MELODIC DEATH METAL: Finnish melodic metal stalwarts Children of Bodom’s 10th album, Hexed, is a welcome return to form, as the band has dug down deep into its early era roots by harkening back to their Hatebreeder days. The quintet—vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho, drummer Jaska Raatikainen, bassist Henkka T. Blacksmith, keyboardist Janne Wirman, and new guitarist Daniel Freyberg—has stormed back with a more united and focused effort. Throughout the 11 tracks, the band’s pulsating mix of melodic hooks and instrumental theatrics are combined with catchy melodies and anthemic choruses.

The blistering opener, “This Road,” immediately impresses with its sharp, blazing riffs and midpaced gallop. Wirman’s swirling keyboard histrionics enhance the music in just the right places without overpowering the guitar space, which also blends well with Laiho’s trademark raspy bark. Heavy tracks “Under Grass and Clover” and “Glass Houses” are aural juggernauts that set up the very familiar Children of Bodom formula of “Hecate’s Nightmare,” decorated with Wirman’s chiming keyboard melodies and accompanied splayed riffs. Not even halfway through the album, the band’s momentum is strengthened further with “Kick in a Spleen,” with its pit slamming riff assault at the 1:51 mark keeping the album flowing nicely. Like all good Children of Bodom songs, the trade-off guitar/keyboard solos are nicely crafted.

“Platitudes and Barren Words” and the title track follow with those excellent trademark elements—transitional riffs, straight-ahead rhythmic blasting, chugging riffs, swirling keyboard melodies, and celebrated gang chanted vocals. “Relapse (The Nature of My Crime)” implements some killer 80s styled riffs, while “Say Never Look Back” is destined to go over like gangbusters in the live setting. “Soon Departed” is more straightforward in its delivery, while album closer “Knuckleduster” is a crushing end to the album.

Hexed is a strong effort from start to finish with heavier and catchier compositions compared to the band’s last several releases. Plus, the production (Children of Bodom were reunited with producer Mikko Karmila, who previously produced I Worship Chaos, Halo of Blood, Hatebreeder, Follow the Reaper, and Hate Crew Deathroll) captures all of the trademark Children of Bodom-isms. The music is tighter and well structured, making each track memorable while keeping the listener engaged throughout the album’s 46 plus minute runtime. Hexed is by far the best Children of Bodom release in many years and will certainly please the band’s old school fans. ~ Kelley Simms