It’s hard to believe that Children of Bodom have been around for over 20 years. Having formed in 1993, the band has come to signify melodic death metal, and with their ninth studio album, I Worship Chaos, coming out tomorrow, they’re at the top of their game. We caught up with frontman Alexi Laiho to talk about recording their first album without a second guitarist, his thoughts on the demise of the Mayhem Festival and playing with 100 guitarists earlier this year in Helsinki.
I Worship Chaos was recorded as a quartet. Did you entertain the idea of getting another guitar player, or were you just like “we’re a four piece now?”
There wasn’t even time to think about stuff like that. When we parted ways, it was three days before we hit the studio. This was one of those things where it was like “okay guys, we’ll talk later. Let’s just go make an album.” I had written all the riffs anyway and I am a guitar player. So all it really meant was I was working a double shift and that’s that. If anything, the guitars are way tighter than they were on the previous ones. So at least something good came of the bad situation.
So everything was already written before you hit the studio?
Yeah. That’s always been the case for us. Everything’s very well prepared before we hit the studio. I suppose it was something that we always needed to do, especially way back in the day. Being in a studio, it’s not cheap. It’s a great way to save money to actually know how to play. We want to make sure the songs are finished and well-rehearsed. We still roll the same way. We get together for months and months and practice five days a week. We’re very old school.
How close to live is the record if you’re that rehearsed?
Well it’s not like that. It’s not a live thing. I’ll do the rhythm guitar, the bass, the melodies and solos and shit. While I’m doing that, Janne [Wirman], our keyboard player, would record in his home studio, which is basically just laying down the tracks. It’s a great idea to save time and money. When he’s done, we take a couple days and go through keyboard sounds, which is always really fun. We’re always trying to come up with new types of keyboard sounds and new ways of freaking people out. We add all these hidden technoish sounds here and there. It’s a tiny thing, but it makes all the difference sometimes.
Yeah, I mean I’m a keyboard player myself, and I appreciate there’s a metal band that puts keyboards in the center of their sound.
Definitely. I suppose it makes us different from other extreme metal bands. I mean there’s a certain way I do guitar that makes it sound like the eighties and the eighties keyboards too. That combined with the death metal shit makes us a little different.
Yeah. I guess it’s kind of how you guys and Soilwork do stuff like that. Do you consider them contemporaries of yours?
Yeah. I have a lot of respect for them. They’re so talented. The only problem is I don’t understand what the hell is going on with that band. I’m not talking shit. We went on tour with them and they’re cool guys, at least the ones we toured with. But they seem to be changing members constantly. I just wish they were more active. But like I said, I have a lot of respect for them. I do enjoy a lot of their records.
Have advances in technology with home studios and being able to record an album without spending thousands of dollars in the studio, has any of that changed how the band writes at all?
No. As far as writing the music and doing the arrangements, it’s the same as it’s always been. I do the writing, but then we do the arrangements as a group. I’ll just write the riffs with my old shitty four track and then I show it to the guys the next day. We jam on it for a little bit. Then I go back home and do the same thing and then we start getting parts together. That’s how it starts. We don’t send each other files and shit. I’m sure it works for some bands, but for us we’re pretty old school.
I read and heard the album described as darker than some of your previous ones. Is there anything in particular that led to the album being darker in tone?
Well when I start doing the writing, I go out of my way to not think about how people would react to the song or riff. We never plan or even talk about what we should sound like. We never sit down go like “hey, you think we should sound darker now?” It’s not like that. Everything around me affects the music on some level. I do incorporate real life events in the music. I take bad things that happen to me and try not to react so impossibly that I tend to do sometimes. I end up hurting people around me or mostly myself. I really am trying to learn how to take all that bad shit and save it for the music and put it in the music. I think that’s a big part of it, that I really did save all of it for the music. It’s not always easy. I’m not perfect. I fucking lash out sometimes, but at least I’m learning. I think it’s a great form of therapy because it serves the band as well.
You’ve definitely been doing a decent amount of touring in America. Have you found yourself becoming more American from your time here?
