Alexi Laiho: a Finnish founding father of heavy metal.


January 4th, 2020, started out as a normal day. A couple of hours into the snowy cold morning, a friend and fellow journalist reached out to me saying that it seemed like Alexi Laiho had passed away. A cold feeling went over me along with an awful amount of disbelief. He was one of the first people to notice the one-minute-earlier-posted-statement of BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT‘s management. While the source of the information was reliable, for a minute or two, I wanted to believe this was just a misunderstanding, a hoax, fake news. Sadly, it was real and as I was typing out the news article about it, I couldn’t believe we would be the bearer of bad news to people who still lived in a world where Laiho was alive.

© Terhi Ylimäinen 

Born in 1979, Alexi Laiho is perhaps best known as the lead guitarist, lead vocalist, and founding member of the melodic death metal band CHILDREN OF BODOM. Praised for his guitar skills all over the world, Alexi Laiho inspired millions of people around the world with his songs and really shaped the genre of melodic death metal in Finland.

Laureline Tilkin Photography at Tavastia, 2019

It’s challenging to write down a couple of sentences about what I remember most about Alexi Laiho. I never had the chance to meet him personally or to ask him a couple of questions about “Hexed,” but I heard so many stories about him and I feel like through his music many of us got to know the legendary guitarist a little bit better. The first song I ever heard of CHILDREN OF BODOM was “Are You Dead Yet?” I remember enjoying the somewhat punk attitude in the song, back when melodic death metal was still a recent thing to me. I remember finding the song through YouTube and enthusiastically sharing it with friends via MSN. Like many, his music opened the pathway for me to more extreme types of music and it was probably the first melodic death metal act that I have ever listened to. Amazed by the new discovery, I had the chance to check out the band at Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium, 2007. I remember the rainy, stormy day and looking forward to hearing that song live for the first time and how I was amazed by Alexi Laiho‘s stage presence: energetic, yet so focused on his instrument; you could instantly tell how important music (and guitar) was to him. Needless to say, it wasn’t clear to me how big the band was until I arrived at the festival grounds and saw their logo proudly displayed on thousands of T-shirts across the festival grounds. Every year again, a vast number of BODOM fans were present at the festival, with or without their heroes performing on stage, always wearing their T-shirts with a big smile on their face, united through their taste in music.

The last time I saw him perform was during “A Chapter Called Children of Bodom.” It was the day after my 28th birthday and the last day of a party weekend for me. They say that the best way to tackle a hangover is to drink whatever you drank last the day prior, and while I’m not one to fight fire with fire, I remember getting ready for the concert, slightly irritated, kind of in the middle of an emotional hangover, and I wasn’t really feeling the vibe. I dragged myself there as press but, impressed by the outstanding show, I can say I left as a fan, awestruck about the performance. At the same time, I remember leaving feeling confused, wondering whether that was really it? Perhaps I had expected a grande, decadent finale of some kind, with explosions and fireworks. However, CHILDREN OF BODOM kept it minimal. Thinking about it now, that last show really showed what Laiho was all about; from the many stories about him, I gather he was a down-to-earth kind of guy, who had an endless passion for music. Basically, he was the embodiment of a rockstar, a rare breed. The show at Jäähalli may have been a bit minimal for a band’s legendary finale, but they played with uttermost precision and schwung. It really was all about the music. Little did I know, that really was one of the last chapters in the story of Alexi “Wildchild” Laiho. Luckily for us, his music will never cease to exist and with it, Laiho will always live on. I will always remember him as l’enfant sauvage, sticking out his tongue to the audience, while his fingers nimbly shifted back and forth over the fretboard, once in a while showing off his tattooed middle fingers, not giving a flying fuck, swinging his ESP guitars around his body. He made playing guitar seem so easy, while in reality, he was an incredibly technical player and definitely one of the greatest guitarists of his generation.

