The last thing Children of Bodom/Bodom After Midnight frontman Alexi Laiho ever wanted to do is disappoint fans. That’s why he refused to cancel any shows in late 2009 after the band’s tour bus took a hard turn and he fell out of his tour bus bunk in the middle of the night and crashed to the ground, breaking his clavicle and a rib.
The next day, Laiho was in agony, but he gutted it out and played the show. Two nights later, at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, he again persevered, but he was visibly angry that he wasn’t at the top of his game.
“I gotta tell you something, man,” he said before Bodom played Hellhounds on My Trail. “I fucking apologize. I can’t fuckin’ move and I can’t fuckin’ sing and I’m fuckin’ just standing here like a fuckin’ idiot, so try to bear with me, alright?”
Energized by Laiho’s bravery and tenacity, the crowd cheered, which, perhaps, raised his spirits and he summoned the strength to make it through the rest of the gig. Laiho grit his teeth night after night, and with the help of some heavy painkillers he made it to the 11th gig of the No Fear tour with Lamb of God and Municipal Waste. That’s when his body fought back.
Two songs into the set, as Bodom played Hate Me!,” Laiho hunched over and noticeably favored his side. The band started the third song, but Laiho was in too much agony to keep playing. He angrily flung his Jackson and stormed offstage.
“I think my rib was sticking into one of my muscles,” he later told this writer. “I felt like someone was stabbing me with a knife into my lungs and my heart. So I just couldn’t keep going.”
“It’s not a great fucking feeling when you’re playing in front of 3,000 people in New York, and all of a sudden you’re behind the drum riser not being able to breathe and vomiting blood while people are chanting ‘bullshit, bullshit,’” he said.
“I’m sure most of the people didn’t know what the hell was going on, so they just thought I would take off in the middle of the set and not come back. But I’m glad that [vocalist Tony Foresta] from Municipal went up there and explained to the crowd what was going on. After that, we just decided to go home. There were only four shows left anyway.”
Crushed physically and mentally, Laiho flew back to Helsinki, Finland, to heal and prepare for the band’s next scheduled tour.
“He didn’t want to cancel shows no matter what,” says guitarist Daniel Freyberg, who met Laiho in 2005 and played in Children of Bodom from 2016 to 2019, replacing longtime guitarist Roope Latvala, who was abruptly fired in 2015. Three other members quit in 2019, leaving just Laiho and Freyberg. So the two co-formed Bodom After Midnight with bassist Mitja Toivonen (ex-Santa Cruz) and drummer Waltteri Väyrynen.
The group played three shows and recorded three songs for Paint the Sky with Blood. They planned to release the EP, play some more shows, then record a full album. At the end of 2020, however, when a COVID spike prevented BAM from playing any more shows, they decided to take a short break and then start working on a full album.
Tragically, that never happened. On December 29, Laiho died from damage sustained from years of alcohol abuse. He was 41. Ex-Sinergy vocalist Kimberly Goss, who Laiho married in 2002 and separated from in 2004, posted that the guitar icon died from “alcohol-induced degeneration of the liver and pancreas connective tissue. Furthermore, he had a cocktail of opioids and insomnia medication in his system.”
For those who knew him over the years it was a shock – but not a complete surprise. In his late teens, Laiho was a cutter and suffered from depression. In 1998, he tried to kill himself by swallowing 30 tranquilizers with a few shots of whiskey, following the release of Children of Bodom’s first album, Something Wild. He later said pouring all of his energy into the band saved his life.
Laiho was obsessive about the band and loved playing and partying with other talented musicians, which sometimes put him in precarious positions when he was just trying to have fun.
In 2004, he fell off the top of a car, breaking his wrist and smashing up his face. He was in a cast for a month, forcing the band to cancel their slot on the Dimebag Darrell tribute in Finland. In 2007, he fell in a bowling alley and broke his arm. Laiho was unable to play for six weeks this time and had to miss the Dubai Desert Rock Festival.
The party turned dark in 2011 when, after some heavy drinking, Laiho suffered extreme stomach pain, vomited blood for nine hours and was rushed to an L.A. hospital. He was later diagnosed with stomach ulcers.
