I’m going out on a limb, here. “Relentless, Reckless Forever” is one of the best fifty albums ever. EVER. And I know I’m going out on a limb by saying that because I know that the other two gentlemen who write about music for this site, whose opinions I very much respect, both heartily disagree with me. But that’s the way I feel, and that was my mindset as I encountered “Halo of Blood.”
Stylistically, there’s little doubt that “Halo of Blood” is the successor to “Relentless, Reckless Forever.” While this new album does trend back slightly towards the pillars of speed and death metal, it keeps intact the well-heeled spirit of rock and roll that so wonderfully grounded the previous album. This style of downbeat pacing gives “Halo of Blood” and the musicians of Children of Bodom a great deal of space to operate in, space which Alexi Laiho gleefully fills with his signature guitar tone and affect. As it is, “Waste of Skin” has a main riff that would be characterized as a solo for a number of other bands, never mind the song’s actual solo. It’s not terribly different from Megadeth’s “Poison Was the Cure.”
Those who follow Children of Bodom are well aware that the band can make albums which start slow and pick up as they roll along. So it also is with “Halo of Blood,” as the second half is stronger and works better overall. The strong swagger begins with “Your Days Are Numbered” and then most everything after that is electric, loaded to capacity with Laiho’s guitar trapeze act and backed up with capable, memorable rhythms.
The only piece of “Halo of Blood” that totally falls apart is “Dead Man’s Hand on You.” The song just plain doesn’t work, slowing down a train that is best when careening nearly out of control at a thousand miles per hour. On top of that, Laiho changes his vocals, attempting to bridge the gap between screaming and singing, and it mostly just makes him sound like he has bronchitis. Regardless, that’s the lone blemish on the back half, which I generally like the more I hear it.
Speaking of, the vocals of Laiho indicate that vocal producer Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy, PAIN,) did not have a heavy hand, but most definitely a guiding one. Tägtgren hinted to me in our conversation that he kept Laiho from continually going up in the register. “Halo of Blood” shows only a modicum of shrill screaming, which combined with the tempered grunts lends the album a certain believability, to the extent that a band named for a serial killer and who once covered Britney Spears can (or wants to) be believable.
Again for “Halo of Blood,” Children of Bodom pushes back their keyboard influence and color, opting instead for an atmosphere dictated by measured and precise drums and strong guitar performances. There’s a dirty charm to songs like “All Twisted,” which blast through infectious riffs but maintain an old-school rock and roll heart. While “Halo of Blood” cuts loose with frequent high-flying, everything, including “One Bottle and a Knee Deep,” is well paced, planned and executed. This is a professionally wild record, if that makes any sense and it concurrently proves that you need not be over the edge or totally noisy to produce top notch death metal.
“Halo of Blood” is a fitting companion piece to “Relentless, Reckless Forever” and should be treated as such. While the prior record may be more climactic, that does not diminish Children of Bodom’s accomplishment here. There is a feeling with this album that’s difficult to define with words, but the songs give off the impression that you’re listening to one of the great ones showing their craft. “It” is one of those indefinable concepts, a dragon that we chase unendingly…but Children of Bodom for the last several years clearly has captured “It.” “Halo of Blood” is another peerless effort from a band staking their claim to the throne.