Children Of Bodom - Relentless Reckless Forever
Spinefarm Records
Melodic Death Metal
9 songs (36 minutes)
Release year: 2011
Children Of Bodom, Spinefarm Records
Reviewed by Jake
Major event

Let's call it the The Metallica Effect. It's a pattern that's iterated many times: A young band with a unique vision and audible passion for what they're doing releases a brief string of early albums with great playing, new ideas and an attention-grabbing sound, and build up a loyal following on top of commercial and critical success. But after a while—usually around album 5 or 6?--something happens. Defenders say the band felt a need to experiment, detractors say they got lazy or decided to sell out; whatever the reason, the band's sound changes. Maybe they start playing slower, or more or less melodically, or with more obvious formulas. Whatever the case, they move away from what had worked so well, and the magic is gone—and when that happens to a beloved band, fans get pissed. Concert-hall discussions and internet boards start filling with typically hateful screeds about betrayal and commercialism. But funnily enough, the new albums continue to be damn successful—because not only have the band reached a newer, more mainstream audience, they've also got a whole army of ex-fans who express their anger not by boycotting the band's new shit but by buying the new album every time, partly so they can trash it, and partly out of a hope that this will be the messianic, fabled Return Of The Old Sound. The phenomenon has two notable effects. The first is that it perpetuates itself, since the continued success of the “new sound” gives the band no incentive to change what they're doing. The second is that the pre-and-post-release discussion of every new album becomes about one question above all others: will this be the one where the old band comes back? That must be frustrating for a band. Setting aside the issue of whether you deserve it, you'd probably rather have people think about your new album on its own terms than reduce the discussion to whether or not it sounds like the old shit.

Children of Bodom haven't fallen from favor as spectacularly as Metallica did (after all, their post-decline albums are neither as successful nor as terrible as Metallica's by a long shot), but the Finnish superstars are probably the most prominent example of The Metallica Effect going on right now. With that in mind, an interesting impression I have of their new, nonsensically titled album Relentless Reckless Forever is that it's exactly the kind of album you probably want to make if you're a band currently experiencing the Effect. I don't mean that it's the Return Of The Old Sound—it's neither as good as Hatebreeder and Follow the Reaper, nor in their vein musically. What I mean is that it's positioned far enough away from the band's stylistic extremes that it stands a chance of being talked about on its own merits, rather than being dismissed as a failure to make Hatebreeder again. The album moves away somewhat from the sound of their previous post-decline LPs (Are You Dead Yet? and Blooddrunk) by bringing the tempos back up a bit, relying less on ill-fitting American-style groove riffs, and bringing the keyboards back into the mix a little more, both sonically and compositionally. What it doesn't do, though, is attempt to bring everything back in line with the band's “classic” era. It's not especially neoclassical, for example, and it's still got a booze-and-bruise, rawk-hard attitude that sets it apart from the early albums. Since it doesn't aim for that straightforward revival, it's less likely to be accused of missing it, and though I have no doubt that most of the conversation will still be about comparing the record to the older work, I think it makes an impressive case for being considered separately from its place in the trajectory of CoB's career.

So, how is it? Well, it's...alright. If you're among those who have enough goodwill left over from the early albums that you forgave the problems of AYDY and Blooddrunk, you'll find this one more than tolerable, and probably even enjoyable (it's much better than those two). If you've given up on the guys, this one won't change your mind completely, but you should still give it a shot. The album's got that commercial, compressed, bass-heavy sound working against it and a couple of real groaners (the boring title track and the awful single Was It Worth It? being the worst offenders), but where it works, it's got a creative spark to it that the last two albums lacked. While nothing here is groundbreaking, none of it sounds radio-ready either, and there are moments where you can really feel a rejuvenation trying to happen. The first song, Not My Funeral, is genuinely awesome, and features a guitar solo that proudly joins the crowded ranks of band leader Alexi Laiho's best—no matter what's happened to his songwriting, the guy has remained a fantastic no-frills shredder with a unique voice. Also a highlight is Ugly, which has a speed-metal thrashiness to it that recalls the band's earliest and deepest roots in some moments while letting the keyboards restore some of the long-missed, pseudo-blackened atmosphere of HB and FtR in others. The other songs aren't as memorable, but they've all got high-energy riffs, a bouncy quasi-thrash style garnished with Gothenburg harmonies, and nice interplay between the guitars and the keyboards. As I said, the latter instrument has made something of a comeback, but it could still stand to reassert itself a lot more. It's really a shame, and possibly the band's biggest sin, that the keys have been so de-emphasized since AYDY. As has been evident since the beginning of CoB's career, Janne Wirman is a first-rate player whose soloing has terrific chemistry with Laiho's, and Laiho used to know how to use the instrument better than any other composer in metal. It was a crucial and obvious part of what made the band special, and it's hard to understand why you'd choose, as Laiho has, to underuse as big a gun as Wirman on multiple consecutive albums when your talents have such a natural affinity with his.

Relentless Reckless Forever is not a great album, and it's definitely not as good as it would need to be to win over the Children-of-Bodom-sucks-now crowd —that bar would be quite high, the stubbornness of the jilted metalhead being duly storied. But it's better than what came directly before, and worth keeping on your shuffle if you're into the band. This album has a creative identity of its own, and could be seen as a step in the right direction whether you're in the camp that would like to see the band re-embrace their early sound or you're hoping that they'll evolve into something more original and new—but it's far from being the realization of either of those goals.

Killing Songs :
Not My Funeral, Shovel Knockout, Ugly
Jake quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Children Of Bodom that we have reviewed:
Children Of Bodom - I Worship Chaos reviewed by Andy and quoted 83 / 100
Children Of Bodom - Halo of Blood reviewed by Jared and quoted 82 / 100
Children Of Bodom - Holiday at Lake Bodom (15 Years of Wasted Youth) reviewed by Leah and quoted no quote
Children Of Bodom - Blooddrunk reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 69 / 100
Children Of Bodom - Blooddrunk (Single) reviewed by Aleksie and quoted no quote
To see all 17 reviews click here
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