CHILDREN OF BODOM – Putting The X In Hexed
March 12, 2019, 6 months ago
Children Of Bodom frontman / mastermind Alexi Laiho has been a favourite BraveWords interview victim since 1998. His devil-may-care attitude always shines through, often profanity-laced, as one has come to expect from a serious and successful musician who takes criticism with an "I don't give a fuck" shrug of the shoulders. Laiho also happens to be very down-to-earth and an overall nice guy (sorry, bro). Thus, regardless of how some Children Of Bodom records of the past decade may have failed to connect, there has always been an invested curiosity in this office as to what he and the band will come up with next. So it goes that when the initial rumblings for their new album, Hexed, began with the oddly-titled single "Under Grass And Clover", the undeniably "happy" opening riff hinted at Laiho being in a much different place from the guy who wrote the and Blooddrunk and Halo Of Blood albums. Never mind that he's relocated from his native Finland to Australia, which may or may not have had something to do with it.
"Well, I wrote that riff while I was in Finland, but it would be kind of funny to say I wrote it in Australia," Laiho says. "In fact, I should probably say that from now on (laughs). It's weird; those kinds of things just come out of nowhere. I do know they come from life, and being down here in Australia for the past two years I've been happy, so I'm sure that does have something to do with it. If I was still living in Helsinki and I'd had great things happening in my life there, maybe the result would have been the same."
Hexed as a whole is easily Children Of Bodom's most diverse album since 2003's Hate Crew Deathroll, possibly ever. And it will, hopefully for Laiho's sake, end the endless screams from the fans for another Hatebreeder or Follow The Reaper record.
"(Laughs) I never planned out any of this shit. None of it has been thought out. I guess I just fucking fully hit the bulls-eye with this one for the Hatebreeder fans. God forbid that I miss it next time (laughs). Even if a couple of tracks on Hexed remind those fans of Hatebreeder or Follow The Reaper, that gives me some breathing room to do the shows, to do the next album, and hope for the best."
On a purely personal level, Hexed is at the top of the COB heap with Hate Crew Deathroll. The flow is outstanding, and the diversity between tracks like "Under Grass And Clover", "Hecate's Nightmare", "Kick In The Spleen", "Platitudes And Barren Words", "This Road" and "Soon Departed" is unmatched in the Children Of Bodom catalogue.
"Thanks... that means a lot to me. Obviously I'm way too close to this stuff to hear it the same way you do, so I can't tell if the songs are any good or not. The album was mixed and mastered last June, so I took a break before I listened to it again... and again... and I'm pretty happy with it. And this isn't interview bullshit talk. I'm actually really happy with it. I know there are going to be a bunch of people complaining about it, as always, but I don't fucking care."
It turns out that Bodom fans are largely in favour of the diversity on Hexed.
"'Hecate's Nightmare' is one of my favourites because it's something that could have come from Alice Cooper's heyday," says Laiho, "but just a death metal version of it. The album is very diverse, yeah. I think I've said that about every album, but that is definitely the case with Hexed. I don't think we've ever had a song like 'Hecate's Nightmare' before."
"Platitudes And Barren Words" is another bastard child on the album, featuring Laiho adopting his cover song voice for sections of the track, and interestingly, doesn't contain a full-on trademark shred-til-yer-dead guitar solo.
"That's a very punk-ish song to me. The voice I'm using on it I've used on a lot of the covers we've done, but it's never been that prominent in any original COB song before. It's just in the pre-chorus but it stands out, and it works. I'm gonna get a lot of Wednesday 13 references for that song; it sounds a bit similar to the 'Mistress Of Taboo' cover (The Plasmatics) we did with him."
Music obviously comes first in Children Of Bodom, but the song titles on Hexed suggest Laiho has devoted a significant amount of energy to writing meaningful lyrics rather than spitting venom for an entire album, as he used to.
"I do put a lot of effort into the lyrics these days," Laiho admits. "I have for the last few records. The thing is that Bodom songs have never been about the words. The average COB fan - and I don't mean 'average' in a negative way - the songs are about the music itself, and the vocals are just another instrument. I've just gotten more and more into writing lyrics. It's definitely not like 15 years ago when I was writing 'Fuck this and fuck that.' It is what it is, and I'm okay with it when Bodom fans are more interested in the music than the lyrics. And it makes sense because the majority of our fans are in Europe, Asia, and other non-English speaking parts of the world."
"There's also the fact that I really try to enunciate more when I sing, and that's really fucking hard. Doing the death metal vocals and making the words sound like they're supposed to sound isn't easy, but I want to add more to the songs when we play live by doing that."
Begging the cliché question of how the band is going to design a setlist ten albums into their career, with new songs begging to be played live.
"Talk about 'Alexi's Nightmare' (laughs). This never gets easier; not for me, not for the other guys in the band, and not for the crowd. Keeping everybody happy is murder. Obviously, keeping the crowd happy is the top priority, but also within the band everybody has their favourites. Somebody says 'How about this song?' and everybody else is like 'I hate that fucking song!' (laughs). We never have major disagreements about the setlists, but now it's going to be worse. I'm interested to see if we can get in all the songs we have to play and all the songs we want to play in a 90 minute set."
Hexed also features the Children Of Bodom recording debut of former Naildown / Norther guitarist Daniel Freyberg, who officially replaced Roope Latvala in 2016.
"Dude, Daniel is fucking awesome," Laiho says. "He's a hard worker, he's a great guitar player, he has an awesome presence on stage, and he's full-on rock n' roll. But most importantly, he fits our dysfunctional family. It feels like he's been a part of this forever, and not only that, he actually calms down the vibe in the band. We can go at it pretty bad sometimes, but if Daniel is there his presence just calms things down. He doesn't even fucking do anything, and sometimes I don't think he even realizes it (laughs)."
So yes, it's fair to say that Alexi Laiho and Children Of Bodom are in a good place in 2019, with an album to prove it. Laiho agrees with the assessment that COB has (finally) gotten out of their growing up phase, having toned down and chilled out as a band to some degree.
"The guys still drink on the road, I don't, and when I'm off the road I do drink but not like I used to. Let's say I enjoy getting wasted once in a while, but that's it, and never on the road; I can't handle fucking hangovers. I had ulcers and stuff back in the day because I drank too much, but I'm happy now being sober. I can actually enjoy the show and not feel fucking dead the whole day."
It's a good thing, but it's somewhat hard to believe that Laiho is able to justifiably say "back in the day" as if he is an elder statesman for metal. He's officially been around a long time.
"I know, right? It's horrible (laughs)."