Monday, January 18

Alexi Laiho brought light to the darkness of death metal | Metal


reMetal was never supposed to be fun. Pioneered in Sweden and the United States by bands like Death and Grave, it was a niche built around abrasive noise, with chainsaw-like guitar tones, relentless screaming, and rushing rhythms. His lyrics dealt with blood, fear, and Satanism. It was meant to be pure horror condensed into sound.

Alexi Laiho clearly didn’t get the memo. In a predominantly taciturn genre, for 22 years the singer and guitarist led the celebrated Finnish band Children of Bodom, co-founded with drummer Task Raatikainen in 1997, through a career of neoclassical melodies and hymn compositions. During that time, his musical exchanges with keyboardist Janne Airman became the heart and soul of the group, adding new levels of vitality to extreme metal. In 2019, Children of Bodom sadly parted ways, and just a year later, their former leader died at age 41.

While his peers seemed to shy away from exuberance, Laiho was a cheeky, flashy, and charismatic rock star. His virtuous guitar playing was a feature even on the debut album Something Wild, which he recorded at just 18 years old. In the same way that Ritchie Blackmore and Randy Rhoads had injected classical training into hard rock and heavy metal respectively, Laiho brought that enormous sophistication to even the most throbbing music, inspired by icons like Yngwie Malmsteen. And, of course, Airman stayed that way the entire time, resulting in a lot of great trade offs between the two registered technicians.

As a songwriter, Laiho played to those harmonic strengths, keeping the seething roars and breakneck rhythm of death metal, but also making sure that each Bodom track was an anthem in its own right. Hate Me !, Hebrew Death Roll and Bodom After Midnight especially were essential inclusions on any of the band’s set lists, all invigorating in their cathartic riffs, worm choruses and frenetic solos.

When performed live, the songs were strutted even more thanks to Laiho himself: 5ft 8in and slim, his face partially obscured by flowing red hair, yet he had the presence and commanding roar of a giant. He was expressive and interactive even when he was standing in front of the microphone, guitar in hand; His charisma, precision, and showmanship won the admiration of his cohorts and helped inspire a new generation of aspiring metal heroes.

Unlike many, Laiho’s rock star magnetism had no facade. Before Bodom even began, the then-teenager was nicknamed “Wild Child,” due not only to his love for quirky American metal heads WASP, but also his inimitable restlessness. “It’s pretty silly that I’m over 30 years old and still called Wild Child,” the frontman admitted to Metal Hammer’s Joel McIver in 2008, but the accuracy is impossible to deny. At age 10, his father taught him to drive. His drinking in the 2000s and 2010s, before quitting while on tour in 2013, was part of the underground metal legend. He was once on tour with internal bleeding and was seen vomiting blood backstage.

  Alexi Laiho performing in 2019.
Alexi Laiho performing in 2019. Photograph: Kiko Huesca / EPA

The only rock star demeanor Laiho did not adopt was the untouchable demeanor, with family, colleagues and fans remembering him as down to earth and a joy to be around. ” Alexi Laiho was a monumental talent and a genuine, caring and thoughtful person,” tweeted Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton after Laiho’s death. Kreator vocalist Mille Petra called him “humblest and sweetest person.” ” Alexi was the most loving and magnificent husband and father,” said his wife Kelli Wright-Laiho. “Our hearts are eternally broken.”

The rock’n’roll lifestyle never hampered Children of Bodom’s momentum. Between 1997 and 2000, the band released three impressive feature films; the last quarter (2003’s Hebrew Death Roll) topped the Finnish album charts. Bloodhound entered the UK Top 50 in 2008, with a new album reliably tracked every three years.

In a statement after his death, the surviving Children of Bodom members said that “Laiho had suffered long-term health problems during his last years.” Yet the musician was able to maintain an impressively prolific schedule, both on tour and in the studio, until the very end. Bodom’s final release, Hexed, came out in March 2019 and was followed by extensive tours of Europe and the United States. After the group’s disbandment, Laiho quickly focused on a follow-up project, Bodom After Midnight, with his former bandmate Daniel Freyberg. Three songs and a music video for the duo will be released posthumously.

Despite his horribly early death, Alexi Laiho remains a ray of light in the dank nihilism of death metal. His vigor and charisma were rare gifts, but fully exploited, creating a lighthearted spin on one of the most ghoulish styles of heavy music.

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