Everything around me affects the band. I’m like a five year-old. My eyes and ears are open. I observe everything. All that ends up being incorporated into the music or the way we are on stage or even the way I carry myself as a person. So yeah, absolutely. It has made a difference.
Two years ago you were one of the bands on Mayhem Fest, which is now not a tour anymore. How do you feel about that going away and how do you feel touring metal festivals in general?
How do I put this in words without being a total fucking asshole? (Laughter) Maybe it’s because I wasn’t at a very good place in my life, but I did not enjoy Mayhem. However, whenever we were on stage, which was only 30 minutes a night, those 30 minutes was the only time I felt alive. We didn’t play the main stage. It wasn’t necessarily the most organized thing ever. But there were good points of it too. I think it’s a cool thing that a festival like that happens in America because America doesn’t have the same festival culture that Europe has. There are tons and tons of metal festivals that are huge. I think that’s a very cool thing. I’ve always been baffled by that. How come that doesn’t happen in America?
There really isn’t a touring metal festival in the summer anymore except for Summer Slaughter, which is a lot more extreme.
Not even a touring festival. Just festivals in general, three day festivals. I’m sure it would be huge.
I mean there’s the Knotfest, the Slipknot thing that’s going on and there’s fests like Rock on the Range.
But those aren’t that popular I guess.
They appear popular There haven’t been that many of them yet. Let’s talk about that thing you did in Helsinki with the 100 guitar players. How did that whole thing come about and how do you think it went over?
Yeah that was just insane. Basically how it came about was this Helsinki City Festival, which is one of the oldest and considered one of the most prestigious festivals in the country. It’s known for classical acts and art based events. Basically anything, but the likes of me. I think they wanted to do something different and fresh and pull a little younger crowd. They came up to me, asking if I wanted to write a 15-minute guitar piece for 100 fucking guys. I was like ‘what?’ And then a second after that I said ‘yes, I will do that.’ I mean the idea was so fucking insane. How could I decline? I had to do it.
Was it a song that you already had?
No. I had to start from scratch. And I was still in the middle of writing the Bodom record, which wasn’t the most convenient timing ever. But I told them that this isn’t my top priority. The Bodom album has got to get mixed and mastered, then after that I am going to put everything on this project. I can guarantee that I can make it happen. They took my word. There was a lot of hard work, auditioning, and planning, Jesus Christ so much planning.
Did you audition all 100 guitar players?
Well no. They sent videos. But we got over 400 of them. But when I was writing the song, it was so different. It was instrumental for one, and the fact that its 15 minutes long, the fact that it’s 100 people. You have to keep certain things in persepctive, of course. So it doesn’t pay off to clever with it. It’s way better to keep it more simple. It doesn’t matter who you got up there. Even if you got 200 Steve Vais, it’s still going to be messy. But I had a great bunch of people around me, the core musicians and the band. They helped me out. We had two full rehearsals with all 100 of them. Then we just went home and did it. It was fucking mind blowing, dude. The police had estimated around 2 to 3,000 people, but there ended up being 8 to 10,000. So I mean there was a whole fucking area where they couldn’t see the stage because it was so packed.
Did you have a hand in assembling the backing band?
Yeah. I picked the core guys, like Archie from Santa Cruz and all those guys. Yeah I picked them. The drummer was the drummer from Bodom.
What is the Finnish rock and metal scene like? We’re seeing Santa Cruz start to make their way over here. Is it healthy and flourishing?
It’s pretty big. It’s very different than a lot of countries. Finland is a small country. It’s very strange when it comes to the whole metal thing, how fucking popular it is. Obviously it’s awesome, but I never had an answer as to why that is. Because I honestly can’t figure it out.
It seems like the 80s, almost hair metal sound is still very popular over there. Is that the case? Or is that just what we’re getting over in America?
Yeah, actually it is true. I would say that bands like W.A.S.P, who play in Finland a lot, are fucking huge. Then again it’s not like Finland is 20 years behind anything. At the same time we get awesome shows from current bands too. It’s just a very different and interesting scene.
I Worship Chaos is out tomorrow (2) on Nuclear Blast Records. You can pick it up here.