Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Children of Bodom - Hate Crew Deathroll (2003)

It’s really difficult to dish out perfect or near perfect reviews, especially for bands that receive as much hate internationally as Children of Bodom. Some will view this as the opinion of a man who cares nothing for depth, enjoys trends, or whatever else have you, and admitting adoration for a group as scoffed at as these Finns is potentially ruinous to my reputation with certain readers, as you will learn later on. However, to abandon the truth for the sake of acceptability is itself not at all acceptable, and I hope you’ll bear with me. Indeed, the prevalent disgust with this band is not a viewpoint I can really look down upon, considering their recent departure from unique melodic dynamics into less challenging, more commercial fare, but as one of the strongest early influences of my past decade submersed in the world of metal, they’ve dropped certain albums that will never decrease in value for me. That should be clear, if you’ve read my reviews of their albums up to this point, and still haven’t abandoned the Reaper Division.

Truly, I’m no stranger to enjoying bands that receive rabid hatred, being an unabashed supporter of Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, and Cradle of Filth (with some exceptions, of course), to name just a few. Bodom are one of the foremost within that realm, and though my opinion of them has dropped pretty severely in recent years, I just cannot help my unabashed, fanatical love for 3 of their records, of which this is the last. Fling the feces, disregard my future writings and opinions, do as you will, nothing will change the fact that Hate Crew Deathroll is a beast of carousing, grooving melodic death metal that I will never, ever, on pain of fucking death, tire of. It may not be perfect, but I love it like a brother, and this is an opinion derived from very nearly 10 years with this record as a constant companion.

Evolution struck the band when crating this release, as they adhered to the 3rd Album Rule as it pertains to a band’s defining characteristics, and future evolution. Yes, one can quite clearly see the roots of chunky, Americanized grooving here, along with a host of bad lyrics, but the devolution was not too far along, and really at this point did not actually feel like devolution at all, something that cannot be said for the ensuing, stomach-churning banality of Are You Dead Yet? The sound is much fuller than on the previous Follow the Reaper, in both production and inherent style. However, though that is a distinguishing characteristic, the immense quality here all comes down to the construction of the almighty riff, and in this instance they are strong, and they are legion.

Alexi’s style matured quite a bit between these two defining albums, much more solid and brick-like as opposed to the constant aerial melodies he had consistently wrought beforehand, and indeed the sound here is poppier overall, boasting a higher plateau of accessibility. However, it’s a good kind of accessible. Utilizing a lot of deceptively simple rhythms, the songs are flowing, dynamic, and aggressive, with all manner of insanity happening at any given time. There are innumerable excellent riffing patterns here, and they’re constructed in unfailingly memorable sequences. The lyrics can be pretty terrible, given, and they’re the one pitfall that keeps this from perfection, but they aren’t nearly as flagrantly stupid as in the next release. Still, there are host of embarrassing sections, due to not only the lack of writing skills, but in inherent, tough-bro message:

"Stop! Are you ever gonna stop tryin' to be on the way that we wanna go?
Fuck! It's pissing the fuck out of us when you don't understand the word 'no' !
Now, you're tellin' that you'll win the war that's only battled cuz you're
too dumb to die. That's right! You can take your war and shove it up your ass,
then close your eyes and say goodbye."


That said, not all of them are so bad, and some even work well within the musical context. The caliber of the melodies and grooves, however, renders the writing mostly inconsequential, and sometimes a bit endearing (Did I ever hurt you in any way? If I did then hear my apology: Fuck you!). All the supporting musicians have grown as well, with truly admirable performances one and all. The guitar/keyboard harmonies are just a touch less numerous than on Follow the Reaper, but they do a lot of subtler interplay throughout, to the point where it does not feel like anything is missing, though the overarching style is decidedly different. All the progressions are pretty much pure gold, oozing trademark style the entire time. Yeah, it’s flashy, but it’s exciting and memorable as all holy fuck, and that’s what matters.

