WALK ON THE WILD SIDE: Remembering Children of Bodom legend and riff master Alexi Laiho
In this turbulent, ever-changing and frequently unsettling state of being we call human existence circa 2021, there are certain moments and occurrences in our lives that, no matter how much time elapses, remain indelibly etched in our recollection. Rare and glimmering, never dulling with the passage of the years, nothing so vividly captures these momentary, fleeting crescendos of joy and heady exhilaration more absolutely than the infinitely moving medium of music. From explosive episodes of blistering aggression and wintry, tremolo-stricken darkness to sweepingly evocative symphonies divine enough to have been forged by the hand of God himself, these unforgettable, deathless songs and the influential artists that create them become nothing less than a part of our innermost being and identity.
So when the news broke earlier this month that Children of Bodom frontman Alexi Laiho had passed away suddenly at the tragically premature age of just 41, I have to admit feeling what I can only describe as an instant, deeply disquieting void of absence. That very particular, faintly bewildering variant of loss that comes of something that once seemed so solidly sure and permanent being suddenly wrenched out from underneath you, without so much as a whisper of warning. And it wasn’t until I learned of this recent, deeply saddening revelation that I realised just how sizeable a chunk of my formative years I, like so many others, had parted with that fateful day.
From the late ’90s and early ’00s when I’d first determined to identify myself as a ‘serious’ (read: young and pretentious) metal fan scouring the shelves of HMV for the most evil and necro-looking music I could lay my sweatily excitable adolescent hands on to scoring the first front page interview of my career as an aspiring music journo around a decade later, it’s hard to imagine a world without this band and their absurdly talented and charismatic frontman. Whether in the lacerating, stratospheric licks and vocal cord-shredding screams that richly abound in 2000’s iconic ‘Follow the Reaper’ or the altogether darker and more intensely visceral throes of 2013’s ‘Halo of Blood’, theirs has been a career forged in restless, unrelenting movement, world-class musicianship and, perhaps most importantly of all, wild and unadulterated fun. And boy, did Bodom bring us that in abundance… This was a band that (whatever your particular stance on heavy music) never failed to set synapses alight and pulses racing, racking up a prestigious reputation for violently energised and electrifying live carnage.
On a couple of occasions, too, I had the pleasure of speaking with Alexi and, during those interviews, gained something of a glimpse into a character markedly different from the rowdy and hard-partying ‘Wild Child’ persona for which he remains notorious to this day. I vividly remember our last meeting, sitting in a dreary hotel lobby in Camden at 11 o’clock in the morning discussing the exceptionally dark lyrical themes of the band’s then-newly released 2013 album ‘Halo of Blood’. The funeral of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was blaring out of a wide-screen TV somewhere close by, the death knell of the funeral bells echoing eerily in my ears as Laiho divulged to me the various thematic strains of depression, self-harm and suicide that played a pivotal part in inspiring what is undoubtedly Bodom’s darkest and most uncompromisingly vicious long-player ever created. Hardly the cheeriest of memories, by all accounts, but one that’s nonetheless meaningful and valuable to me, both as a journalist and voracious consumer of heavy music, and indeed simply as a human being confronting the fragility of their own increasingly precarious mortality. Assuredly, the present state of things has never been so dark and devoid of light right now, but thanks to hugely gifted and charismatic icons like Laiho and the rich legacies they leave behind, the world, I hope, has not yet lost its lustre.
Words by Faye Coulman