Sunday, September 16, 2012

Children of Bodom - Something Wild (1997)

Time is an odd thing, inexorably tied to the changes in life. Often, these changes are jarring, leading to eventualities we would have never expected, a truth that certainly extends to the volatile career of innovative Finnish wonder boys Children of Bodom, a ride of immaculate highs and truly disheartening lows. In the beginning, though, hope was high. Though not as immediate or groundbreaking as the band would produce in their next few defining releases, Something Wild is a raucous, energetic display of classically inspired melodic death/black/power metal with a lot of heart, and it’s with a sense of forlorn nostalgia that I attempt to put thoughts concerning it to pen.

Something Wild is something of an odd experiment, a conglomeration of melodic death metal circa At the Gates, classical power metal like Ynwie Malmsteen, and even miniscule black metal aesthetics in its vocal style and windy tremolo violence, sounding at times like Dissection's overly happy younger brother. Indeed, all the aspects that would make Hatebreeder and Follow the Reaper count among my favorite albums in the medium are already at work here, if to slightly less powerful overall effect (though the black element was barely prominent, and disappeared rather quickly). The dynamic guitar/keyboard interplay is the star of the show, trading melodic punches in a cutting dance that was quite fresh for its time, a technique generally relegated to progressive power metal like Dream Theater. Alexi crafts some really strong riffs here, a number of them counting among the best he’s ever penned, and sections like the end of In the Shadows, the roiling storm of The Nail, and the lead melody of Lake Bodom reverberate even today as some of the bands finest moments. Indeed, sections of this album are straight up mind-blowingly cool. Make no mistake, this is guitar metal, epic and furious, and it holds up remarkably well, even after 15 years.

There are a few aspects that hold Something Wild back from being on the same pedestal of immortality as its next of kin, but they’re not so much faults as they are hallmarks of youth. As a band roughly and enthusiastically attempts to carve out their place in the world, a few rough edges will naturally surface. Alexi’s vocals, for one, are a bit uneven. The rasp is strong and clear, but some of the lows feel out of place, especially the attempted yelling, not nearly as strong his growls, clearly below his natural range and sounding slightly forced. The recording itself also lacks polish, but to an extent I suppose this is part of its charm. Mostly, though, the songs themselves just aren’t as strong as those on the follow-ups. There are some truly amazing parts, but the quality is not quite consistent enough to elevate it to classic status, and some of the individual transitions can feel a bit jarring, and the playing is just a bit too loose. However, I can hardly fault the band for failing to one-up the future, and Something Wild is immensely satisfying and impressive for a debut.

The tone, like most all of the bands work to date, is very upbeat, and even this early on, it was clear that Laiho was a very talented guitar player, well on his way to becoming one of the most unique shredders in the metal world. However, his unique and unmistakable riffing style was only in its embryonic stages, and the deepest impressions resonate from the neo-classical leads and infectious melodies, rather than the individual riffs. His interplay with keyboardist Janne Warman is not nearly as pronounced as it would invariably become, but they mesh very well, the keys acting as hovering, atmospheric support for Laiho’s wild licks. Despite a few incongruous, too-basic drum pattern choices, the rhythm section also does an admirable job lending a backbone to the fray, though they too would grow given time.

Something Wild is indeed that, a fresh and interesting sound for the period, full of carousing energy and passion, virtually bereft of restraint. Oddly, this is both its undeniable charm and its main failing, lacking the concise, measured coordination of its successors, but beating them all out in terms of pure, unrestrained passion. In the end, Something Wild is fun, distinct, and rather epic at times, certainly of enough raw talent and personality to set Bodom apart from the norm. In terms of overall quality, durability, and memorability, it is not quite in the same league as the next 2 records, but it’s as solid a starting point as one could ask for, and still finds it way into my rotation every once in awhile. While it has not found a place of pure immortality in my heart, I still absolutely appreciate what it has to offer, and would recommend it to anybody with a fondness for upbeat melodic metal.

8 / 10 - Sharpening the Scythe