Back in 2011, readers of Total Guitar magazine voted Children of Bodom frontman Alexi Laiho as the greatest guitarist ever, ahead of Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello and Pantera legend Dimebag Darrell.
While Laiho, who has sadly died at 41, was perhaps not as well-known as those musicians outside of metal circles, the vote spoke to his recognition among aficionados and the enduring influence of his group, unequivocally the biggest Finnish metal band of their era. With Laiho as their lynchpin, they were an unstoppable musical maelstrom.
Their 1997 debut, ‘Something Wild’, a furious blend of technical, melodic and progressive metal – bound together by Laiho’s piercing, demonic, shrieked vocals – won Children of Bodom universal acclaim among those in the know (admittedly then a limited field). Formed in Espoo in 1993, they based their moniker on a triple murder that occurred at Bodom Lake, on the outskirts of the city, in 1960. The long-running band lived up to the grisly inspiration with music immersed in the macabre (their fifth album, released in 2005, was titled simply: ‘Are You Dead Yet?’).
Laiho, a slight figure who could be as self-effacing as he was talented, was later somewhat dismissive of the band’s name-making debut. He told Kerrang! that although he considered it a “classic” and rated its “anger and energy”, on the whole he felt the album was “fucking stupid”, adding: “‘Deadnight Warrior’ and ‘Lake Bodom’… were actually good songs, but other than that it’s a series of great riffs with me screaming obscenities on top of it… We were only 17 and 18 at that point and we saved up money from our daytime jobs doing random shit to record the album. Nothing was planned.”
If those quotes, from an interview published last year, seem imbued with nostalgia, it’s perhaps no wonder. While Children of Bodom racked up countless achievements during their 10-album, almost three-decade career (2000’s power metal-inspired ‘Follow The Reaper’ went Gold and in 2004 they confirmed their top table status with an appearance on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball series – an accolade that Laiho considered a career highlight), they also experienced some turbulence.
In interviews, the frontman would sometimes hint at discord within the group, once claiming that guitarist Roope Latvala lacked the necessary “work ethic”. Latvala left Children of Bodom in 2015 and, heralding the arrival of his replacement Daniel Freyberg for the band’s final album ‘Hexed’, Laiho explained: “The rest of us… we’ve known each other since childhood… Try fucking touring for 20 years and you’ll see that it’s like a marriage sometimes, where you end up bickering about stupid shit.”
In addition to this, Laiho was open about his problematic relationship with alcohol, and in 2015 told YouTube channel Metal Injection: “I just made the decision that I don’t drink at all when I’m on the road. It just got to the point where I wasn’t feeling healthy. It wasn’t, like, party fun stuff any more. It got pretty dark. I got stomach ulcers and was vomiting blood before the show, sometimes during the show. It’s like, ‘Dude? Really?’ It wasn’t fun anymore, you know?”
Indeed, the singer and shredder suffered health problems throughout Children of Bodom’s career, and in 2012 cancelled a string of European live dates due, according to the band’s Facebook page, to “extreme stomach pain”. For all the difficulties, though, their music become ever more accomplished and complex – without, thankfully, sacrificing the explosive sense of release that made it so much fun in the first place.
On 2019’s ‘Hexed’, the band revisited the neo-classical elements they’d seemingly perfected on ‘Follow The Reaper’, but with greater muscularity and a more seamless blend of punishing, crunching riffs, chanted vocals and melodic backing arrangements. Critics regularly hailed Children of Bodom albums as ‘a return to their roots’, a fact that Laiho acknowledged with typical wryness: “I wish I knew what these roots are, because we seem to be going back there a lot!”
For all the violence, decay and angst explored in their music (from 2015’s ‘I Worship Chaos’: “My demons keep on creeping / Through the cracks of my shattered mind”), the frontman enjoyed a wicked sense of humour, gleefully battering both Britpop and Pearl Jam in one interview: “All this Britpop bullshit – Oasis – I hated all that shit. And the kind of bands where the music sounds whiney and complaining, like Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder’s voice… I find pretty annoying.” And he appeared to take pleasure in taunting metal purists by covering Britney Spears’ ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’ and Bananarama’s 1984 cheese-pop hit ‘Cruel Summer’.
After two decades of ups, downs and constantly inspired melodic metal, Children of Bodom disbanded last year, as the rest of the band wished to focus on their families. For Laiho, who in 2002 married Sinergy frontwoman Kim Goss, the party wasn’t over yet: he and Freyberg formed the group Bodom After Midnight.
Alexi Laiho was once asked which records he would take to a desert island and, tellingly, opted for the novelty rocker Andrew WK’s ‘I Get Wet’ “in case there happens to be a party at the isolated island”. Let’s hope he’s cranking it out loud right now, wherever he is. He’s earned it.