Children of Bodom + Forever Still + ONI
@ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
March 12, 2017
Review by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
The London metal community was undoubtedly split in two when March 12 2017 presented a challenging dilemma – Should one go to see French death metallers Gojira at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, or Finnish melodic death metal pioneers Children of Bodom at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire? Still, it’s safe to say a fair few came out to see the “20 Years – Down and Dirty” tour from the Finns, featuring exclusively songs from their renowned first four albums.
Metal-Rules also had the chance to speak to Children of Bodom keyboardist Janne Wirman prior to the show, and the interview can be read HERE.
The Canadian six piece ONI discreetly take the stage at 19:35, and don’t waste a second before kicking off the evening with a solid dose of progressive, djent-infused death metal. Having released their debut album Ironshore last year, the Canadians supported Children of Bodom on their North American tour the same year. The band, taking their name from a “malevolent shape shifting demon in Japanese folklore”, stood out amongst the other bands that night, pleasing fans of complex, technical and brutal death metal.
What is eminent, is nothing short of impressive musicianship from everyone present at stage. Drummer Joe Greulich is a true joy to behold as he ferociously beats his drums with impeccable precision. Guitar wielders Martin Andres and Brandon White take turns showcasing over-the-top profound shredding, the latter also providing rather enjoyable clean vocals. Bassist Chase Bryant fulfills his role on the left side of the stage neatly, but the definite eye grabber is without doubt the xylosynth (!) playing Johnny DeAngelis. The obscure instrument, originally designed for British pop group Drum Theatre in 1986 (according to Wikipedia), comes as a total surprise, and the clear, synthesized tones fit rather well with the rest of the music, adding a melodic touch to the otherwise hard hitting death metal.
Singer Jake Oni, sporting a Bloodbath shirt, strides around the stage taking turns singing with both harsh and clean vocals. The sound is well-mixed, and all instruments are clearly audible. Obviously a good thing, as anything but perfect sound would probably cause a major decline in the overall quality of their 30-minute set.
“Let’s keep this freight train moving!” Oni declares after making the crowd show their appreciation for the two other bands of the night. Their technical and progressive metal would’ve perhaps pleased the fans of Gojira on the other side of town that night more, but as their set progresses the ground floor is filling up, with several crowd members seemingly enjoying what they’re seeing and hearing.
Slower, melancholic parts turn into distorted walls of sound, and with rapid tempo changes and chord progressions, the pacing of their set is pleasing. The band leaves the stage following “Coast to Coast”, and the bar has been set for the night.
Danish alternative metallers Forever Still last visited London in November, then as support for Lacuna Coil. Now with a new guitarist, the Danes seemed determined to prove their worth for the London audience once again as they took the stage at 20:20. Belonging either to the softer spectrum of metal, or the heavier side of rock, their nice blend of electronic-fused atmosphere and crunchy guitar riffs seemed to hit the right spot with many in the crowd.
Vocalist and frontwoman Maja Shining deserves praise for her versatile vocal style, seemingly without much problem reaching both aggressive low growls and crystal-clear, clean singing. Her stage presence is also on the more energic side, and she’s arguably the person of the night moving around the most (besides those occupying the mosh pit). Bassist Mikkel Hastrup is just as eager to show off, running from one side of the stage to the other.
Sound wise, I feel to need to criticize the same issue with low sounding guitars as last time. A new guitarist does not seem to hide the fact that the bass sounds much too prominent, perhaps trying to make up for the fact that there is only one guitar. Even with the apparent pre-recorded guitars coming into play at times, the thin guitar tone is unfortunately too often drowned out, and takes away from the overall experience.
One thing worth pointing out, is that Forever Still was able to conjure a moshpit, albeit a small one, lasting almost throughout the entirety of their set; a feat not achieved by ONI, and only matched by the headliners a little later. All in all, Forever Still were perhaps slightly out of place for the die hard melodic death metal fans presents, but for the open-minded, there’s no denying we were given a lively show.
