Children of Bodom have made a name for themselves by never doing the same thing twice while consistently staying true to what they are. They’re a long-haired, party-hardy, ESP-playing, demon-howling melodic death metal band without an ounce of shame, and with enough self-awareness to make any band across any genre who’s caught their own sent seem like a pack of self-aggrandizing opening acts. Bodom’s the real deal. And you’ll never catch them reveling in the gimmicks of their genre.

After the recent departure of their resident shredder, Roope Latvala, Alexi Laiho and company have carried on as a four-piece in order to make I Worship Chaos. In doing so, they’ve made their most righteous album thus far. Their earlier music revolved around one core sound album to album. Hatebreeder had some most triumphant power metal licks accompanying Laiho’s blood curdling screams. You could ride into battle on that one. Are You Dead Yet? spent more time in the groove metal category. And their most recent, Halo of Blood, was the creepiest sounding metal record in recent history. Listen to it without feeling like taking a bath afterward, I dare you. It’s awesome. But it’s gross. All of their records, of course, are replete with signature death metal blast beats and some downright evil riffage, but each album had a distinct sound that allowed Bodom to orbit their core genre instead of crashing and burning on it.

Never afraid to experiment or have fun despite their music’s complex compositions and violent execution, it seems Bodom’s goal with I Worship Chaos was controlled retrogression. They’ve gone back and cherry-picked the finest moments of their long history and crafted their most stylistically diverse but most cohesive album to date. A mixture of death metal, power metal, hair metal, groove and thrash, every track borrows from each subgenre. In any one song, you’ll find elements ranging from crushing down-tuned riffs set to a blast beat, to squealing solos that could fit in any early Nintendo game, to head-banging rockers that are just as vicious as the band’s more traditional brand of brutality.

Lyrically—well, don’t worry about the lyrics. You won’t be able to decipher much listening Laiho’s banshee-level vocals. Bodom is known for writing violent, bloody lyrics jam-packed with foul language, and I Worship Chaos is no different in that regard. When Laiho’s not calling you a motherfucker he’s telling you he’ll tear you limb from limb and so on and so forth. His lyrics match the death metal genre just fine. Though, for a guy whose favorite pastimes are playing guitar, playing video games and drinking beer, it’s clear that Laiho’s words merely pay homage to the genre, as well as provide a wink and a nod to fans who know he’s just keeping up with his contemporaries while having a whole lot of fun doing so.

There’s a lot to enjoy on I Worship Chaos. But in case you’re looking for a highlight reel of an overall excellent piece of genre work, “I Hurt”, the opener, starts things off with nasty intensity. Its opening groove is all thrash riffs and pummeling double bass that shifts into a stomper of concussive blasts reminiscent of a Pantera tune. The verse gets thrashy, the drums work at halftime, and the octave guitar work alongside Laiho’s vocal cadence make the chorus oddly melodic.

“Horns” begins with harmonized guitars set to a relentless blast beat. After the opening barrage, the song stays predominantly within the confines of traditional trash with all its shredding glory. It’s fast, one of the fastest tracks on the album, but it’s able to maintain a balance between brutality and melody that is unequaled this year from any of Bodom’s peers.

Despite the title, “Suicide Bomber” is fantastic. It straddles the line between groove and trash, skates back and forth between a head-bobber and an arms-flailing circle pit masterpiece. It allows the keyboards to act as more of a lead instrument than an accompanying melody maker as well. It’s a wicked tune. Dark, grim and filthy. A tremendous combination of metals with which to forge a beastly tune.

“All for Nothing” is the real highlight here. It’s slow and—get this—beautiful. It surfs major progressions on the keys and only adds a sense of Bodom’s bleak, black heart after breaking yours. Perhaps the most melodic song of Bodom’s career—save for the screaming, of course—it’s a crowning achievement for the band. It’s even got an ‘80s style wailing hair metal solo dead smack in the middle that dukes it out with the keyboards to see which instrument can provide the greatest lick.

Yes, Children of Bodom evoke violent imagery. Yes, to the untrained ear, they’re tough to listen to. Yes, they play music that is extreme, manic and often ridiculous. The truth is, though, that this band knows what they are. That self awareness has afforded them the opportunity to go just about anywhere with their music while not being beholden to any one genre or gimmick. These guys are just rockers. And in spite of aspersions that could be cast in their direction for their music, their subject matter, whatever, they rock. Hard. Without making fools of themselves and without mocking metal. Bodom may not take themselves very seriously, but they approach music with passion and fervor that suggests they don’t need to stoop to silliness to make their music relevant, powerful and straight-up awesome. They simply do it by being damn good and having a hell of a lot of fun in the process.

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