Latvala, who played with Children of Bodom from 2004 to 2015, says Laiho wasn’t the crazed hedonist the press portrayed him as, and went through long stretches of sobriety. The problem, says the guitarist, was that Laiho didn’t take care of himself, especially when he was on a bender.
“He wasn’t very athletic,” says Latvala in a rare interview. “He didn’t move at all except if 7-11 was, like, a block away. He didn’t eat for shit, anyway, and then he never pooped. So he wasn’t in any kind of health. I think he had the stomach problems because of that battery acid called [whiskey]. When it gets through your belly, that’s heavy shit, especially if you don’t eat. He was a pretty big whiskey drinker at one time, and it was a bad trip. I think he damaged himself over a long period of time. It wasn’t an overnight kind of thing.”
After Laiho’s 2012 health scare, he cut back on partying and focused even more intently on making music. While his other band Sinergy – a power metal band that included vocalist and keyboardist Goss and Latvala – was a collaborative effort, Bodom was all Laiho. He wrote all the songs and lyrics and only asked for input from his bandmates after he wrote the songs.
“I really enjoyed when we had a session for guitar ideas after band practice,” Freyberg recalls. “Just the two of us would get together and try different harmonies and things and you could really see how talented he was. He was like, 'Okay, play that and I’ll try something on top of it,' and he’d come up with the most incredible stuff right on the spot. It was like, ‘Whoa, where did those notes come from?’”
Laiho was a natural. He was also a perfectionist and practiced guitar for two hours before every show. Latvala recalls being blown away the first time he saw Laiho onstage in 1998.
“I was in a band called Nomicon and we were opening for them in this heavy metal bar in Helsinki,” Latvala says. “I was astounded that this guy who was under 20 could play with that technique, and he was able to sing at the same time and make it all look really easy.
“When he was a little kid he started off playing violin, and that’s where he was exposed to this different style of playing with a heavy focus on melody. He had amazing technique for those solos and he really did have the capability of continuing a solo with no breaks. It was more like a constant flow, which was pretty cool. He could play very interesting stuff.”
Shortly after Laiho died, his handlers issued a cryptic statement that read, “[he] had suffered from long-term health issues in the years leading up to his death.” Strangely, the members of Bodom After Midnight said Laiho didn’t seem at all ill when they worked on Paint the Sky with Blood.
“He was totally feeling well when we started doing Bodom After Midnight,” the guitarist says. “He was playing great and had all these ideas.”
“It was business as usual,” adds bassist Mitja Toivonen (ex-Santa Cruz). “We were all just having fun and making music.”
Laiho started writing riffs for the Paint the Sky with Blood EP in the summer of 2020. Unlike COB, which featured plenty of swirling black metal keyboards and dueling solos between synth and guitar, Laiho wanted the new band to be more guitar-based.
The first track he completed was the scorcher Paint the Sky Blood Red, which features rapid-fire death and black metal riffs redolent of pre-2000 Children of Bodom. Soon after, Laiho finished the second BAM song, Payback’s a Bitch, a slower, grittier song that’s more reminiscent of the melodeath tracks from 2005’s Are You Dead Yet.
“The process was very old school,” Freyberg says. “Alexi doesn’t do demos beforehand. He comes to the rehearsals with riffs he wrote and he literally shows everybody how to play them. And then he has suggestions for some kind of drum beats to go with it. Then, the whole band puts a little bit of input into how the songs are arranged.”
BAM were fine-tuning the songs when the Finnish government relaxed its COVID restrictions and the group booked three shows in Helsinki from October 23 to 25.
So the band put its studio work on hold and started rehearsing Children of Bodom songs. The sets consisted entirely of Children of Bodom songs and Laiho was on fire. Moreover, he was lucid and seemingly sober.
“He had been a pretty calm guy for a while,” Freyberg says. “After the shows, he gave the guitar to the guitar tech and went straight to bed. He wouldn’t shower or any-thing. He’d just finish rocking and straight to bed. It was kind of funny, I was like, ‘How can you do that? Don’t you have like adrenaline in you that you have to burn off before you can sleep?’ And he was just, ‘Nope, I’m good.’ Right to bed.”
In late October, as COVID numbers started to spike, BAM returned to the studio to finish the EP. Having had some time to think about the original arrangements, Laiho returned to the songs with a fresh perspective.
