By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy, Photos by Matt “Rabit” Martinez Red Hare Images
Spring may have finally arrived, but a bunch of heavy metal artists from Finland look to keep winter alive. A lot of great metal artists hail from the Northern European country where death metal and power metal rule in the cold. One of the most famous groups to come from there is melodic death metal legends Children of Bodom. Back in 2017, they appeared on the main stage of Knotfest, but I only got to see them briefly for I was busy interviewing artists. From what I heard though, their blend of power, melodic death, and thrash metal nestled in my ears very well. Now, they’re back with a brand-new thrash pleaser, Hexed, and are touring the States to bring winter metal to warmer climates. One of their stops was the Observatory in Santa Ana, so Rabit and I hopped into our cars to crash the festivities. Joining them on their new adventure were Swallow the Sun, Wolfheart, and Fragmentum (the latter whom we did not see). Prepare Revolters, winter is here with a vengeance.
First group we saw hit the stage was Wolfheart. Like an actually wolf, they barked and howled with snarling assertion. Last year, they released their 4th album under Napalm Records, Constellation of the Black Light, and it has been enjoying a warm reception by both critics and fans. Frontman and guitarist Tuomas Saukkonen was a vicious beast on the mic. He had this chain wrapped around his body, as if he is arming himself to go into battle. Funny thing, Wolfheart was once his solo project, but after he dissolved all the groups he was in at the time, it became a whole new animal. They were awesome, sweltering solos played swiftly by Mika Lammassaari. Joonas Kauppinen was bombastic on the drum kit, while Lauri Silvonen was sharp and thumping on the bass and would continually rile up the crowd. Wolfheart took aim and fired at the crowd songs that dealt with winter, war, nature and the apocalypse to name a few themes. For about 30 minutes, the Santa Ana metalheads were drawn to the wailing tunes like “Everlasting Fall,” “Aeon of Cold,” “Strength and Valor,” “Breakwater,” “The Hunt,” and “Boneyard.” Like a pack of wolves, Wolfheart is on the prowl and going for the kill.
Full Wolfheart gallery below:
Up next is a band that combines the ambiance of doom metal and extreme nature of death metal. Calling themselves Swallow the Sun, they had a very interesting take on both genres, starting with “These Woods Breathe Evil.” They are celebrating with the metalheads out there, having just released their 7th album to critical acclaim, When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light. Frontman Mikko Kotamäki, sporting a black hoody, stood up on the stage and gave us a display of both melodic singing and extreme screaming. He hardly moved around at all, letting his voice do all the work. Juho Räihä does an excellent job with his lead guitar work, going back and forth between dreary doom and rapid death metal. Rhythm guitarist Juha Raivio and keyboardist Jaani Peuhu are the newest members, and they handled themselves beautifully. There were some songs that I thought was a little boring, but for the most part, I liked how they were able to cross the line between both genres. From “Upon the Water” to “Firelights,” “New Moon,” “Stone Wings,” “Deadly Nightshade,” and “Swallow (Horror Pt. 1),” they joined intensity and gloom together very nicely. Swallow the Sun has captured my attention.
Full Swallow the Sun gallery below:
It has been a couple years, but it was great to see Children of Bodom return. Starting things off with “Are You Dead Yet?,” the room erupted with enthusiasm. Alexi “Wildchild” Laiho not only screams to the top of his lungs, but he was smoldering on lead guitar. Pulling double duty like that is probably no easy task, but he tackles them both without breaking a sweat. He is filled with intensity and speed when his fingers start to tap dance on the frets, showing why he is considered one of the greatest metal guitarists in the world today. New 2nd guitarist Daniel Freyburg rips through the riffs like a hurricane tearing the roof off a house. Janne Warman plays the keyboards in a very interesting way. He has the keys pointed up towards him, so he plays it like a guitar. Not only could he tickle the ivories with one hand while chugging water or a beer, he can play in sync to Wildchild’s riffs, which is very impressive. Bassist Henkka T. Blacksmith and drummer Jaska Raatikainen dominated the blast beats that Children of Bodom likes to pump out of their amps.
For the whole set, Children of Bodom’s followers headbanged and moshed until their hearts gave out. Not only did they before 4 songs off Hexed, but they also performed 4 from 2005’s Are You Dead Yet?, which will be celebrating 15 years next year. From “In Your Face” to “Platitudes and Barren Words,” “This Road,” “Everytime I Die,” “Under Grass and Clover,” “We’re Not Gonna Fall,” “I Worship Chaos,” and “Angels Don’t Kill,” the fans went crazy and started charging into each other without a care in the world. I would have to say that my favorite song of the night was “If You Want Peace…Prepare for War” because it reminds of that Megadeth aggression you hear in “Peace Sells.” After a quick breather, Wildchild heard his fans calling him out and Children of Bodom decided to give 2 more scorchers that they were dying to hear all night, “Hate Me!” and “Downfall.”
Full Children of Bodom gallery below:
Like I said, spring is here, but it sure felt like winter inside the Observatory. Like a predator stalking its prey, Children of Bodom, Swallow the Sun, and Wolfheart lunged at us with their deadly heavy metal. We left that night with winter metal on our minds and in our hearts. To Children of Bodom, Swallow the Sun, and Wolfheart, I salute you. Horns up!!!