Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Children of Bodom - Hatebreeder (1999)

From now on we are enemies. You and I. Simple words, a simple statement, but one that acts as a prelude to an album of such character and excitement as to give me shivers to this day. I like to think this is an utterance from the guitars, as they challenge the keyboards to the epic 38 minute battle scene about to take place, to the detriment of your ability to breathe. The concept is simple as well: write classically inspired melodic death/power metal with harsh vocals and a blood-spitting, thrash attitude. To play my cards on the table in the first round, I consider this one of the highest peaks on the melodic metal mountain. Hatebreeder is the first part of Bodom’s unholy trinity (along with its direct successors, Follow the Reaper and Hate Crew Deathroll), a piece of immortal music, with some of the best guitar leads the world has ever seen. There are truly precious few albums I love enough that I know, without any measure of doubt, will be with me all through my life, if I’m lucky enough to live it, and on towards my grave. Hatebreeder was a prime influence in my connection to metal, and though it’s just a hair away from perfection, has only grown in strength and longevity ever since.

The level of maturity is immediately evident, as the band are much more relaxed and precise than in their debut, the excitable and loose Something Wild. Alexi’s vocals have also leveled out into an even snarl, and have begun to take on his trademark ‘yowling’ sensibility. The rhythm section of Henkka and Jaska has tightened considerably, pounding along with fury and grace, creating an unbreakable backbone for the real star of this show: the melodies. Oh, those sweet, delicious, battle-blazing melodies. Alexi’s guitar lines here are just to die for, framed by his cohort in crime, Janne Warman on the keyboards, as they swirl and spiral through energetic, expressive, neo-classical galaxies, swooping and diving and battling in an effort to blow your mind, the audible equivalent of 100 pounds of dynamite.

At albums core, the aesthetics of the sound here are power metal and death metal, but the crystal clear, vibrant notation feels subtly blackened, though not as much as on the debut. Alexi’s rasping also helps that feeling along, but the result is entirely too precise and uplifting to ever don such a moniker. Hatebreeder is the essence of simplicity, in terms of formula. Alexi writes riffs, and everyone else just tries to keep up, with Janne keeping pace and trading outlandish flourishes the whole way through. Alexi has a very unique riffing style, which would come even further into itself in the next few records, but the constant, needling leads here eclipse everything else. It’s not just the level of skill or insanity in the flurries of notation, even the simpler melodies are so infectious as to feel like a sweet, sweet disease, climbing into your brain and staying there interminably.

Warheart and Hatebreeder are intense and wild, fast-paced snowstorms of immaculate precision. Silent Night, Bodom Night, still a staple of their live show, features one of the best melodies in Bodom history, and an unforgettable chorus. Bed of Razors is literally just that, a strong slab of riffing with sharp, brilliant leads cutting out above, framed by ethereal keys, before they do battle high above in the heavenly spheres, veritably sundering worlds in the process. Cowards Dead End features a very Asian-flavored lead, with flutters of keyboards whirling about like cherry blossoms in the wind, leading to another inevitable epic battle toward songs end, the dueling tones like magic spells of fire and ice, clashing and brightening the dojo before it’s completely set ablaze by the enrapturing dance.

Black Widow is a bit darker, but with one of the strongest choruses on the record, Alexi varying his vocal work for maximum epic effect, before the leads once again throw us to the sky. Wrath Within is like a biting wind, keyboards creeping up below the choppy riffing to bellow us higher and higher to watch another splendid exhibition. And it still gets better! Track 8, Children of Bodom, needles along through crisp riffing glaciers to the waiting coral-toned keys, which hold their ground and announce the coming bloodshed in a foreboding Castlevania style, before they both dart off, keeping pace with each other as the classical influences take over. Downfall, another one of their most popular tracks, ends the album with an ocean of strong riffing, starry keys twinkling overhead as the percussive barge steers with confidence through storm and calm, and lightning splits the sky for one more epic Laiho/Warman battle, each showing equal ferocity. Out-fucking-standing!

I realize Bodom have a reputation for flash over substance, and while that may be true to an extent, I don’t see how one can snub their nose at such a heroic array of guitar work, with songs that build and build with energy, pulsing with creativity at every corner. Almost every moment of Hatebreeder is intense, exciting, and memorable. Is it teeming with depth? No, not at all, but it doesn’t matter one fucking bit, so well does it utilize its strengths, and every riff, each moment, is utterly masterclass. Every single lick of this is way too epic, and when you listen to this record, it’s not so big a surprise that it had such an impact. Hundreds of bands have popped up in the early 2000’s and beyond that utilize the stylistic template set by Hatebreeder, and Follow the Reaper perhaps even more so, and even more have integrated this influence in more subtle ways. It’s even directly spawned some more legends, like Kalmah, and to a lesser extent Ensiferum.

Whether you care to admit it or not, this is bright, innovative, incredibly memorable music that has left its mark on history, for better or worse. That Bodom would sink to such decrepit lows in the span of 3 more albums was unthinkable at the time, and still rather sad, but it does nothing to diminish the quality of their classic work, among the very most fun and inspired albums I’ve ever heard, out of uncounted thousands. I like Follow the Reaper just a bit more, my unchallenged favorite album from this group of hard-drinking Finns, but it’s like comparing amazing sex to slightly more amazing sex. It’s still amazing sex. Ok, I need to stop saying amazing sex. Goddamn it man, just go buy this album!

If you’ve yet to give Bodom a fair shake because they’re popular to hate on, either quit being a dick or start mooing instead of talking, so we can see what you really are. Conversely, if this is too ‘shallow’ for you, get that head out of your ass and smell the sunshine. Not everything needs to have impenetrable density and emotional weight to be enjoyable, and if it does, then it’s no wonder you have no friends. But I concede. I don’t wish to belittle anyone, only to guide you to one of the most kick ass albums in the world, one that helped feed my formative soul to the fire that is metal, frets aflame with skill and glistening with tasty, tasty melodies. And that driving, raucous nature is all it needs, to not only succeed, but exceed the trappings of convention and perceived limitation. Hatebreeder is immortally fun, and one of the most pleasing audible adventures available. I like it a fraction less than Follow the Reaper, and a precious few riffs fall just short of perfection, but it’s still achingly cool. I will simply never get tired of this, and it spurs my spirit ablaze instantly when played, so consuming and complete that I feel akin to Johnny Storm. And you know what the craziest part is? The best is still yet to come.

9.75 / 10 - Only the Wild Will Survive