“It was funny because Alexi suddenly went, ‘You know the first rehearsals we had with the new tunes?’” recalled Toivonen. And we went, ‘Yeah,’ and started to play. And he went, ‘Oh, no, it doesn’t go like that anymore. I got a better idea.’ He changed things around a lot. You never know if the part you learned on Monday would be the same thing you’d play in Friday’s rehearsal because the riff might not even exist in the song anymore.”
After the band finished tracking the two new songs, Väyrynen suggested BAM cover Dissection’s haunting, black metal dirge Where Dead Angels Lie. Laiho loved the idea and the band reinterpreted the song to make it slightly less morose.
“Children of Bodom was well known for doing sort of joke covers, like Britney Spears’ Oops!... I Did it Again,” Freyburg says. “So we were like, Why not do something different this time? And we actually took a really great, serious song, and our challenge was to say, ‘Can we actually improve it?’
In early December, Laiho heard the final mixes of the new EP and signed off on the artwork. Then, about 10 days before he died, Bodom After Midnight shot a music video for Paint the Sky with Blood. Everyone had a good time during the shoot and Laiho joined his bandmates for a short party after they wrapped.
It’s unclear whether or not Laiho’s health was failing in his final days since everyone in the band took a few days off after the video shoot to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. But both Freyberg and Taivonen were optimistic about the band’s future. “Alexi was very excited about stuff coming up the next year,” Freyberg recalls. “We were going to start writing and rehearsing”
Freyberg was relaxing at home when Laiho’s Finnish family called to tell him that his friend was gone.
“I was immediately in such shock,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep at all that night or the night after. Probably the week after that was very, very difficult to have any sleep or do anything, you know? I mean, it still isn’t easy. It’s actually very hard to believe.”
BAM’s management company called Taivonen on New Year’s Day to tell him about Laiho. At first, he thought there must have been a mistake. Then he hung up and his cell started blowing up.
“It was a slap in the face,” he says. “And a few days after the whole thing went public it was another hit that came back since the news was everywhere. I turned off my phone and shut off from the world for a little bit. I didn’t need it to be rubbed again in my face.”
Even though he hadn’t talked to Laiho in five years, Latvala was also shaken by Laiho’s death. The two had been close friends, yet in his autobiography, Chaos, Control & Guitar, Laiho wrote that Latvala was fired because he wasn’t interested in playing heavy music and could no longer play the songs right.
“That was bullshit,” he says. “I don’t know what happened. There were no fights or anything, but they kind of kicked me out in a bad manner and I just kept quiet about it. There were five years of radio silence after that.”
Latvala didn’t even know Laiho died until a few days later when a friend heard the news and called him. Today, Latvala chooses his words carefully. He doesn’t want to downplay Laiho’s importance as a figurehead of metal, yet he doesn’t understand why he was kicked out of the band and he’s frustrated he’ll never be able to reconcile with his old friend.
“I had been close to Alexi for, like, 20 years, but people change,” he says. “Maybe someone started manipulating him and brainwashed him. I don’t know. But when it sunk into my mind that he was gone I started thinking, what the fuck? We could have made our differences up years before. It just shows how fragile life and friendship can be.”
There are a few things everyone remembers about Laiho. He was completely dedicated to Bodom and proud of spearheading a band that combined elements of thrash, death metal, black metal glam and neoclassical. He was supportive to less-established musicians and gracious to fans. And lastly, he refused to take himself too seriously and was constantly goofing around and laughing onstage and off.
One of Latvala’s favorite examples of Laiho’s sense of humor dates back to the shoot for the video for COB’s cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Lookin’ Out My Back Door, from Skeletons in the Closet.
“In the CCR video for that song, everyone is looking really happy, so we did the same thing. We were all smiling and making goofy faces, and of course, that made us all laugh for real. It was pretty funny.
“The thing is, Alexi never wanted to be some kind of dark figure ghost monster onstage. It was more like a theatrical rock show, like a black metal orchestra. And it was fun to play like that. All these other bands at the time were trying to be evil all the time. Alexi loved metal and a lot of dark things as well, but playing music was fun for him, and he always liked to joke around.”
- Paint the Sky with Blood is out now via Napalm Records.