At this point, Children Of Bodom have become possibly the worst thing that they could end up as – just another melodeath band. That’s not to say they’re bad, as even their most recent output has generally been up to snuff, but at a time when that genre is hardly at the peak of popularity, it’s hardly a good sign that they’ve slunk into the background with the other stalwarts still plodding along. That’s doubly true when considering that Children Of Bodom have typically worked to stand out from the crowd in their adoption of thrash and power-metal elements to given their sound a much more bombastic flavour, but they’ve struggled to do much for the past few albums, and Hexed hasn’t done much to change that at this point. None of the pre-release singles have really gone anywhere, and given that they’ve begun to run dry on ideas at the best of times, this definitely feels like a low ebb that Children Of Bodom really need to put in the work to pull themselves out of.
That doesn’t seem to be what Hexed is, though. Rather, this feels like the sort of traditional album that tends to come from metal bands at this juncture in their career, not necessarily bad but serving as more of a vehicle to keep the ball rolling than anything else. Granted, that could be said about Children Of Bodom’s output for the last few years, but even by those standards, Hexed produces very little to say on the whole; it certainly feels like an album that’s deftly within their wheelhouse as a band, but a lot of the bite and energy below the most superficial level has been muted, and what’s left is a vaguely recognisable outline of a band capable of leaving a far stronger impact.
It’s not even a case of enormous change that’s become so unworkable for them, because virtually nothing has changed here. The overall speed and slight twinge of saccharine from the zipping power-metal synths feels largely untouched, while Alexi Laiho is still capable of shredded shrieks that can waver in terms of comprehension, but generally serve as a welcome source of raggedness to offset how clean this particular stripe of melodeath can feel. Then there’s Hecate’s Nightmare and Soon Departed that kick the speed down a few notches for a more prominent sense of groove that’s definitely a nice touch, and generally tie together the notion that Children Of Bodom are looking to stay exactly where they are with regards to sound and the direction that they’re currently heading in; hell, when the closing track is Knuckleduster, a re-recorded version of a track from their 2004 EP Trashed, Lost & Strungout, they’re clearly looking to bring the throughline of their classic material right up to the present. It’s not like they totally fail either; for the diehards who’ve managed to stick around and find enjoyment in even their most recent material, Hexed is hardly going to be a turn-off.
But again, none of this is all that new or advances the conversation in any significant manner, and even if that’s not the point, it’s not even all that interesting in its own right. For as technically sound as it is, there’s not a whole lot that actually sticks, and besides the knowledge that solos and keyboard flourishes have the technical prowess they usually do, Hexed proves to be remarkably forgettable and predictable in terms of composition. Again, the fact the Knuckleduster appears here could easily be taken as a sign that Children Of Bodom’s well of inspiration is beginning to dry up, a notion further strengthened by how rote their brand of melodeath is becoming. Sure, there are still few others who’ve co-opted it in the same way, but in the field of one, that only means that Children Of Bodom should stand out all the more, and they simply don’t. And as for the lyrics, while it’s debatable as to whether they’ve mattered all that much for a band like this, pulling edgy posturing from metal of the 2000s on Kick In A Spleen and Platitudes And Barren Words really struggles to fly, partly because of how monstrously dated it all feels, and partly because Laiho’s borderline cartoonish delivery makes it difficult to take seriously whatsoever.
But really, it’s not like any of that truly matters. At this point, Children Of Bodom are making music for the fans exclusively, and as another slice of melodeath to sate them for the next few years, Hexed is absolutely fine. It follows their same formula to the letter, and while that can get tiresome after so long, it’s no worse for it than their last couple of albums have been. But there’s a limit to how much that can work, and with an album that’s as largely forgettable and innocuous as Hexed is, it feels like Children Of Bodom are verging dangerously close to what that limit is. There might still be mileage here for now, but how long that’s going to last is a more open question now than ever before.
For fans of: Dark Tranquility, Scar Symmetry, Soilwork
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hexed’ by Children Of Bodom is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.