Friday, September 28, 2012

Children of Bodom - Follow the Reaper (2000)

It’s a testament to the power of the almighty riff that an album can be absolutely dynamic, fulfilling, and even groundbreaking without purveying a real amount of depth. In this case, the swirling clouds of guitar and keyboard notation dance in pissed-off harmony to create one of the most special listening experiences that the metal world has ever had to offer. Children of Bodom showed great promise with the loose, aggressive Something Wild, and reformed that passion into the taught, formidable foray into neo-classical melodic fury that was Hatebreeder. However, in Follow the Reaper, they attained the perfection of this formula, to a degree of quality and artistic success that they haven’t come close to since, save for it’s direct follow-up, Hate Crew Deathroll.

As with Hatebreeder, the formula is to simply follow Alexi’s lead as he spirals out like a lightning storm covering the earth, each guitar line a razorblade, slicing along with its comrades to create a veritable hurricane of cutlery, moving with precision and skill wrought in the fires of pure, beautiful melody. As immortal as the leads, solos, harmonies, and epic guitar/keyboard battles were in Hatebreeder, I feel they are no less than twice as strong here. Suffice to say, this is perhaps the most immediately infectious album I have ever heard, and its bright, celeritous bombast is endlessly invigorating, having only grown in my heart within the past dozen years.

Follow the Reaper is 38 minutes of up-beat, lightly blackened melodeath with the spirit of pure rebellion, riffing and snarling with concision and attitude. Alexi Laiho’s vocals have taken on a purely high-register blackened yowl, and though the classical elements have been downplayed, he more than makes up for their absence with his own melodies, which are without exception perfect. His unique, identifiable style was really coming into its own here, and framed by the dynamic interplay of keyboardist Janne Warman, they veritably soar past the clouds, atmosphere, distant galaxies, and whatever deity you believe in, spitting in his face and giving him the finger for good measure.

Of the 9 songs here, only one exceeds 5 minutes, the beautiful blast of Children of Decadence, whose needling leads twirl you around its finger before cracking you in the jaw with its chorus, an affirmation of wild brotherhood. Every song is a life-long highlight, though, from Bodom After Midnight with its pumping, spindly, grooving melodies, Mask of Sanity and its sheering, downright Asian keyboard emanations, the utterly satisfying leads in Hate Me!, or the end of Kissing the Shadows, which contains the best guitar/keyboard solo I have ever heard in my life, and the best of the bands career. In fact, every track contains such an exhibition, and even after almost a dozen years, they remain equally as captivating and impressive as the very first time I heard them.

This is not a record of complexity or depth, beyond the astounding skill of its two main melodic monsters as they playfully battle, and it doesn’t need to be, not at all. The pure strength of the songwriting is still perhaps the catchiest thing I’ve ever heard, always unceasingly creative in its natural flow, with memorable choruses abound. Most of all though, and a point I must reiterate from the Hatebreeder review, is that Follow the Reaper is just plain fucking fun. It is an absolute masterpiece in its own simple way, and I cannot think of an album I have more legitimate, excitable fun listening to, as its cheery, raucous spirit just works so well with my sensibilities. I certainly understand the point of view of people who accuse Bodom of being flashy, but come on, you’d have to be a snarling, twisted, lame little troll to deny these obvious, impeccable charms.

This is the pinnacle, folks. Though the following Hate Crew has a bevy of charm, it is not quite as strong as this, as they began to integrate elements to gather popularity, while sacrificing integrity, a trend that would inevitable almost destroy them, and one they have yet to fully recover from. Follow the Reaper, though is absolutely pure in its energy, spirit, and notation, a crystalline monument that stands at my personal summit of melodic metal, along with a handful of other releases that will some day be revealed. It’s so unabashedly simple, and so absolutely glorious, that for me, it is immortal.

A 100% review is painfully over-utilized these days, often denoting nothing more than the next dose of ADD glory someone has listened to twice and thinks is ‘fuckin epic man’ (Fleshgod), but it’s not an act I take lightly at all. 100% denotes perfection to the person in question, and not only that, absolute timelessness. If you give something 100%, and you’re not listening to it for the rest of your life, you have failed at the art of critique. I say that not to demean, but to lend gravity to my own sense of responsibility in attributing such a score. I realize my passion here is not one shared by the metal populace at large, and this kind of happy, flashy metal will not appeal to everyone, but if you’ve been holding out on this based on popular opinion, I beg of you to consider otherwise, and at least give it a chance.

The glory of early Bodom is not in ruminating emotional depth or haughty intelligence, but the glory of being truly alive, reveling in stark, stunning, beautiful immediacy. You can think way too hard, worrying about all manner of things like the past, future, the meaning of it all, or that pimple on your nose, and let those weighty thoughts and insecurities rule your opinion and heart, but it’s only when you concede yourself to the moment that you truly live. So loosen the fuck up, put on Follow the Reaper, have another beer, ask that girl (or guy) you’ve been thinking about to go to a show, or just eat some mushrooms and run around in the rain. Just stop thinking and live for a minute. Follow the Reaper thrives on this thrilling sensation of ‘now’, just having a load of fun doing its thing, not giving two shits if you like it or not, and that’s its endlessly pervasive charm, one that eclipses almost all other melodic metal ever made. That’s it. That’s all. It’s just so much goddamn fun, and that’s perhaps the most important thing of all. As I get older, the more ridiculous and abstract life gets, the more important an album like this becomes. When it all comes down to it, we’re just amusing ourselves in the void, and I can think of no better company than a record of such wonderful, boisterous, belligerent, and downright elegant charm.

10 / 10 - The Saint of Scythes