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Children of Bodom, with Iced Earth and Evergrey

Saturday, May 8

The relationship between metal and mirth can be strained at times. Bands that seem too happy to embrace irony and self-mockery (or are too happy, period) risk being labeled parodies. This Is Spinal Tap is a tour-bus staple, and a generation of metalheads has grown up laughing at it, but coming off as too Taplike is the kiss of death for real-life metal acts.

Take the Darkness, for example: Unlikely as it seems, the band's love of early-'80s power metal may be utterly sincere, but its cringingly retro wardrobe and deliberately cheap-looking videos make the group seem like a joke to perhaps oversensitive U.S. metal fans. The fact that most Darkness fans come from the notoriously metal-hostile indie-rock world only makes them that much more unacceptable.

Finland's Children of Bodom has encountered the same criticisms. The group is seen in some quarters as insufficiently serious. This isn't the band's fault, of course. It's tough being the product of a Scandinavian scene that once prided itself on making metal almost literally a life-and-death affair. Band members don't share that attitude, though. They just want to play their music and have fun with it.

"I think it's funny that people take [metal] so fucking seriously," says vocalist-guitarist Alexi Laiho. "I find it really funny that we've seen stuff on our Web site with people taking the lyrics so seriously. Like, there's a song called 'Bodom Beach Terror,' which is like -- it's funny as hell. It's supposed to be like a class-B horror-movie title. But people are writing, 'How can you say "Beach" in a metal song?' What the fuck? Come on, dude, lighten up."

If any album can make death-metal fans smile, Bodom's latest, Hate Crew Deathroll, is it. The first four songs -- "Needled 24/7," "Sixpounder," "Chokehold (Cocked 'N' Loaded)" and "Bodom Beach Terror" -- fly by in a relentless 15-minute blast of lightning-speed guitar riffs, slamming drums and throat-shredding vocals. There are two crucial elements, though, that vault the band out of the death-metal pack. The first is their ability to write a fist-pumping chorus. The second is Janne Warman's keyboards.

When most metal bands employ keyboards, they tend to go for spooky or ominous effects, affecting a horror-movie vibe. Not Children of Bodom. Warman's sound is quite literally cartoonish -- like Rick Wakeman composing music for an Atari 2600 video game in 1982. And Warman's not relegated to the background, either. He gets keyboard solos on the majority of Hate Crew Deathroll's tracks, and they never fail to provoke a grin.

 
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