m happy where we are at now with the sound; the new album sounds how it should sound keyboard-wise”. Including a sparring match between Wirman and Laiho. “That whole song, ‘All Or Nothing’, is pretty non-CoB-ish! But we decided it’s our ninth album, we can do what the fuck we want, so we put some weird-ass jam in there!”
Yet, playing keys in 2015 is a different beast to Wirman’s early days with the band. “It was very different when we started. We are so fucking old that our first 3 albums were recorded on tape, on DAT, and that was a huge pain in the ass!” he laughs. “You couldn’t do any of the quick fixes. With hard drive recording you can just hit undo if you fuck up something. Back then, you really had to know how to play, you had to practice whole passages and really, really nail them. I’m glad we’re that old we had to use the tape machines, because I would definitely be lesser of a musician if I didn’t have to do it that way.”
“I’m going to be producing a pop singers album”, Wirman continues, divulging that after recording the Bodom album at his own studio he is exploring his opportunities as a producer. “Then I’m recording an album for my brother’s new band. I love to do the studio and I’m hoping to do more work with that.
“But as much as love studio work, and I hope to do more of it when I have free time, for me the live, touring side of Children of Bodom is my main thing. We release albums to go back on tour. When the crowd is going mad, and you’re part of that, that’s the best thing!”
And as Wirman prepares for that rush of touring once again, what will the legacy of I Worship Chaos be? To those outside the band Halo Of Blood is hailed as the comeback album… What of its successor? “Maybe it’s an external feel, as it wasn’t quite like that for us. Though we keep hearing it; a lot of people are saying that Halo…was a comeback and this is a continuation. So, it must be true!” he laughs, with a modest tone in his voice.
“There is always pressure at this point in our career. You want to keep it fresh but not alienating all your fans, and have to keep all the key elements in there too. Judging by the feedback and the reviews, we have succeeded with this new album.”
With a career spanning 25 years, Amorphis are a true powerhouse in the Metal scene, and with the arrival of their twelfth album, it seems there is nothing that will stop them from going on for another 25. Under the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast), is a testament to the skill and heart of these musicians. It is perhaps a tad heavier than most of their recent work, but it is once again filled with amazing licks, lyrics, and compositions.
The title track has an excellent intro with guitar and piano gently combined before diving face-first into the metal. Throughout the album the vocals switch the between a beautiful, crisp voice and deep grunts. There does seem to be more grunting than on the previous few albums, and this corresponds to the rest of the music. Much of the middle section of the album has a lot of elements of Black Metal, and Tomi Joutsen’s deep grunts are well suited to the style. ‘The Four Wise Ones’ is probably the blackest of the songs, while ‘The Skull’ combines Power, Progressive, and Black Metal into something heavy yet uplifting, with surprisingly sensitive twists. ‘Death of a King’ adds a delightful whistle over the grunts and heavy riffs.
But not all is heavy or blackened on this album; ‘Sacrifice’ is pleasant yet dark Power Metal, while ‘Tree of Ages’ is definitely barking up the Yggdrasil of Folk Metal. There is a spacy keyboard solo in ‘Enemy at the Gates’ and even a somewhat bluesy mini guitar solo in ‘Dark Path’, which also features a stunning intro with piano and acoustic guitar.
One of the absolute highlights is the album closer ‘White Night’, with its hauntingly beautiful female vocals and well as lovely melodies in the male vocals and guitars. Of particular note is how the beats of the drums and vocals alternate in the chorus to create a very unusual yet captivating sound.
One of the most impressive elements in Amorphis’ music is the flow of the guitar licks which, unlike in many other bands, doesn’t stop as soon as the singing starts. In ‘Under the Red Cloud’, for instance, the motifs continue behind the chorus. The effect is one of great vivacity. Another winning ingredient has to be vocalist Tomi Joutsen, because of the great variety and energy he brings to his vocals.
All in all it is clear that Amorphis have once again delivered an excellent selection of music.
When songwriter and producer Tuomas Saukkonen wound down his previous melodic death metal vehicles Black Sun Aeon and the more well-known Before The Dawn it was with the intent to put together an act to be even more successful, more focused and for the component parts of all his musical projects to date to be brought together in one central outpouring. Initially a solo project that has developed into a fully-fledged band, Wolfheart initially self-released Winterborn within their native Finland only in 2013.
With acclaim aplenty surrounding the self-release, it is no surprise that Saukkonen is celebrating signing to Finnish powerhouse label Spinefarm by agreeing to re-release the début to begin the build up to their hotly anticipated sophomore album, due later this year. But just what is it flicking the bean of the lupus-hearted?
