Children of Bodom
...and Cannibal Corpse
16 February 2009, Manchester Academy 1
I wanted to get a taste of death metal, and there's plenty of death and metal on offer from Children of Bodom and Cannibal Corpse. But you may want to go elsewhere for a proper review of this show at Manchester's refurbished Academy 1. I'm an outsider to this kind of music as a glance at my music index will tell you. I could well have left this show alone, but I'm all up for Finnish music, and I can't ignore the fact that there's an awful lot of extreme metal in Finland. I guess I reckoned I should experience a tiny slice of this scene. In other words, so I could better claim to know what I'm talking about. I had company. A couple of friends were going, one from our Finnish class, the other an Alexi Laiho fan.
We didn't arrive very late on but we missed the other Finnish band Diablo. They must have been and gone very quickly. It wasn't long before we faced the special treat that is Cannibal Corpse. I had sort of heard of them before but didn't make the connection before I was committed to going. Does this matter? Um well they do trade on horror film material and their albums, or to be specific, the album covers, have been banned in loads of places. Basically, highly provocative for whatever 'moral majority' types are out there, and tabloid bait. So, how scary or nasty are they in the flesh? Well, all the graphic stuff was conspicuously absent, and the singing style is a low rasping roar which makes lyrics indecipherable. The band is fronted by George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher. He complimented the audience, on there being so many female fans there - well, they were probably there for CoB, but never mind - and one was just taking that comment on its own terms when he topped it with ...so here's something for the laydeez!! and announced the especially offensive title of the next song for which misogyny is an utterly inadequate description. But that was as 'bad' as it got. They were oddly cuddly when it came down to it, though I'm sure they wouldn't thank me for saying so. Was any of it threatening? Not really; with a cult band like this, the fans are only interested in expressing their loyalty and exercising their bodies in the pit... and their hair. The band did a huge amount of hair tossing - sorry, I don't know whatever technical term there is for this - and considering some of them are nudging 40 (whisper it) I had to be immensely impressed and I would love to know what they do to keep their locks in such good condition. Unfortunately it's too late to salvage mine.
So the band are great? Er no, I didn't say that. I guess I'm old or something, but no, I don't love some of their imagery. But before I come over too much Mary Whitehouse, I have to make a comparison: on the one hand, here's a band who few outside the metal scene have heard of, who offend in the main with their lyrics which you can't actually hear, and with graphics which are illustrative art, not photographic; and on the other you have terrestrial channels broadcasting films like Hostel and Texas Chainsaw Massacre featuring explicit gore. So, before you ban the one...No, if I'm not going to spend more time on the band, it's because musically there's almost nothing there, for all their eleven albums, and I also like some light in my musical darkness.
This?? (left) Um well I suppose it's nothing more than weak evidence that I was there. Or rather, that my friends were, one of them took it on her mobile. To be honest, I think this might have been Cannibal Corpse rather than Children of Bodom...
The aural assault was astonishing. Before this, the loudest band I have ever seen has been Trail of Dead, who oddly enough are touring very soon. But I figure I've used up my ear damage ration for the decade. Halfway through this concert, I did wonder what state my ears would be in after CoB. I guess the kids will be laughing at that, they like it loud and may still have some high end hearing so as to pick out the music. However, once main act Children of Bodom appeared, the worries kind of faded. Finnish bands even at this end of the spectrum still prize their virtuosity and it turned out that most of them are very handy musicians indeed. I liked the drummer, Jaska Raatikainen, and also very much Janne Warman on keyboards. He stands slightly back of centre stage, with his keyboards tipped up hence playing them downwards, which makes his thing much more involving. Why can't more keyboardists do that; the usual sitting etc is hard to exercise any showmanship with. Oh, and there were some good moments of casual humour between songs.
Main man is Alexi Laiho. I'd barely heard of him a few weeks ago, but never mind, he's clearly one of the prime guitarists of his generation. He's very very fast, and without any deadly long solos he displays dazzling skills. If nothing else, go and listen to the tracks available on their MySpace page, see what I mean. I assume this is what's evident on record, mainly new album Blooddrunk which is what this tour is promoting. 'Assume'? Well, live, the music is very different. Hardly a surprise. This is heavyweight metal, and you turn up and get into that human mass of fans to be carried away on physical volume. But my feeling is, the music has to be in there, and I think they maybe lose just a bit too much. It might not matter too much with a band like the Corpses, but Children of Bodom do have plenty of musical ideas, and while they certainly demonstrate their musicianship, the music can get overwhelmed by the intensity. At least a fan can hear enough to distinguish the songs. I moved further back for the last bit of the set, to next to the lighting/sound desk. It didn't reduce the volume much, but it did make for better balance which helped. How are my ears now? Actually, not so bad. After Trail of Dead they hurt for 2/3 days. If I'd only seen CoB, I don't think it would have been much of an issue at all.
Conclusion? I'm not going to start buying death metal albums, but I was impressed. Physically, by the sound(!); by the dedicated and very physical musicianship, especially by the quality of a top end band like Children of Bodom. I was impressed by the band's showmanship. Fans get value for money, from the energy and professionalism of a set which sells a new album but also features material from albums going way back. And yes I was impressed by Alexi Laiho. I like all great guitarists and am only sorry that I won't be hearing much more from him in my musical life. But this is melodic death metal, and it's the faith and the path that he follows. All the best to to a great Finnish band.
CoB have a good site. It's all that you want from a site for an underground band; and that is what they are, despite their success, because they'll never get mass media attention. So there's lots here to see and experience. As it happens - and this applies to all of these bands - they're very well written up on Wikipedia. You wouldn't believe how much effort has been put into documenting not only each and every band, no matter how obscure, but each and every subgenre, complete with lists for each. These categories overlap so much that a band like CoB appear on several lists. Though apparently Alexi Laiho himself simply calls their music extreme metal.
Little did I think, when I started writing rock-related pages, that I would ever be offering a link to a band called Cannibal Corpse. However, I am, and here it is. The site's fine. It has to cover a fair bit of history and there's also an interview which is interesting for its tone as much as anything: they're not very interested in press stirrings, as far as they're concerned there's an obvious difference between their horror flick imagery, and actually seeing stuff like that in real life. Blimey, it almost sounds like I'm defending them :) Not really, it's all pretty horrible and the 'music' doesn't really make up for that, but I can sort of see their point of view.
No such bother about Diablo or their site, for which this is the link. Or rather, to their MySpace page, since as far as I can see they don't have a site of their own. At least I've heard a few of their songs here, which I missed live. Passable if unexceptional.