The massive roar of cheering prompted by the raising of a red backdrop featuring the reaper from the album cover of Something Wild, the birthday-child of the night, was a good pointer as to how excited the crowd were for tonight’s headliners. Children of Bodom, Finnish pioneers of the melodic death metal genre released their debut album as 17-year olds 20 years ago, and returned in their late 30s to celebrate the youthful energy and sheer aggression heard on that album.
The focus on the night was on the first four albums, with most the set being centered around the debut and sophomore releases, Something Wild and Hatebreeder. An normally rather calm London audience start eagerly chanting the band’s name, and ten minutes later their prayers are answered. The lights go out and drummer Jaska Raatikainen ascends behind his workspace for the night, all while the spoken intro to the rarely played blast-from-past “Deadnight Warrior” off the debut is heard. As the rest of the band takes the stage and tears into the song, the ground floor of the Empire is instantly transformed into one giant sea of moving people, clashing into each other as the Finns carry on.
The never-before-played “In The Shadows” follows, and the crowd does not stop to cool down. Frontman Alexi Laiho then addresses the ‘London Hate Crew’, telling us “it’s a very special night for Children of Bodom!” before asking if we’re ready to party. The Hate Crew Deathroll-fan favourite “Needled 24/7” prompts a massive response from the crowd when announced, and again the ground floor is transformed into a blender of people. “Black Widow”, another rarity, becomes the first Hatebreeder song, and by this point the band has established their dominance on stage with what cannot be described as anything but the best Children of Bodom setlist in years. The sound during their set is well-mixed, although the arrangements do tend to sound slightly chaotic at times, especially as the keyboards sound a little low during “Warheart”.
From here on, the Finns bring out classic after classic, such as the slow, melancholic “Angels Don’t Kill” and anthem-like “Bodom After Midnight” along just as welcomed lesser known crown jewels like Hatebreeder-opener “Warheart” and the never-before-played neoclassical masterstroke “Red Lights In My Eyes, Pt. 2”.
Laiho maintains a good connection with the crowd, giving praise to the ‘London Hate Crew’ for coming out and celebrating Something Wild with them. Having been previously known as somewhat of a sloppy live guitarist, none of this is shown as he smoothly executes complicated lead licks, as seen in the intro to “Lake Bodom” for example.
Keyboardist Janne Wirman is rarely seen without a drink in his hand when not playing, and his and Laiho’s dynamic during certain synchronized guitar and keyboard segments, such as in “Downfall”, are a pleasure to behold. New guitarist Daniel Freyberg has enormous shoes to fill, taking over Finnish guitar legend Roope Latvala’s role following his departure last year. He remains professional and doesn’t show off too much, simply performing his role and nothing more. Bassist Henkka Blacksmith remains more so in the background as usual, although nothing can be said about his instrumental abilities along with his backing vocals. Drummer Raatikainen does a great job at translating the drums from the albums into a more massive, volume-filled sound wall, and he does so without missing a single note.
Another two rarities serve as the final encores of the night, “The Nail” from Something Wild and the wildly amusing keyboard-driven roller coaster “Towards Dead End”. In my time attending concert’s in London, rarely have I seen a band fire up a crowd as much as Children of Bodom did last Sunday.
So, was it worth it coming out that night and see a band not perform some of their most well-known songs, such as “In Your Face”, “Hate Crew Deathroll”, and “Silent Night, Bodom Night”? Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt, Children of Bodom’s “20 Years – Down and Dirty” tour manifested a band successfully returning to and celebrating their early musical legacy together with an eager fan base, and everything points in the direction of them being welcomed again at any later time.
1. Deadnight Warrior
2. In The Shadows
3. Needled 24/7
4. Black Widow
5. Bodom After Midnight
7. Angels Don’t Kill
8. Red Lights In My Eyes, Pt. 2
9. Hate Me!
11. Everytime I Die
12. Lake Bodom
13. Bed of Razors
14. Children of Decadence
15. The Nail
16. Towards Dead End