Since bursting onto the extreme metal scene in 1997 with Something Wild, Children of Bodom have toured relentlessly, released several critically-acclaimed records, and have been embraced by multitudes of loyal fans. With an ear for catchy songwriting matched with technical prowess, they have set new standards in the melodic death metal scene.
I had the opportunity to chat with frontman/lead guitarist Alexi Laiho at the Austin date of Children of Bodom’s “I Worship Chaos World Tour.” We discussed the recent line-up change, the band’s unique approach to extreme metal, and heavy metal at the Grammys.
“I could not imagine this band without the four of us”
MB: The first thing I’d like to talk about is the tone on I Worship Chaos. It has a bit of a heavier vibe than maybe some of the previous records. I read that you experimented with some different tunings, but I’d also like to know if any of the band stuff, like the departure of Roope, also had an influence on the sound?
Alexi: Well, everything was already written with Roope before we hit the studio. I think a lot of things kind of came together for the sound. I mean, there’s the tunings, which we actually tuned a half-step down. I wound up playing all the guitars, which I guess made it sound tighter. I think the songs, overall, just got heavier by themselves, both musically and production-wise.
MB: Yeah, the fact that it was only you on the guitar for the recording seems to have helped contribute to the overall heavier sound. That’s not to say that the previous albums weren’t heavy, or weren’t building up to this tone, but it feels like a different animal this go-round.
Alexi: It definitely changed the vibe, playing the guitar myself, I think that’s the way to go from now on. Even if we add a fifth member, which obviously we’ll need in order to play live, I think I’ll play the guitars in the studio from here on. I mean, obviously it’s more work for me, but it’s definitely worth it because it DOES sound better.
MB: Right, it’s like the old saying “fewer moving parts means less broken pieces.”
Alexi: Yeah, totally.
MB: Obviously it’s different in the studio, but how else have the band dynamics changed since Roope’s departure. This particular line-up has been together since 2003, which is quite a long time.
Alexi: It actually kinda brought everybody closer again. The way it happened was so abrupt. Well, maybe not abrupt, since we could kind of feel it in the air that something was going on. Everybody saw it coming, but not fucking three days before we were supposed to start recording! [laughs] We weren’t expecting that, so it was kind of a difficult spot for everyone. We already had the songs, had the studio booked, and then we suddenly lost a member, you know. There’s not that much time to sit down and talk about it, we just had to go on. It sort of made everybody put more effort into the album, and made sure it got done properly. I think that extra effort from everybody made the record sound better.
It became a very positive thing, and at least it’s still the four of us remaining since the first album. It’s pretty unusual that four guys would last together this long in this style of music.
MB: Absolutely, you’re like the “Twenty-somethings of Bodom” at this point [laughs] Alexi: Yeah, exactly! We’ve constantly toured, which means we’ve basically been living together. A lot of other bands change members all the time, you know. But like I said, it brought closer, which is awesome. I could not imagine this band without the four of us; losing our guitarist taught us we need to communicate more, and talk more.
MB: It’s interesting to see the evolution in sound from Something Wild to now. On that first album, there was this youthful exuberance, where you want to throw as many notes as possible into each bar. It seems like now, there’s more purpose in each note.
Alexi: When the first album came out we were just kids, 17 and 18 years old. With every song and solo I felt I had to show everything that I had, it was a lot more about showing off. I felt I needed to go out of my way to prove I’m a kickass guitar player [laughs].
Those early songs still definitely had a lot of feeling in them, a lot of soul. At that age, and at that phase of the band, we weren’t as worried about song-structure. It’s just cool riffs, one after another, but most of the songs were kind of broken, structure wise, as opposed to I Worship Chaos, where there’s verse/bridge/verse/chorus, you know, an actual structure. It’s now something you can actually remember from the first time you listen to it, unlike on Something Wild, where you’re like “whoa, what just happened?” There’s still some good energy on that album, though. Just a lot of fucking teenage rage, and that’s what it’s all about, really.
MB: And there’s still plenty of that attitude in the new record, as well as flashy musicianship. Towards the end of “All For Nothing,” there’s this cool bit where you and Janne trade off on solos. That’s actually something that, in my opinion, has set Children Of Bodom apart, the use of keyboards as another instrument and not just accompaniment.
