Fully 20 years into the tough, heroic grind that represents the lifeblood of extreme musicians, Finland metal scientists Children of Bodom have certainly won over crowds globally through a crafted alloy that is theirs alone. But the building of their esteemed career has also been aided an abetted by the simple math of all that work, the intense touring, that inevitable return visit to your town that has made the band’s shows engaging, personable and energetic thrash parties indelibly stamped on the circuit boards of headbangers worldwide.
The party continues, with the release of the band’s ninth album, I Worship Chaos, which finds guitar hero for a new generation Alexi Lahio recording for the first time in a four-piece configuration (along with Janne, Jaska and Henkka), given the sudden and recent departure of long-time co-guitarist Roope Latvala from the ranks.
Which has lent the band a forced but fortuitous sense of focus, says Alexi: “It was hard because we’ve never been the kind of a band who changes members every other week. So all of a sudden you are one family member short. I was obviously on double duty, because I had to record all the guitars. But I didn’t even care, man; we just went and got everything done. And I think us parting ways with him has made us strive and pull together as a group, which was a beautiful thing, really. Because it felt like we were teenagers again making our first album. Plus it made the guitars tighter. It’s not like I’m talking shit about Roope or anything, but it’s just a scientific fact that if there’s one guy playing everything, it tends to get tighter. And I’m definitely happy with the result.”
If there’s an increased level of heaviness rippling and rifling through I Worship Chaos, it might be because the album is constructed with guitars that are tuned a half step lower. Hence tracks like blackened thrashers “Horns” and “Suicide Bomber,” as well as the rhythmically sophisticated “My Bodom (I Am the Only One)” reverberate with bottom end from both bass and guitar, even if keyboards and the band’s modern approach to drum mix fight to uphold Children of Bodom’s celebrated sense of cut, clarity and agility.
All told, says Alexi, “The mission will always be to get as heavy as possible, but also try to improve as musicians and as songwriters. Honestly, this is the strongest COB album in a long, long fucking time. We just wanted to change things up a bit. I think the album has a darker vibe than the previous ones, especially Halo of Blood—it is definitely heavier, as well as darker as far as the melodies go. It’s got a lot of sadness and hurt and anger in it. Which sounds like, hey, what else is new? But it really is different (laughs).”
The Skyclad-meets-Dark Tranquillity of “Morrigan,” with its expert synthesis between keyboards and mid-paced riff, with its thump and near swing feel, is sure to stand out as one of the magic stadium rock moments of the entire Children of Bodom catalogue.
“That one stood out from the line-up from the get-go,” explains Alexi. “It’s like everybody—the band, the record company and the management—were like, that’s gotta be the single. And even all my friends I ran it past said, dude, that’s so fucking catchy, you gotta make a single out of that. Lyrically, Morrigan is one of the goddesses of the underworld, and it’s sang basically from a mortal man’s point of view, where he expresses obsessive love and lust for her. That idea inspired me to write that song, but it’s not necessarily about a certain goddess. It could be anybody, and so it’s a song that is probably very easy for people to relate to.”
Even more elegantly shocking is “All for Nothing,” on which Alexei opens with a frightening whisper-type vocal over a track that is often Maiden-esque and textural, the bonus being a searing guitar solo which demonstrates why Laiho has quietly become—weirdly and specifically—an elder statesman of razor-wired guitar to a very young next generation of Bodomites. Says Alexi, “All For Nothing” is very different from anything that we have done before—you would not know that that’s Children of Bodom. That vocal was a challenge to record, but that’s how it should be. You shouldn’t be too comfortable with what you do; you’ve got to try new things.”
But there’s signature white-knuckle Bodom all over the record as well, songs that slam but then are sweetened by synth legend Janne Warman’s array of slicing keyboard sounds. “Sure, well, the opening track called ‘I Hurt’ is fast and intense,” describes Laiho, “with a lot of things going now. At first you’re thinking it’s basically pure chaos, but then there’s a chorus that is just so catchy on every level, that I think it’s the best opening track we’ve had in a long time. It’s one of those that doesn’t fly by you—that chorus will stick with you for sure. The title track, ‘I Worship Chaos’ is another fast one but it’s very simple—you know, main riff, verse/chorus, that sort of thing—but it’s got lyrics that are quite autobiographical and true, basically around the idea that I’m not good with quiet, I’m not good with dead silence—that stresses the shit out of me. I need a lot of noise and chaos around me constantly, on every level, to function. I’m pretty proud of those lyrics and I poured a lot of effort into them.”
Underscoring the sense of contrast to the record—in fact, its perfectly sequenced ebb and flow—is “Hold Your Tongue,” which Alexi describes as “a straight up rock ‘n’ roll song, which lyrically is me basically being pissed at people who complain too much when they don’t have anything to complain about.”
Add those examples up, and one can divine the componentry of the Children of Bodom sound, which Alexi articulates as such: “Well, obviously the guitars with those keyboards is a different dimension from almost all the extreme bands, when you think about it. The keyboard thing is obvious, I would say. But really, the guitars... it’s extreme metal—basically death and black metal and thrash—but there are also sleazy little ‘80s riffs in there. And same thing with the keyboards, really; we do a lot of stuff with keyboards that could be in a friggin’ disco song. But we have a way of making it sound dark and heavy as well. We grew up listening to everything, and even though we were death metal kids and black metal kids when we were teenagers, there was still the whole ‘80s thing with W.A.S.P. and everything. That’s always stuck with me and so I automatically kind of incorporated that into our whole death metal sound.”
And is there something intrinsically Finnish about Children of Bodom?
“Personally I don’t think there’s a Finnish sound,” reflects Laiho. “People talk about the old school black metal thing from Norway or the Gothenburg sound, which both exist on some level, but in Finland there are so many different bands that sound nothing like each other. If anything, I think the Finnish thing in Children of Bodom would be an attitude, where it’s perhaps angry and blunt, but with a dose of dark humor.”
The band’s sense of not taking themselves too seriously might be divined from their choice of covers to be used for I Worship Chaos bonus material. Sure the band celebrate their heritage (and the music the guys loved as teenagers) through Amorphis track “Black Winter Day.” But then there’s an exploration of Alexi’s love for deep tracks punk through a cover of The Plasmatics’ “Mistress of Taboo” as well as a metal send-up of Kenny Loggins’ soundtrack classic, “Danger Zone.”
“Well, Plasmatics was just fun,” laughs Alexi. “I’d been listening to Plasmatics a lot, for some reason, just before we started recording. I can’t recall any bands like us that have covered Plasmatics, so I thought that would be cool. I have always been a huge W.A.S.P. fan—the first two W.A.S.P. records, I fucking love them. And to me, The Plasmatics sound like W.A.S.P. before W.A.S.P., you know? I’m sure that Blackie Lawless was listening to a lot of Wendy O. Williams and Plasmatics back in the day. As for Kenny Loggins, well, we just love to do goofy silly covers, so that was just one of those things. Everyone loves Top Gun, right? So there you go. I’m not even sure it turned out that well, but you’ll get a laugh out of it, and that’s all that matters (laughs).”