Children of Bodom should in theory be a great band. Alex Laiho is an amazing guitar talent, capable of licks most guitarists would kill for. The musicians surrounding him are also some of the best in the Finnish metal scene. The band have that slightly menacing “look”, have an obsession with the Grim Reaper, and hell, the band name comes from an unsolved murder. Children Of Bodom seems to possess an aura of power, and the magnitude of expectation built for ‘Follow The Reaper’ was huge.
Then the music starts and all preconceptions are blown away. Where’s the fucking metal? The production is so slick it would smother seabirds on contact. All the vitality and bite is smothered from the music. Any rough edges have been knocked off, filed down and padded for extra safety. The effect is like being kicked in the head repeatedly by a foot wearing a pink fluffy bunny slipper.
Laiho’s solos are faultless in their execution, and are the highlight of the album. However, his riffs are not. The rhythm guitar seems to take every Gothenburg cliché going and play it to its most obvious. It quickly becomes predictable, so that you know what’s coming next even on a first listen. But then Laiho kicks in with another solo, like on “Mask Of Sanity” and the cliché Riffing 101 is forgotten briefly in a moment of metallic ecstasy. Then the moment is gone, and it’s back to the malodorous melodies.
Keyboards feature prominently on this album, which might not have been such a problem if it wasn’t for the fact of their omnipresence. Metal is, after all, a guitar based music form. The keyboards often use a soloing guitar sound, which grates on the nerves because it sounds so artificial. A prime example is the keyboard solo on “Follow The Reaper”. It is technically brilliant, matching the guitar solo in skill and sound, but is aesthetically irritating. The keyboards might well be better used more sparingly, and for atmosphere and special effects, like the “Psycho” strings at the beginning of “Hate Me!”.
The tongue in cheek song titles like “Bodom After Midnight” and “Northern Comfort” should indicate a sarcastic lyrical content, but they don’t. Lyrics aren’t always important in making good music, but these demonstrate Laiho’s poor grasp of English - “(Hang on) got to go/Preview what they oughta know/Keep your head down and fucking die”.
Heavy metal, in any form, is supposed to have at least a modicum of danger. ‘Follow The Reaper’ however, plays it safe on so many levels it may as well be labelled a pop album. The sound is clean, the playing clinical, the feel sterile, and the metal ain’t heavy.