Over 22 years, Finland's Children of Bodom have established a global reputation as one of the hardest-working high-profile outfits in extreme metal. Their initial popularity began with the release of 1998's Something Wild and was cemented by 2003's classic Hate Crew Deathroll, as CoB established a trademark technical death metal sound rife with classical and hard rock melodicism. The next 12 years, beginning with 2005's Are You Dead Yet? through 2015's I Worship Chaos, were filled with experimentation and restlessness; the band utilized thrash, dissonant tunings, and progressive riffs filtered through punishing heaviness. It resulted in records that were more diverse, true, but sometimes lacked the firm imprint of the band's established persona. Hexed marks the beginning of a third era for CoB. Here they seek to integrate the band's classic sound with their 2010s experiments. It also marks the recording debut of second guitarist Daniel Freyberg (Norther).
Hexed kicks off with the anthemic "This Road," a pummeling orgy of power riffs, swinging snares, and kick drum grooves that feels as if it would have been at home on I Worship Chaos until its chorus wheels around on an intense but hooky riff. By contrast, first single "Under Grass and Clover" finds keyboardist Janne Warman engaging in a majestic duel with Alexi Laiho and Freyberg. Jaska Raatikainen's double-timed blastbeats, a chanted chorus, prog keyboards, and six-string lines buoying Laiho's snarling lead vocal place this track in the classic CoB pantheon. "Glass Houses" follows with the hallmarks of the band's classic sound intact and offers a blazing Laiho solo that charges the barriers and the trace influence of Vivaldi in its chromaticism. "Hecate's Nightmare" is filled with adorned, proggy, atmospheric keyboards, jagged squeals of pinch harmonics, a plodding tempo, and a squalling, effects-laden dual guitar solo. "Kick in the Spleen" commences with a slow power riff, but soon explodes into brutal thrash, bellowed gang choruses, technical death breakdowns, and more, making for an exhilarating three-and-a-half minutes. "Platitudes and Barren Words" is a forceful, hard-hitting track with a gorgeous melody, staccato guitars, and swirling keyboards amid fat, groovy drumming. The title cut, despite Laiho's carefully scripted inclusion of knotty prog elements, is actually somewhat nondescript (Beethoven-esque chromatic passages notwithstanding). Closer "Knuckleduster" is a direct nod to the past: It's a redone version of a cut from the 2004 EP Trashed, Lost and Strung Out. It fits perfectly here with its call-and-response contrapuntal guitar parts, keyboard flourishes, and thudding tom-toms. As a whole, Hexed may be CoB's most diverse and expansive-sounding album to date, ranging between their roots sound and adventurous experimentation. The synthesis approach found here makes for a compelling, deeply satisfying outing. ~ Thom Jurek