Children Of Bodom's Alexi Laiho
Published Mar 27, 2011In heavy metal, many bands strive to usurp their predecessors. It's a tough job. Unlike a lot of other genres, metal tends to place its forefathers atop unreachable pillars. From Black Sabbath and the doom generation to Napalm Death's immovable rank at the pinnacle of grind, we assert that few can do as well as ― let alone better than ― any sub-categorical innovator. Even a quarter-century since any of them have been arguably relevant, a tour from thrash's Big Four (do we really need to name them?) garners more praise than the innovation of an act such as Birth A.D. Finnish extreme metallers Children Of Bodom seem to be an anomaly to this unwritten rule. Since their inception in the early '90s, the quartet currently comprised of vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho, drummer Jaska Raatikainen, bassist Henkka Seppälä, keyboardist Janne Wirman and guitarist Roope Latvala has been on a continual ascension to the top of their class, a point reiterated by revered albums including 2003's Hate Crew Deathroll, 2005's Are You Dead Yet? and most recently 2008's Blooddrunk. While many chalk it up to the band's longevity, upon deeper inspection, their boundlessly explosive energy and subtlety at weaving opposing aspects into a somewhat unique strain ― without losing tenacity ― are far more tangible.
At that, Laiho himself has carved quite a niche of his own despite being the voice/tapping fingers of Bodom. Deemed one of metal's 50 fastest guitarists, boasting his own line of signature guitars and noted for a borderline confrontational take-no-shit attitude and honesty during interviews, his presence is reminiscent of a young Dave Mustaine or Kerry King. Still, with an approach inspired by all facets of heavy music uniting such disparate (and previously combative) aspects as cock rock, thrash and black metal, he proudly asserts that Children Of Bodom isn't about mimicry so much as mutation and modification. That, in turn, is a situation he feels has never come together so seamlessly as on seventh outing Relentless, Reckless Forever (Spinefarm/Universal). Laiho discusses what it takes to keep Children Of Bodom churning out the fresh ore some 20 years into their career.
You sound like you're chomping at the bit over the new album.
Alexi Laiho: I can't wait for it to come out. We started working on the songs a year ago and it was mixed and mastered at the end of August. It's taking forever to come out. It's not always our call, though. There are label schedules, time for promo and that. I'm just anxious.
What's the part you're anticipating the most? Getting to play live or just get reactions?
Both, really. We've had a month of downtime since the last tour finished which is good but I wanna get back out there and play some songs live.
A month doesn't sound like a lot to most people but for a band that can be agonizing.
Yeah, but that's after two years on the road and recording the new album... all that. One month isn't a lot of time. You wanna get home from a tour because you're usually pretty exhausted. After sleeping for a week, it's nice to be home but you feel it. After three weeks, you gotta do something. It's the only life I really know so I don't know what to do with myself off the road.
Making a record is almost a tool for keeping your sanity then, isn't it?
For me, touring is the whole plan of doing this stuff. Making a record is pretty much to support the playing live part. It's not only that but it's the main one. You wanna get new music out there too, 'cause it gets boring playing the same songs after ten years.
You are coming up on 20 years of doing this band.
That's really scary. We were so fucking young when we started doing this stuff. I've been on the road almost constantly since I was 18 and the other guys were 17 or whatever. After all that time on the road and in the studio, you get adjusted to it so everything else is unsettling. You don't know how the rest of the world operates. I can appreciate it more now than I did five years ago, though. Coming back home is like someone with a normal job going to Hawaii on vacation or whatever. Home is my vacation.
You're longing for the same bed while others need to get away from theirs.
Yeah! I come home to Finland and minus-25 degree weather but I like it. It can be brutal, though.
Why did you take a full year to write this album, anyway? Isn't that a bit mind-numbing?
I do stop and think, "wow, when did all this happen?" for everything COB has but I try not worry about it. I feel like there's so much more stuff to do and we're not even close to the finish line. In a way it feels crazy but in another it feels pretty natural.
The album is pretty much your most dynamic and intense but melodic. How do you shoehorn all of those aspects into each song? Is that why it takes a year?
I don't know... it does have a lot of metal types combined, doesn't it? With our musical influences, that's one of the reasons the whole thing came together. We all grew up listening to hair metal first, then we got into extreme metal. Now, I don't know. It's got a lot of influences from like, '80s hard rock and then a lot of extreme metal, go figure.
You are unafraid of saying you don't always listen to Slayer. Do people embrace your honesty?
Most people appreciate it but there's always a group that says we're fuckin' gay or stuff like that. I'm like, "Whatever... I don't care." At the end of the day, you can listen to stuff people might find silly secretly or you can be proud of it. I don't care. I think the guys who try to make fun of people who listen to '80s hair metal listen to Village People at home anyway.
Back to the songs, you're prodigious without going crazy through the entirety. Who's the architect behind it?
I usually come up with a riff or melody and throw it on my four-track at home. I take it to the rehearsal space with the other guys and we jam on it. That usually inspires another part and another. Before you know it, we've got these intense songs. It's been working for us for a long time. I like that formula. They help arrange everything so we're doing that together but I'm coming up with the main ideas most of the time. I'm not some crazy dictator with my own vision or anything. I am the main songwriter but I still want their point of view and ideas arrangement-wise. We are five guys and everyone speaks up.
That does keep it fun, which is pretty important.
Definitely. That's why we like to keep the same line-up. A dude hiring a bunch of session musicians just isn't the same. Hired guns don't care and you don't get that "into it" vibe from the music, which is really important. The only change we've had since the first album was the guitar player who quit in 2003.
Speaking of influence on the album, how did producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Fu Manchu) vary it up?
He was important and a breath of fresh air. He was really familiar with our stuff and seemed really committed and determined to make the best COB album ever. Those were his words. He had a really good attitude, that guy. We felt good about it and it turned out to be a really good idea to have him around. He was there to spice it up, so to say.
Those are words you want to hear from a producer. How about contextually? You've still kept the principal COB theme here?
It's always been the same: venting shitty feelings and that's it. It's never been deep and poetic or any of that shit. It's just being angry and bitching about things. The music is the main element and the vocals are there like another spice to make it feel angrier.
With heavy music, most people want to vent, not be preached at.
It's good therapy. Both to make the music and to listen to it. Metal music in general has an impact for myself that if I'm pissed off, I put on Slayer or Impaled Nazarene and it's a great fuckin' feeling. You get this rush and get out crappy feelings.
Maybe that's why most metal fans are pretty laid-back.
I think so. It's better to listen to Slayer than go out and beat up grandmas up with a baseball bat.
You mean better to listen to Children Of Bodom?
Yeah... them too.