Children of Bodom: Alexi Laiho Discusses Berzerkus Tour
Originally published in Guitar World, October 2010
As Finland's Children of Bodom prepare to join forces with Black Label Society on their upcoming Berzerkus tour, guitarist/frontman Alexi Laiho reflects on the path that got them there.
Serious fans of heavy metal shredding have had little to complain about this year. Between the numerous package tours featuring the guitar heroics of Megadeth’s Chris Broderick, Ozzy Osbourne’s Gus G. and countless others, arpeggios and sweeps have been gushing out of amps all summer like BP’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
But for true connoisseurs of six-string ferocity, the knife fight of the year will take place this autumn when Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde and Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho face off on the Berzerkus tour package. While Wylde is something of a national treasure, Laiho is still a bit of a cult figure.
Born Markku Uula Aleksi Laiho, the guitarist recorded his first album with Children of Bodom in 1997 in Finland. Since then, he and his Nordic band have released six studio efforts, two live albums and an assortment of EPs and DVDs. Beginning as a death metal unit, Bodom rapidly discovered their own unique voice by mixing and matching elements of Scandinavian black metal, European progressive rock, American thrash and Eighties hair metal into a compelling blend of flat-out aggression, catchy choruses and instrumental virtuosity. Are You Dead Yet?, Blooddrunk and last year’s album of cover songs Skeletons in the Closet established them as rising stars in America, and tours with the likes of Megadeth and Lamb of God sealed the deal.
Not surprisingly, Laiho, Bodom’s vocalist and guitarist, has been singled out for attention. Looking like a trendy, young vampire, and shredding like a 21st century Randy Rhoads, Alexi mixes bluesy hard rock ferocity with dashes of Western classical harmony that rarely sounds fussy in the way that European metal often can. For example, on “If You Want Peace…Prepare for War” from 2005’s Are You Dead Yet?, he takes most of what’s good about the past 20 years of hard rock lead playing and condenses it into concise, violent blasts of sonic rock salt.
But as Laiho reveals when we sit down with him to discuss the upcoming Berzerkus tour, he’s still growing as a guitarist. “I’m still hungry to play and improve,” he says. “I still practice every day. I would never think, Okay, now I’m finally good enough.”
Does that mean Laiho is pumped and primed to, er, “Finnish off” Zakk Wylde in the upcoming guitar slugfest?
“Zakk is one of the best, for sure,” he says. “Everyone who was involved with Ozzy Osbourne were the guys I looked up to when I was learning to play. Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk were some of my biggest influences. Zakk’s playing is just so over-the-top crazy, and he’s a great singer, too.”
Oh, well. So much for the knife fight.
GUITAR WORLD Even though Children of Bodom are an extreme metal band, the group’s appreciation of classic song structure is evident on Skeletons in the Closet, where you cover songs by everyone from Britney Spears to Anthrax to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
ALEXI LAIHO Skeletons in the Closet is an accurate reflection of what we like. We have a bunch of mix CDs on our tour bus that jump from Norwegian black metal, like Darkthrone, to [British pop singer] Samantha Fox to Slayer. One night Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again” was looping over and over, and I could just hear a metal version of it in my head. My keyboard player [Janne Wirman] and I were slamming White Russians and we decided to cover it.
I think the only way you can earn the right to do something like that is to just have the attitude that, “I don’t give a fuck if you have a problem with us covering Britney Spears.” And all jokes aside, we put a lot of effort into the arrangement. It’s played really well and recorded professionally. It’s not just a goof. I think it works as a metal song.
GW What other bands do you think do a good job of balancing hooks and aggression?
LAIHO Pantera did it well, especially in the early days. The entire Cowboys from Hell album, for example, had great catchy riffs, but at the same time it had elements of extreme metal. It was really a “punch-in-the-face” sort of album. It was melodic and super-aggressive at the same time. It would be great to hear Britney cover one of their songs.