Alexi: Yeah, I think it’s something that makes us stick out from the rest of the extreme metal scene. I mean nowadays, obviously, it’s not unusual to have a keyboard player in a death metal band; it’s almost like you either have a keyboard player, or use backing tracks. But I can’t really think of any other death metal band that has a keyboard player that does solos. Growing up listening to Yngwie Malmsteen I always thought it was cool the way they Yngwie and Jens Johansson would trade rock solos. I kinda wanted to incorporate something like that into extreme metal, but I was also a huge fan of death metal, so both of those things bled into each other. It was pretty difficult to find a keyboard player who could play at that level, and who was also willing to play that way in a death metal band.
MB: So that is something you specifically looked for when starting the band then. It was important to find someone that played keyboards that could actually be another instrument, and not just a soundtrack.
Alexi: It’s still a super important part of Children Of Bodom. I mean, Janne is musically trained, as most of us in the band are. The way he and I communicate musically is pretty amazing. These days, half the time we don’t have to talk, I just kind of look at him and he knows exactly what to do.
MB: It’s a cool thing to have in the band. Another thing, at least in my mind, that Children Of Bodom has that doesn’t seem to be very prevalent in the extreme metal scene is your use of dark humor. There are so many bands that just want to put off an evil persona and frown in all their pictures. Do you think it’s important to keep a sense of humor?
Alexi: Absolutely. Even though we’re an extreme metal band, whether you want to call it death metal or whatever, we always had a rock and roll, or punk rock, attitude. It’s always been a big part of us. We’ve never been afraid to show it. I always thought it was cool to put a dark sense of humor in the song titles and lyrics. I mean, look at the cover songs we’ve done, it just goes to show we like to have fun. I think it’s important to show people we’re not afraid to laugh at ourselves.
When a metal band take themselves too seriously, it kind of ruins it for me. I’m a huge fan of a lot of black metal bands, and I guess most of them can pull off that whole serious side… but half of the time, I’m sorry dude, it makes me want to fucking laugh. I mean you guys are so fucking serious! I like the music, but if you look at the interviews, I can’t help it, it’s pure comedy to me.
MB: Something else that I thought was interesting happened recently: Ghost won a Grammy—
Alexi: Which is awesome!
MB: See, it’s just so weird, considering the Grammy’s were invented as a way to actually combat rock and roll music, and now they’re giving awards to “metal” bands.
Alexi: Yeah, it is weird, the whole Grammy thing, it seems about 90% of it is just fucking bullshit. But I guess it is positive that they do have at least one metal category, though I think there should be more. But at least one is better than nothing!
I like Ghost, but I never considered them to be a metal band. I think it’s cool, though, that a band like that can win a Grammy, they’re still on their way to being huge!
MB: I thought it was interesting that it was given to a Scandinavian band. Scandinavian metal has been pretty big here in the States. At one time you could label just about anything “True Norwegian Black Metal,” and it would sell like crazy.
Alexi: And that’s definitely cool. I think it started to happen around the early 2000’s, when Scandinavian death and black metal started becoming more popular in America. The first tour we did over here was in 2003, and we opened up for Dimmu Borgir. I had no idea what to expect. It could have just been us playing in front of 10 people every night, for all I knew. It was actually, from my point of view at least, fucking huge! There were hundreds of people, every night the place was just packed. I thought it was awesome, and very strange, you know, with us coming from the North Pole, and we were in places like Texas. Back then, we expected it to be like a movie, it was unreal. But then all these people like death and black metal, which is fucking awesome. It was cool because, even though there was internet back in 2003, it’s not like it is now. It was strictly because of the music that the fans came out.
MB: One last question for you: have you done any writing for another record? I know that you’re still in the middle of the tour cycle, but there have been many bands over the years that write on the road.
Alexi: Well, we’re pretty much going to continue touring into early next year. I always try to keep touring life and writing/recording life separate, because it’s a whole different mindset, so I don’t usually write on the road. However, within the last couple of years, I’ve started writing lyrics while on the road. I wouldn’t say that’s half the battle, but at least it is something. It’s actually kind of weird, because the words would be the last thing written, back in the day. Most of the time, we write them in the studio, after the instruments are recorded. But now I actually have the lyrics first, which gives me a different point of view when writing the song. That was the case with one or two of the songs on I Worship Chaos, I’d write the song around the lyrics, so the songs became more approachable, and more structured like I mentioned earlier.
MB: Very cool! Well, thank you for your time!