Generally speaking, there are two varieties of Children of Bodom album; the original, neo classically-tinged melodic death metal kind, and the subsequent half-groove/half-power metal that has been churned out since. While Relentless Reckless Forever does not even begin to approach the caliber of the band's first three works, an expectation which would be naïve at this point in their career, it does bring some goods to the table.
I won't pretend to make any excuses or grasp at any straws about nuances that aren't there; this is still an archetypical modern Children of Bodom record through-and-through. All of the trademarks we have come to expect are present and accounted for, such as the gang-shouted chants, Alexi's signature "oooww yea-yea" yelp, dueling keyboards and guitars, and a hint of the swagger and melody found in '80s glam and metal acts like The Scorpions and Rhoads/Lee-era Ozzy Osbourne.
With 2005's Are You Dead Yet arguably being the band's poorest offering creatively, and an improvement shown in the previous Blooddrunk, Reckless doesn't bring as much forward progress. Rather, the record follows in a similar, but more consistent vein than the last few which came before it. Stylistically, this album and its predecessor sound like they could have come from the same sessions despite this one being the first to utilize an American producer.
That being said, the problems that have plagued the band since descending from a trilogy of impeccable early records remain. Once again, when not going toe-to-toe with Alexi's leads, the keyboards are used mostly for novelty, either taking on the sound of something akin to an electric fiddle or falling into pseudo hair metal cheese. The songwriting, while high in energy, falls into the same formula that CoB must feel appeals to fans of the current generation of metal, with an emphasis on muddy, groove-oriented chunking and some sugary lead runs to make it tolerable.
While I appreciate a band who doesn't take themselves seriously to the point of pretention, the laughable song titles that started in Hate Crew Deathroll continue with some winners such as "Pussyfoot Miss Suicide" and "Northpole Throwdown," which, while having nothing to do with musical quality directly, raise questions about the band's headspace and the propensity to craft music that becomes a caricature of itself.
On a positive note, it seems that Alexi can do no wrong as a lead player. The things he does with his instrument are innovative with an eye for showmanship, yet not so artsy that they come off as experimental wankery, and have consistently been the highlight of Children of Bodom's output through the ages. Matt Hyde also does a fantastic job as a producer, crafting a clear mix despite having to accommodate keyboards in addition to the usual metal bombast. Like previous releases, the album also wisely doesn't outlast its welcome, keeping things moving with a running time of EP proportions spread out over nine tracks.
Relentless Reckless Forever is a solid Bodom album that doesn't really bring anything new to the table. If you liked them at all to begin with, you're going to get more of the same at an acceptable level of craftsmanship. If you were looking for something new, or something as strong as their early work, then Children of Bodom's latest full-length is likely to disappoint you.