Finnish metal band Children of Bodom embarked on the 20 Years Down N’ Dirty North America Tour on Oct. 31 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its debut album, Something Wild. The group — which took its name from the 1960 unsolved murders of three teens who were killed while camping at Lake Bodom in Espoo, Finland — is paying homage to Something Wild by playing obscure tracks from the set, as well as rarities from its subsequent albums Hatebreeder, Follow the Reaper and Hate Crew Deathroll. It was the latter album that pushed the group into the mainstream in 2003, due to its positive critical reception, and enabled COB to finally tour the United States.
“After all those years, we got to tour in the States for the first time,” recalls singer-guitarist Alexi Laiho of the doors that Hate Crew Deathroll opened. “We were young, and we were fucking crazy. Every single day we had a blast on the stage, and after the show, it was a fucking mad party.”
He fondly recalls how, when hanging with contemporaries like Dimmu Borgir and Nevermore, “it [was] like, if you don’t keep up with those guys, you’re not fucking rock ‘n’ roll enough. We didn’t have that problem. We were fucking pros already. I remember Nevermore — those fucking guys, holy shit. The way they were drinking vodka, even we were freaked out.”
Laiho has since tempered his alcohol consumption, especially while touring — “I don’t drink on the road anymore because the hangovers are so fucking horrible that I don’t want to feel like a fucking roadkill on the stage the day after.” But his appreciation for what the band achieved with Hate Crew Deathroll remains undiminished, and Laiho reflects on that album as well as the rest of their discography with Billboard.
I was reading, and I don’t know if this is accurate, that you had some misgivings, shall we say, about the first album.
I wouldn’t say misgivings, but when you think about it, it’s the first album, and it’s far from perfect. But the more I listen to it now — because I had to learn a couple of things here and there — the more I actually like that we were not striving for perfection or any of that. It was just pure teenage fuckin’ rage and rebellion. Things like production, they were completely secondary facts. I kind of dig that. Also, song-wise, it’s very, I don’t know. I guess “juvenile” would be the word. I have improved as a songwriter. I would put 10 different riffs in one song, but they don’t really go together … It was more about showing off and being pissed off.
What were some of your influences at the time? On the band’s Skeletons in the Closet compilation and some of your B-sides, you draw from a really eclectic musical background. Did you have older siblings who turned you on to some music when you were growing up?
My older sister, she introduced me to hard-rock ’80s stuff, so I grew up with bands like Motley Crue, WASP, Twisted Sister, and then later on, Guns N’ Roses, Skid Row. She would play the cassette for me, and I was like, ‘Holy fuck, this is awesome.’ The more she grew up, she got more into extreme stuff, and then all of a sudden, there’s Metallica, there’s Sepultura, there’s Slayer. Then I’m like, ‘Holy fuck.’ Then she bumps it up to death metal, and then it’s black metal.
But the thing is, I never really abandoned any of my first influences or the first bands that I dug. That’s one thing about Children of Bodom’s music: You can hear a lot. For example, in the guitar riffs, there’s an ’80s vibe to them. And the keyboard sounds, there’s a lot of ’80s disco vibe going on in there. It’s a weird mix, but somehow I guess we made it work.
Would you say the album after that, Hatebreeder, was the first one that got people paying more attention to the band?
Yeah, I would say that less than a year-and-a-half between Something Wild and Hatebreeder, the band had taken such a huge leap forward, as far as everything. That’s when we started touring and playing live, and all of us, we were practicing like madmen. It was fuckin’ insane, dude. Every single day, we would practice as a band for hours and hours. And before and after, I would practice my own instrument. Our drummer, he would do the same thing. So Hatebreeder was obviously [better-played], and production-wise, it was a whole different band.
Also, the songs, they had started making more sense. There was some sort of verse-chorus loop going on. Even though it was pretty progressive, but it wasn’t like one riff after another. The songs were actually a lot better, too.
Did you categorize the band’s music as death metal? Have you moved beyond that category?
I never even tried, dude. It’s just impossible. To me, it’s just metal. I just call it metal and that’s it. But some people call it black metal, some people call it death metal, some say it’s thrash, God knows what. There are millions of sub-categories and shit, and I’m not really that keen on labels. So you can call it whatever you want.
What can you share about your third studio album, Follow the Reaper?
We recorded that in Sweden, with Peter Tägtgren from Hypocrisy. And I think now, when I look back, maybe the songs, songwriting-wise, they had improved a lot. I do remember a lot of people were upset about the fact that the whole classical music vibe had been dialed back a lot. But a lot of people didn’t mind. I think it had a more rock’n’roll vibe in it. It was the first time we had kind of a slow song on the record, which was “Everytime I Die.” and that was one of those songs we still play live.
How do you view the self-referential nature of singing about Lake Bodom or Children of Bodom, invoking it in your lyrics?
It just accidentally became a routine — well, not a routine, but more like a tradition. On the first album, we had “Lake Bodom,” and then I figured, “OK, we’re going to use the Reaper on the cover.” Originally, that wasn’t planned. It just sort of happened. And then I made a promise to myself that on every single record, there was going to be at least one Bodom-related song. The cool thing about that is that since it is an unsolved crime, you can pretty much write anything you want about it. But they’re more harsh to write. It’s sort of like B horror movie style. So it’s like they’re half-comedy and half-horror.
That brings us to Hate Crew Deathroll. What did that album do for you?
That was the album where we’d finally found our own path and our own style. Because up until then, we were kind of like going here and there. Sort of looking for what we’re all about. And I think on Hate Crew, we had finally captured it … That’s definitely one of not only the most important albums for Children of Bodom, but definitely one of the best. For a lot of people, it’s their favorite record of Children of Bodom — and I don’t blame them. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but it is pretty fucking badass. When I look back and I listen to it, I’m like, “Shit, man. We nailed it.”
You have an eclectic body of cover songs. I think the first one I ever heard was the Britney Spears cover, “Ooops!… I Did It Again.” Have you ever gotten feedback from artists that you’ve covered?
Britney, no, unfortunately. I’ve always wanted her to hear it. I would just love to see her face. No, that hasn’t happened yet. Through the grapevine, I did hear that Pat Benatar‘s guitar player, Neil Giraldo, heard the cover we did, “Hell Is for Children,” and that he dug it or something. But it might just be a rumor. Same thing with Johnny Ramone. I heard that he heard the cover we did of “Somebody Put Something in My Drink” and he thought it was cool. But none of this was directly from the people, so it could be bullshit. But I choose to believe it because it makes me happy.
Remaining dates for the 20 Years Down N’ Dirty North America Tour with Carach Angren, LOST SOCIETY and Uncured:
Nov. 15: Kansas City, Mo. @ The Truman
Nov. 17: Minneapolis @ The Cabooze
Nov. 18: Chicago @ The Forge
Nov. 19: Detroit @ The Majestic
Nov. 21: Pittsburgh @ Mr. Smalls Theatre
Nov. 22: Philadelphia @ The Trocadero Theatre
Nov. 24: New York @ Playstation Theater
Nov. 25: Worcester, Mass. @ The Palladium
Nov. 26: Rochester, N.Y. @ Anthology
Nov. 28: Toronto @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
Nov. 29: Ottawa, Ontario @ Bronson Centre
Nov. 30: Quebec City @ Imperial
Dec. 1: Montreal @ Corona Theatre