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Formed in Espoo, Finland in 1993 originally under the moniker Inearthed, CHILDREN OF BODOM had an extraordinary start to their career. Their ‘90s take off was so impressive that many new metal bands still look up to it today – almost all of their albums earned platinum or gold status in Finland and over the past twenty five years they‘ve become regulars on some of the world‘s biggest stages. 2019 beckons in a new era for a revitalized and bloodthirsty Hate Crew, who will present their 10th studio album Hexed on March 8th.
It’s been three years since the release of I Worship Chaos and Bodom have taken time out around touring to carefully develop this new work, which packs a hell of a punch. History tells us that having an extensive time frame to work on a project can often result in procrastination and loss of focus – but with Hexed the reverse has manifest in this 11 track, impressively stripped back melo-death, rock-n-roll-rampage.
“This road’s gonna kill me,” exhorts shredder extraordinaire Alexi Laiho on the album’s opening track ‘The Road’ – paying homage to the determined decades which the guys have spent slogging it out on the tarmac, undoubtedly one of the toughest aspects to a musician’s career. Alexi opens up on this: “…I’ve been living on the road for over 20 years, and I’m sure that every single touring musician would agree that at some point it just becomes a blur and you don’t even know what the hell’s going on. You feel like it’s going to kill you, but you keep doing it no matter what. It’s kind of a drug because you can’t stop. I can’t. I’m going to do it as long as I live—there’s no other way.”
Musically, ‘The Road’ quickly betrays the band’s increasingly sophisticated approach to melody, evoking shades of Rush in the ‘80s.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” laughs Laiho, at that assessment. “People have said that the album is generally catchier. So, I started thinking about that, perhaps the song structures are easier to grasp on initial listen. But there’s some crazy shit in there, almost progressive or at least technical. But you are right, there are certain melodies across the album that could have come from jazz songs, although they’re completely metal with us, of course (laughs). “
Another highlight to Hexed is ‘Hecate’s Nightmare’, an almost gothic outlier on what is for all intents and purposes a traditional all-guns-blazing Children of Bodom blowout.
“That’s a lot of people’s favourite song actually”, notes Alexi, “with that creepy music box opening keyboard thing. But then it builds up and it’s a really catchy song. Just talking about the chorus itself, I mean it totally could have been an ‘80s Ozzy Osbourne song. That’s the sort of stuff I grew up with and I still listen to. And those lyrics, I’ve always been into this witchy stuff and the different goddesses of the underworld. I’d been reading about Hecate a lot and before I knew it, I just started to write a song about it. But it’s a fictional story of two people trying to ask for help from Hecate and she helps them. They keep fucking it up and then eventually she gets pissed-off and you do not want to get that chick pissed-off.”
As usual, and as can be heard in this very much hit-ready song, keyboardist Janne Wirman is a big part of the Bodom sound. Laiho agrees, “Yes, he’s played a big part of every single album, but this time this might seem even more prominent only because of the sounds that he uses. Because the funny thing is that on, let’s say, I Worship Chaos or Halo of Blood, the keyboards were there all the time, but you might not even know that they’re there because he’s doubling my guitars with some insane, super-low octave sound that doesn’t really stick out. So maybe he pops out more on this album, and I guess he has more of a main role in a lot of parts of the songs.”
Underscoring their overall vision is the hard and modern production of longtime sound-shaper Mikko Karmilla, who Laiho can’t praise enough. “He knows very well what we want and we’ve been working together forever. The way he mixes the album, he just knows exactly—exactly—what we want. And it’s a unique sound and you can hear that sound. I’m not saying that all Finnish bands sound the same, but there’s a certain vibe on the records that he’s mixed that you can hear, especially with the drums, which sound fucking bad-ass. As a person, he’s super funny but if he doesn’t like something, he’ll tell you flat-out, and not in the nicest way ever. But it’s also very funny at the same time if you know him.”
In an album packed full of killer tracks, ‘Under Grass and Clover’ - once more, a song blessed with melodies that evoke images of both ‘70s prog and ‘80s pop metal - has been picked out for extra attention by Alexi. “It’s a track that people should hear first, besides ‘The Road’” says Alexi, “before you get to the rest of the album. And like ‘The Road’ it’s also about the dangers of alcoholism; let’s just put it that way (laughs). It’s something that I have not written about in a long time.”
A curious addition to the album, says Alexi, is a twisted second go at an old Bodom song. “We re-recorded a song called ‘Knuckleduster’ that was originally on the ‘Trashed, Lost and Strungout’ EP that came out in 2004, and we all thought that it was a great song. It was kind of overlooked and we just figured that we needed to do it again - it needed to be heard again. But I had no idea what I sang on that song; like no frigging idea except for the chorus. So I had to rewrite the lyrics and I had to… well at least I tried to write ‘em so that they would sound kind of like the original did. As for the lyrics, it’s just another vent about how I don’t like somebody.”
‘Knuckleduster’ is delivered with Alexi’s typical throat-shredding vocal style, but look out for a slight variant within a gem of a track called ‘Platitudes and Barren Words’: “My voice, obviously, I’m not doing clean vocals,” muses Laiho, “and I won’t -not with this fucking band, like never - that I can promise you. But that punk rock thing in that song, even though I am adding a bit of melody, it’s still more screaming than singing. Call it punk rock, but it’s maybe more Alice Cooper meets death metal.”
A material change for the better on Hexed is the addition of axeman Daniel Freyberg (ex-Naildown and ex-Norther) to the band. “It’s been pretty awesome with him,” reflects Alexi. “I think I’m speaking for all of us that we’re very happy that he ended up joining the band. The rest of us, you know, four of us, we’ve known each other since childhood. I know it sounds like a cliché, but try fucking touring for 20 years and you’ll see that it’s like a marriage sometimes, where you end up bickering about stupid shit. But with him being there, I don’t know, that’s just faded away. It’s just more fun. Plus he’s a hard worker; he really is. He takes everything so seriously when it comes to playing guitar and learning pretty much anything, not just guitar, but just learning how to be a professional musician. He’s one of those dudes that sits there and listens and watches and absorbs everything. And that’s what I like about him, because that’s how I am too. That’s the best way to learn - just observe. And still, I’ve known Daniel for something like ten years. But the other guys, me and Jaska, the drummer, we started this band, from when we were 13 and I met him when I was ten or 11. And Henkka, the bass player, he joined the band in 1995. So he was something like 14. It’s like we grew up together.”
Hexed is a high-energy, up-tempo record seething with new life but also all of the Children of Bodom trademarks that millions of fans around the world have grown to appreciate. Their mix of melo-death meets blackened thrash with a neo-classical twist, and piercing Derek Sherinian-intense keyboards peppered with Alexi’s venomous vocal bile, is what makes a Bodom spread so engaging. And it also explains why the Hate Crew continues to wow crowds across the globe; their reputation continues to grow as a fearsome live act with incredible technical proficiency. Stronger than ever and evidently thrilled to be in such great health, Hexed is beckoning Children of Bodom into a new era of world domination.