Quintessentially Scandinavian (and pretty obviously Finnish) Winterborn sees Wolfheart pulling together all the elements of melodic death metal that we all know and love, from galloping rhythms, gravel-throated vocals, memorable leads, at times aching, and melancholic chord sequences to darker, more epic songs, stretching and slowing the pace. While Insomnium may be the leaders of this particular pack, Wolfheart are ready to pounce and tear out their throat and assume pack-master status at the first sign of weakness, with songs like ‘Strength & Valour’ and ‘Ghosts of Karelia’ summoning powerful and rousing uptempo riffs, followed shortly after by the more expansive ‘Chasm’.
With two bonus tracks (‘Isolation’ is a keys and acoustic reflective instrumental interlude and ‘Into The Wild’ more traditional Wolfheartian Katatonia meets early Amorphis fare) being the carrot dangled in front of your donkey faces, along with the album (legally) being available outside Finland for the first time, there isn’t much to tempt you to pick this up if you already have a copy, whether obtained by hook(y) or by crook. But if the fangs of this particular canine haven’t sunk into your brain yet, and Scandinavian melodic death metal is the fur coat that keeps your ears warm of a winter evening you could do far worse than pick this up.
Considering Spinefarm released a re-mastered version of Ecliptica in 2008 resplendent with new packaging and bonus tracks, in order celebrate the 15th anniversary of their debut, Finnish melodic Power Metal masters Sonata Arctica had to do something different, so chose to head to the studio to re-record it. As you do. The intention seems honest enough, with only vocalist / mainman Tony Kakko and drummer Tommy Portimo playing on the original, and with songs from what is a genuine genre classic still featuring heavily in their set, the rest of the band wanted to pay tribute to the original.
So, where do we stand on re-recordings, people? Yep, thought so, that seems pretty unanimous to me… I’ve yet to come across a re-recording where the original has been improved upon too. While some are worthy curiosities worth a listen from time to time, the best example being Anthrax’s The Greater Of Two Evils (Sanctuary) – which was a compilation of older tracks with John Bush on vocals rather than a straight re-record – in the main, they are creatively redundant, futile efforts. And don’t get me started on Kings Of Metal MMXIV (Magic Circle).
The re-record is slicker and “sounds” better, with Kakko’s vocals less fresh-faced and more professional, it does lack the naivety and, well, charm, of an original that had a rawer guitar sound, less polished mix and more ‘oomph’ to it. The key of several of the songs, most notably opener ‘Blank File’, has shifted down a notch or two to better suit Kakko’s range, and some of the solos have switched between instruments.
But, minor aesthetics aside, it is pleasing to report that, at least, they haven’t fucked around with it and Ecliptica – Revisited; 15th Anniversary Edition (Nuclear Blast) is pretty much a straight re-record. Why is this pleasing? Surely you’d want the band to do something different? Nah, because different isn’t always better and this faithful re-imagining serves a reminder of just how good the songs are and just how promising a band Sonata Arctica were in their early days.
Ultimately, it must be said, this is a very, very respectable re-recording of a great album, and about as a good a job as could be done to stay true to the original, but as with all of these types of things, the original is the King. If the debut didn’t exist, I’d be reigning down recommendations on this from on high – Ecliptica is a classic for a reason, all in, a collection of great songs.
The 15th Anniversary Edition, I’m sure, was fun for all concerned, but if you’re interested in dipping into the Stratovarius influenced Power Metal world of Sonata Arctica at their peak, pick up the originals of the first three.
Following up from their demo Season of Sacrifice earlier in the year, Amidst the Trees (Forever Plagued) is the debut album from Finnish two-piece Taatsi. Taking their name from a sacrificial stone located in northern Finland, everything about the band image conveys a connection to nature and ancient spirituality, retreating from humanity and returning to the earth. It is apt then that they describe themselves as ‘Nature Mystical Black Metal,’ with each track fitting firmly within atmospheric black metal.
At just 30 minutes long, the album cycles through keyboard melodies backed by mid-paced guitar harmonies and topped off with distant screeches from vocalist A. When done well, atmospheric black metal can transport the listener to cold and distant lands, carving out vast mental landscapes of forests and mountainous peaks. Taatsi however have failed to inspire, lending more to directionless meandering lacking any real sense of progression.
While the keyboards go some way to creating mystery, from opening track ‘Malign Ghost of the Wood’ to closing track ‘Hunts in the Night’s Mind,’ they dominate the sound, forming a constant barrage of noise.It doesn’t take long for the sound to become tiring and repetitive, lacking in any real inspiration or new ideas throughout with only slight changes of style in tracks like ‘Gateways of the North’.
Amidst the Trees has nothing new or inspiring about it. The constant inoffensive and repetitive nature of the album leaves it languishing and ultimately, although the album plays at earthly spirits and ancient wisdom, it fails to really inspire or capture any depth of the imagination.