As 2020 drew to a close the metal community had already lost so many insanely important musicians, including Riley Gale, Reed Mullin, Neil Peart and Eddie Van Halen. Then, on December 29th, came one final, major punch to the gut with the passing of Alexi Laiho. A true guitar virtuoso, Laiho led his Finnish extreme-metal crew Children of Bodom to international stardom, carving a path all his own and influencing tons of young shredders along the way.
Prior to his death (the result of complications from long-term health issues), Laiho was working on the debut record for Bodom After Midnight — his newly formed outfit created after Children of Bodom disbanded in 2019.
Bodom After Midnight — which also features Laiho's COB co-guitarist Daniel Freyberg, drummer Waltteri Väyrynen (Paradise Lost), bassist Mitja Toivonen (ex–Santa Cruz) and live keyboardist Vili Itäpelto — began writing and rehearsing the new material in summer 2020.
"Alexi [was] a very old-school type of guy to work with," says Freyberg. "He usually came to the rehearsal room with riffs or melodies and he would show everybody. He doesn't do any demos beforehand, so he would show everybody their parts and we would go from there."
But these sessions were cut short when tragedy hit — and the crew had completed only a handful of songs before the virtuosic guitarist's untimely passing.
On April 23rd this material will be released, via Napalm Records, as the Paint the Sky With Blood EP. Laiho's posthumous record contains two new compositions, "Paint the Sky With Blood" and "Payback's a Bitch," plus a cover of Dissection's "Where Dead Angels Lie."
On the eve of Paint the Sky With Blood's release, we connected with Freyberg to discuss the formation of Bodom After Midnight, what it was like collaborating with Laiho — who he fondly remembers as a "humble guy" with "an excellent sense of humor, really black, gallows humor" — and more.
CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE GENESIS OF BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT? WAS THE IDEA FORMED BEFORE CHILDREN OF BODOM'S DISSOLUTION?
I think that the idea came before COB quit, when Alexi was clear that COB would retire. We started thinking about the new group and its new name at the same time. So the actual band formation was late 2019 — but the Bodom After Midnight name was created in early 2020. We had a few options but we weren't sure what we were going to pick.
SO YOU GUYS ONLY PLAYED THREE SHOWS AND ALL IN FINLAND, CORRECT? AND FROM THE LOOK OF THE SETLISTS, IT SEEMS LIKE THEY WERE ALL "COVERS" OF YOUR OWN SONGS.
Yes, and that's correct. I think we didn't have any original songs finished or written but then again even if we would have, we would not play those live before they were recorded and released.
CAN YOU TAKE ME THROUGH THE PROCESS OF CREATING THE TWO NEW SONGS: "PAINT THE SKY WITH BLOOD" AND "PAYBACK'S A BITCH?"
I think we started to write and rehearse those songs in summer 2020. So yeah, it took a while. You know, Alexi is a very old-school type of guy to work with. He usually came to the rehearsal room with riffs or melodies and he would show everybody. He doesn't do any demos beforehand, so he would show everybody their parts and we would go from there. So yeah, it's very back to the Nineties type stuff — but then again, it's pretty efficient.
"Paint the Sky With Blood" was the first song we wrote and it took a little bit more time than "Payback." Everybody had some say when we were arranging those songs. I had a little bit of input on it. Alexi would give us some leeway for ideas but a lot of it was already written to existing harmonies for two guitars. So you've got to follow what he's doing. After we had a song structure figured out, which he didn't have initially when he presented us those riffs, we would try out different, even more detailed stuff. From there he might ask for input on some of the smaller things to fill out the rest: do you have any licks for this or this sort of thing.
HOW DID THE DISSECTION COVER COME ABOUT?
It was our drummer Waltteri Väyrynen who suggested that initially. It's such an iconic song yet we were like, "Yeah, why not?" Do we dare to jump into that because it's pretty hard to beat that original version?
In my opinion, in order to execute a memorable cover, you need to have a band that has a lot of personality as opposed to skill — it's more about making a song fit within your own personal framework than being exactly faithful to it. And while Children of Bodom was a very skilled band, more importantly, they had personality. Definitely. And we had a few different ideas about how to do it in our way but that was also a new adventure for us. So we had never covered a black-metal song and our goal was to make it even better. And when we looked into it more, we couldn't find a cover of that song by anyone. So yeah that was a huge challenge in covering it, first, but also covering it our way.
Alexi was a big fan of Dissection, as was the rest of Bodom After Midnight, and he would tell you that A Storm of the Light's Bane influenced him a lot. I think it was probably the first metal band with those kinds of vocals to me that I got into. It's one of those albums that I never stopped listening to and Alexi didn't either.
BEYOND THE TWO ORIGINALS AND THE COVER, ARE THERE ANY OTHER BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT SONGS THAT ARE IN VARIOUS STATES OF DISARRAY? YOU KNOW, RIFFS OR PARTS OF SONGS...
No, that was 100 percent everything. Nothing was left over.
HOW WAS ALEXI DOING WHEN YOU GUYS WERE WORKING ON THIS STUFF? HOW WAS HE FEELING?
He seemed as normal as ever. Yeah, I definitely didn't see this coming.
WHAT MUSICAL MEMORIES STAND OUT THE MOST FROM YOUR TIME COLLABORATING WITH HIM?
I think it's his sense of harmonies, you know? And especially when we have those guitar sessions. He would be trying out some harmony over the basic chord or something, asking me to play a basic riff. He'd play something and I would be like, "Whoa, where did you get those harmonies?" He also had a very solid picking hand and was obviously an amazing songwriter.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE, WHAT WAS HE LIKE?
He was a very humble guy. Never made a fuss about himself, you know? He had an excellent sense of humor — really black, gallows humor. It was awesome. He was a very down-to-earth guy and a private guy outside of the band.
IT'S A BIT OF AN INTANGIBLE THING, BUT SOMETIMES YOU MEET SOMEONE AND THEY'VE JUST GOT THIS AURA THAT SURROUNDS THEM. WAS ALEXI LIKE THAT?
Absolutely. He was one of those guys. He was very likable. Everybody wanted to be around him and everybody wanted a piece of him. That was exhausting to him — he was always in the spotlight. But he was very loyal and generous towards his friends and always curious about how they were.
YOU JOINED CHILDREN OF BODOM IN 2016, WHEN THE BAND WAS ALREADY WELL ESTABLISHED. TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO TEAM UP WITH THEM?
Well, it was a huge opportunity for me. It took a little while to get settled in and realize what's going on. They were hugely popular and could tour as much as they wanted to. So I was really happy that I could make a living out of music. So, yeah, it was a huge opportunity and a dream come true. Obviously, it's unfortunate that it did end a little bit premature.
WHAT CHILDREN OF BODOM SONG ARE YOU GOING TO MISS PLAYING THE MOST?
Well, all of them! Not just one. I've got so many. "Follow the Reaper" is one of my favorites. "Trashed, Lost & Strungout," I love that. "Hate Me" is very fun to play. "Hatebreeder," too. You know, there are too many good songs to just pick one.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU? HAVE YOU HAD ANY TIME TO REFLECT ON THAT?
Well, I have some ideas. But who knows when anyone can do anything, you know? But yeah, I do have a project that I've been working simultaneous to Bodom After Midnight. So that's something I'm gonna try to finish this year and announce it probably after that. I'm not gonna stop music — I want to keep going.