What Alexi Laiho taught me: Bodom After Midnight remember their beloved bandleader

As his final recordings see the light of day on the Paint The Sky With Blood EP, the surviving members of Bodom After Midnight reminisce on life alongside the late, great Alexi Laiho…

What Alexi Laiho taught me: Bodom After Midnight remember their beloved bandleader
Sam Law

When it was announced on January 4 that Alexi Laiho had passed away the previous week, it left the metal world in a particular state of shock. On one level, his leaving us with no warning, at the age of 41 seemed cruel and unfair. On another, though, it felt like the Finnish wildchild – who had formed his first band at the age of 13 and had recorded 10 Children Of Bodom albums as frontman, alongside dozens of guest spots and other releases – had woven himself so integrally into the fabric of modern metal that he could never truly go away.

It was particularly agonising as fans had been promised a reinvigorated fresh start with Bodom After Midnight. Although, with the project’s very name referring to a classic COB track, there was an eye on the past, COB/BAM guitarist Daniel Freyberg explains that Alexi was intent on pushing forward stylistically, and that where he was very much “the guy” in his previous band, this new outfit was to be a more collaborative affair. When Daniel, drummer Waltteri Väyrynen and bassist Mitja Toivonen received the news that what they thought would be a new beginning was, ultimately, the end, it hit them as hard as anyone.

There is a real bittersweetness, then, as Alexi’s final recordings are finally released as the Paint The Sky With Blood EP: two original songs, and a stirring cover of Dissection’s Where Dead Angels Lie. As we sit down with his bandmates, though, they explain that Alexi would be proud of this explosive final statement, and happy for his music to carry his memory on for countless metal generations to come…

Daniel Freyberg

“I first met Alexi maybe 16 years ago, and the first thing that struck me about him was that he was such a down-to-earth guy. There was this bar called Ateljee next to our record label [Spinefarm] in Helsinki, where the staff used to hang out a lot. I was playing with one of my older bands [Naildown] at the time, sitting at one table with some of those guys, and Alexi was already well-known from Children Of Bodom, sitting at another. But it was actually he who came over to us, bought us some drinks and chatted the whole night. I didn’t even think he knew who we were!

“As I got to know Alexi over the years, eventually joining Children Of Bodom in 2016, it was always that [groundedness] that shone through. He was a super-talented guitar player, a great songwriter and an incredibly charismatic frontman. He lived and breathed music. But offstage, he was just a regular guy. He was very focused, too. Once he had found things he liked – a good guitar, amp, pick-up – he didn’t like to change them very much. He didn’t fool around. He knew what he wanted. He would stick at things until he mastered them. That’s probably the most important thing I learned from him. You’ve gotta be focused. You’ve gotta know what you want. You should never second guess yourself. Alexi never did.

“It’s hard to pinpoint particular memories now. We did a lot of fun, goofy things that maybe aren’t the best to [revisit]. The memory that sticks out most is the last time I saw him, when we got together to shoot the music video for Paint The Sky With Blood about 10 days before he passed. I had no idea that I would never see him again, and he was so excited for the band, the direction we were taking, and the year we had planned ahead.

“The Paint The Sky With Blood EP really is Alexi at his best. He went out with a bang. Of course, we wish that we could’ve made a full-length album, but what’s the point on dwelling on that? I’m just happy that we finished every song we were working on. There wasn’t a single riff left over. I’m happy that we put the cover of Dissection’s Where Dead Angels Lie on there, too. We were all huge fans of that band and, although there were ideas for funny, goofy tunes [like COB’s infamous cover of Britney Spears’ Oops I Did It Again!], it feels right that Alexi’s ‘final recording’ was [something we took seriously].

“I don’t know if Alexi ever really thought about legacy. But I think that the greatest way to honour his memory is to listen to his music. I hope that he’ll be thought of as a great musician who wrote completely new stuff, and combined elements of black, death and power metal in a new way. He was a game-changer. I hope that that’s how people will remember him.”

Waltteri Väyrynen

“My first exposure to Alexi Laiho’s work was when I was a very small child, maybe just four years old. My parents – my mom and my stepdad – listened to metal. They still do. So I was exposed to that music at a very early age. I even went to shows as a kid. Children Of Bodom were the first band I really remember listening to and becoming a fan of, so he came to be a massive influence on me both as a listener to and as a player of heavy metal.

“If you disregard [lighter] bands like Nightwish and HIM, Children Of Bodom were the biggest real metal band in Finland, and I think that Finns were very proud of what they had actually created. In my opinion, it was a whole new genre that took melodic death metal and combined it with black metal, power metal and even classical sounds. Alexi created a whole new style of guitar-playing, too, which you could see being adopted not just by young kids, but older guys in bigger bands, too. He was a massive deal.

