“People were kind of looking for something new,” Alexi Laiho told me, for an interview he gave to Metal Hammer back in 2015. “They were so used to bands try to copy Dimmu Borgir or copy In Flames or whatever, and all of a sudden there was Children Of Bodom. And let’s face it, it is a little different. And people dug it.”
And holy shit, did people dig it. Needled 24/7 was bloody everywhere back in the mid-noughties, and as much as the band may not have been fans of the video, it became their signature tune – mainly because it’s fucking killer. The snarling, thrashing riff, the overdriven keyboard chords, and then that ridiculous solo followed by the trademark shriek of Alexi himself. And the rest of the album it came from, Hate Crew Deathroll, was an almost instant classic.
But the reason Alexi’s death at the age of 41 is such a crushing blow for metal is not just that his band was really bloody good. (Although they were. Absolutely killer.) Or that he was an absolutely astonishing guitarist (which, again, he quite spectacularly was).
It is because he was, quite simply, unique.
Children Of Bodom started releasing brilliant albums when Alexi and his co-conspirators were barely old enough to sign record contracts. Their perfectly titled debut album, 1997’s Something Wild, came out when he was eighteen, and was, frankly, madder than a lion who’s just had his wedding tackle skated over by the entire Finnish ice hockey team. Throwing black and death metal together was coming into vogue at that point, but the way it did so, and then mixed in thrash and power metal, and lacing it with classical music, was unheard of – and crazy. You struggle to imagine anyone else even attempting it. Listening to Red Light In My Eyes, Pt.2, with its refrain straight out of the Confutatis movement of Mozart’s Requiem, still sounds completely batshit even 23 years after it came out. That was the kind of mad shit that Alexi Laiho tried – and succeeded superbly.
Fast-forward to Hatecrew, however, Alexi’s music is no longer undistilled mad genius. Now, it was skillfully crafted. Everything is coherent. It makes sense. It’s still all the same crazy mix of ideas and invention that only someone completely insane and totally brilliant would even attempt, but it’s just that much more expertly knitted together – which is why it’s so much catchier.
If you were already into the bits of Kreator and At The Gates and Stratovarius that were being weaved by Alexi and his bandmates, hearing that album was more than just discovering a great record. It triggered something in your brain that resonated in ways nothing else had. Here was someone taking all the stuff that you loved, making you look at it in a whole new way, and getting bloody huge by doing it. It felt both validating, and helped you form a unique connection to that band. Alexi Laiho became a musical hero to many at that point.
During that interview back in 2015, I also spoke to him about his love of muscle cars, from his falling in love with them by watching Knightrider as a kid, through to owning many of them himself (his favourite, according to him, was his Dodge Monaco). As he spoke of the vehicles he loved, he had an almost permanent smile on his face, and a light in his big wide eyes, and gave a man then in his late-30s a boyish look of joy. It gave you just a glimmer of insight into how he was the kind of enthusiast who could be so passionate about something they would try it, and fuck the risk of failure.
Heavy metal had never seen anyone like Alexi Laiho before, and with his passing way too soon, will never do so again. Metal is poorer without him.