Needled 24/7 immediately clues one in to the change in aesthetics, pulsing and crushing, with punctuation from the keys and infectious leads. The electronic elements were a bit weird at first, but they fit with the motif, as the keys spiral off or accentuate riffing patterns as is necessary. It may sound odd to say of a Bodom release, but I’m still noticing interesting things going on in the background in these songs, even after a decade, be it a subtle keyboard line or an odd flourish of the bass. It’s nothing of immense depth, given, but there are a lot of individual little sweet spots that aren’t immediately noticeable as you focus in on the main sequence notation. Sixpounder is the only song I don’t absolutely love (though I still like it), a dense chugging number containing an oddly dissonant chorus and face-palming proclamations of ‘666!’ The resounding stupidity of that small section still takes me out of the experience a bit. It’s incredibly infectious music, though, and not to be taken too seriously, lest you put yourself in jeopardy of being no fun. Chokehold has a hurried, chugging central riff that goes off on quick, fibrous tangents, before relenting to the starry beauty of the keyboards and shoots a dual-solo money shot of melodious awesome right in your stunned face. Bodom Beach Terror boasts one of the most epic, infectious choruses on their career, with a suitably grandiose melodic backdrop for its murderous machinations.

Truly, the highlights are all inclusive, from the mid-paced grandeur of Angels Don’t Kill to the hilarious Japanese-flavored melody of Triple Corpse Hammerblow, the endearingly pissed-off thrashing of You’re Better Off Dead, Lil’ Bloodred Ridin’ Hood in its wild compositional frenzy, and the titular and ravaging Hate Crew Deathroll itself. It’s all just gravy, and Alexi’s vocals are much more pronounced and varied than in the past, even displaying hints of melody themselves at times, though all in his trademark ‘yowling’ style.

I often wonder how I would perceive Bodom had I not grown up with them, if my love for this (and its predecessors) is based purely on its own merits, or if nostalgia colors my perceptions to an unprofessional degree. Indeed, I’ve had some crazy fucking times, nay, crazy YEARS, with this as background music, but I believe the stirring melodious patterns here would slap me in the face anyways, since they're just so unique and insane. Though it’s not their best overall, Hate Crew Deathroll is the ultimate evolution of Children of Bodom, the last leap before a spectacular fall, with a quality and consistency that, as of now in October 2012, they have not even come close to attaining since. Short a couple of embarrassing lyrics and a paltry few riffs, this is an amazing record, and the brilliance of its successes minimize any complaints to afterthoughts. It may be silly, happy, and poetically useless, but it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had, a trend that continues even today as I inevitably creep towards old age and death. This is pure belligerent melodic mayhem in its most distilled form, untouchable by passing years or the bands following depths of sell-out decrepitude. It’s not quite perfect, barely eclipsed by Hatebreeder and Follow the Reaper, but it’s nevertheless one of my favorites for life.

I must conclude with a broader statement than anticipated, here. My audience is growing a bit, with a handful regular readers (don't get me wrong, my site is both tiny and humble), and I wanted to address a concern. I got an email concerning my review for Follow the Reaper, from a fellow headbanger claiming to really enjoy Reaper Division, but that he lost all respect for me when I gave a Children of Bodom album 100%. To put it plainly, that really sucked. This will not be the last time we conflict, you and I, but I still hope to help you all find amazing music in the coming years… it’s my mission. However, I will never sacrifice my own honest opinion, or pander to anybody, not for the sake of anything. Opinions vary, sometimes overlapping and often opposing, but we can all celebrate the transcendent beauty of audible extremity, in however way we innately appreciate it. I’m certainly no adored (or even mildly popular) author, or poet laureate, but in crafting my monument to this abstract entity called metal, my life obsession, brick by carpal-tunnel brick in the form of my reviews, I hope to share some common ground with even a few people. To that end, there are records that cannot be ignored. Hate Crew is an absolute fist-pounding triumph that I will be listening to until I’m either 6 feet under or go deaf, in which case I’d soon die inside anyways. I don't quite think it's perfect, but it has a unique charm that no other record in the world can match. This may not be the be-all-end-all of creativity, depth, or musical achievement, but it continues to be one of the most pleasing and exciting pieces of music to ever grace my strange little slice of existence. 

9.75 / 10 - Themes From Teenage Liver Failure