“I first met Alexi in person maybe six or seven years ago. I first said hello to him at Tuska festival 2014, but it was the following year that we were properly introduced at The Riff bar in Helsinki. I had just joined Paradise Lost, and we had a lot in common. Alexi had a very versatile taste in music. He knew everything about 1990s black and death metal, but, at the same time, he loved 1980s hair and glam metal, rap and all sorts of different things. He never limited himself to any one thing. That was absolutely reflected in his personality.

“He was such a humble, down to earth guy, too. Of course he probably knew that he was a big deal around the world, but he never made a fuss. He wouldn’t even joke about it. When we were playing together, he was just one of us: a modest, easygoing musician. I remember him helping me drive my kit to the rehearsal space. I remember seeing how he composed harmonies in his head – not many people have got to see that in the studio – and realising just how freakin’ talented the guy was.

“Paint The Sky With Blood was meant to be the first release from our band, but it ended up being our last. There was a real focus on it not just being Children Of Bodom 2.0. Alexi saw the finished product, artwork and all, before he passed, and we knew it kicked ass. I still think it kicks ass, but you [inevitably] come to look at those songs in a different way after Alexi’s death. Even if we only recorded a few songs, and played a few shows together, it will very much be one of the proudest things that I get to do in my career.

“The greatest thing I learned from my time with Alexi, especially given he passed so suddenly and so young, is that you’ve got to embrace every moment that you get to spend with your friends and loved ones. You never know when it will be the last. Alexi lived in the moment. He didn’t worry about tomorrow.”

Mitja Toivonen

“One of the most striking things was always the contrast between Alexi Laiho onstage and in person. I think that a lot of people had this image of Alexi as this quiet, introverted guy who never cracked jokes, or as the angry, hate-filled metal dude that was his onstage persona. But he never took anything too seriously, and he was the easygoing guy cracking jokes. He respected others’ opinions, and he took care of his own people. He was never one to put himself on a pedestal or beat his chest and say, ‘Look who I am!’ People often ask what it was like working with such a talent, but it became so easy to forget about it.

“COVID was disastrous for many bands, but I feel lucky that it meant we got to spend so much time together. I struggle to remember when we first met. It was around 10 years ago, either when he came to check out one of my previous bands at a little club show, or at a mutual friend’s house party in Helsinki where we were playing this Taboo-like Finnish word game. I got to know him properly after joining Bodom After Midnight in 2019. Our first shows got cancelled, but it became this period of jamming out, playing old tunes and getting to know each other, like a long honeymoon.

“A 2 or 3pm start would have been an early one. More often, we would convene at 4 or 5pm, and get the coffee flowing. We would generally spend a couple of hours just talking, then another couple playing. Then maybe we’d hang out.

“When I think of Alexi now, I think of the nights spent just talking rubbish and watching movies. He was such a huge movie fan. But there would normally come a point in the evening where we’d realise we hadn’t really even been watching the movie for the last hour, and we’d move on to the old ‘80s music videos of bands like Megadeth or interviews like that one from The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years with W.A.S.P.’s Chris Holmes lying drunk in a swimming pool. It was, ‘Do you remember this track?’ or, ‘Have you seen the video for that?’ There was no rush anywhere. It felt like all we had was time.

“Of course, our time turned out to be limited. I’m not a [sentimental] guy who thinks about the past too much. Neither was Alexi. He didn’t spend a lot of time looking forward, either. He didn’t have big five-year plans. He lived in the moment – even the songs tended to come last-minute. He wasn’t worrying about tomorrow, or the consequences of what he did too much. At the same time, the main lesson that I took from Alexi was that if you start to do something, you should do it to the fullest. That’s the only way you’ll master your talents and achieve your goals. Those lessons were read between the lines, of course. He would never preach about things, or be like, ‘(Wags finger) Now listen kids…’

“Ultimately, Alexi was about music 24/7 – actually, maybe that should be 22/7 with the other two hours reserved for his cars – and his music will live on. I remember seeing an old interview, where he was saying he’s not a role model and he never considered himself to be one. But so many kids did look up to him. When you see those thousands and thousands of young metalheads with their V-shaped guitars, camo pants, studded wristbands and black nail polish, you can tell where they came from. Maybe that’s the best way that Alexi’s legacy can live on.”

Bodom After Midnight’s Paint The Sky With Blood EP is released on April 23 via Napalm Records

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