In taking a few steps back in their sound, Children of Bodom has taken twice as many steps forward in the quality of their music.
No metal band has a more divided fan base than Children of Bodom. Over the course of a career spanning close to 15 years, the Finnish group has repeatedly churned out albums that only exacerbate the fragmentation of their listeners. This is not due to a lack of skill, as the talent of frontman and lead guitarist Alexi Laiho has never been in question. Rather, genre consistency has always been an impossibility for the group, as each album modifies the sound from its predecessor in some way, shape, or form. Starting out as a death metal group with thrash and black metal influences, transitioning into a death-thrash hybrid, and even showing subtle metalcore influences on their last two albums, Children of Bodom just couldn't seem to decide how they should sound. However, the band's newest full-length album, Relentless Reckless Forever, actually takes a few steps back and finds a consistent tone that should please most Bodom fans.
After the bloated, over-the-top albums Are You Dead Yet? and Blooddrunk, this new record is a more straightforward approach to the band's sound, and it works. Relentless Reckless Forever is streamlined in its delivery, steady in its tone, and unrelenting in its ferocity. Instead of delving into industrial sounds or toying with breakdowns, this album sticks to a basic melodic death metal sound with thrash elements mixed in, similar to the output from 2000's Follow the Reaper. Not only does this provide a link to the band's older work, but it also allows the band to be a bit more daring in their songwriting. This album has infinitely more technicality than either of its predecessors, with tempo and key changes built into several songs and many interesting chord structures found within the riffs. Laiho's solos, particularly his trade-offs with keyboardist Janne Wirman, are also markedly improved, showing the greater amount of effort that went into the recording of this album. The best evidence of this is on closing track "Northpole Throwdown", which may be one of the fastest and most thrash-intensive songs in the band's entire catalogue.
Admittedly, Relentless Reckless Forever does have some noticeable drawbacks. On an album that's steeped mostly in fast compositions, the few slow songs like "Roundtrip to Hell and Back" and "Was It Worth It?" seem woefully out of place, despite being good songs on their own. And while one can't fault a veteran band for re-using ideas over the course of such a long career, some of the riffs on this album feel a bit too familiar. The most blatant instance of this is on "Cry of the Nihilist", where the main keyboard riff in the refrain is structured very similarly to the guitar riff in the refrain of "Tie My Rope" from 2008's Blooddrunk. However, these are only minor flaws on an otherwise solid album, unmarred by obviously horrendous tracks like some of its predecessors were.
Relentless Reckless Forever is exactly the album that Children of Bodom needed to release right now. It will help to unite fans of the group's mid-career work with fans of their more recent albums, offering high-quality material from both sides of the aisle for these groups. Will this be the album that unites all the band's listeners? No, because it is not an album that will satisfy fans of the band's oldest albums, from when Laiho was still trying to be the new Yngwie Malmsteen. However, this album will heal some of the fractures in the band's fan base, so that these fans can declare their adoration for Children of Bodom in a singular voice. It's the album that Bodom had to create, and it may quickly become a turning point in the band's discography.