What has touched me the most, however, is the incredible amount of stories shared by people who were gutted about his passing. For one day, my Facebook news feed existed only out of small homages to Alexi Laiho. Personal stories, photographs, and memories show how much this guy has inspired people and how he has influenced a lot of other musicians, not only in Finland but all over the world. The chapter may have ended, his story may have concluded, but people will remember him forever through music, through his book, through memories. On and on. Alexi, it was a wild ride, rest in peace, and may you enlighten the afterlife with your furious, faster than lightning riffs. The world has lost an exceptional guitarist, songwriter, and Finland has lost one of its heroes. (by Laureline Tilkin, editor-in-chief)

Here are some further tales of Alexi Laiho and BODOM from some of the other staff.

The first time I recall hearing CHILDREN OF BODOM was around 2006 while I was still in elementary school, but back then their music was still too abrasive for my taste. Fast forward two years, and I hear “Lake Bodom” – while I still had trouble stomaching the vocal style, the strong melodies, prominent keyboards, and all-around virtuosic playing piqued the curiosity of this 13-year-old NIGHTWISH and SONATA ARCTICA fan. After multiple listens, my hesitance regarding the screaming finally wore off, as I learned to appreciate it as part of the music, and soon afterwards I would buy “Something Wild” as my first CHILDREN OF BODOM album. It feels as though the reaper holding out his hand on the album cover guided me into the world of CHILDREN OF BODOM, and metal with harsh vocals in general.

CHILDREN OF BODOM‘s show at Rytmikorjaamo, Seinäjoki, on the “Blooddrunk” tour in 2009 was the only time I saw Alexi Laiho on stage, but it happened to be the first club gig I ever attended, which makes it all the more memorable and special. Incidentally, and spookily enough in light of today’s sad news, I came across the concert ticket while going through my drawers just a few days ago. Alexi Laiho‘s music and songs came into my life at a pivotal moment and opened multiple doors for me as a music fan, for which I am eternally grateful. Rest in peace! (by Wille Karttunen)

Sami Hinkkanen for Musicalypse, Jäähalli, 2019

So, this one definitely hit home.

If I would have to name one person that has had a major effect on who I am today, naming Alexi Laiho wouldn’t be an exaggeration. My life has been accompanied by his music for almost 15 years, starting from 2006 when I was 15 and heard the “Oops I did it…Again” -cover from CHILDREN OF BODOM, to this day I still return to the band’s music whenever life manages to infuriate me and I need something to cheer me up. To sum it up, I wouldn’t be me without it.

During those years, I witnessed Laiho with CHILDREN OF BODOM over 20 times, from venues like Rytmikorjaamo, Pakkahuone, and Tavastia, to festivals like Ruisrock and Nummirock – and not to forget the Savonlinna Opera Festival where CHILDREN OF BODOM performed in the stony premises of Olavinlinna. And during all those times, I don’t remember him ever playing a gig halfheartedly. Unforgettable was also 100 Guitars from Hell in Helsinki when 100 guitarists from all over the world, lead by Laiho, played a song composed by him.

The last time was one year ago, in December 2019, when a chapter called CHILDREN OF BODOM ended in the Helsinki Ice Hall. That night was an end of an era, but back then I didn’t realize just to what extent. Due to corona restrictions and my own choice for social distancing, I didn’t get to witness his comeback to the stage with BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT. I was looking forward to next summer and possibly seeing the new band live at festivals. Luckily, we can still look forward to the three-song EP that BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT managed to record during 2020. I never expected waiting for new music would feel so bittersweet.

Whatever one may think about Alexi Laiho or his music, there’s no way to deny his skills, determination, and pure love for music and playing guitar. He had a flame that inspired countless of people, whether it was to play the guitar – or, like in my case – accept the fact that sometimes you’re just pissed off and that’s ok. I think it’s safe to say, his legacy will live on.

I remember reading in an interview where Laiho said that if he could decide, he would be just touring all the time. Let’s hope he’s now on his eternal tour, doing what he loved the most – playing the guitar. (by Essi Nummi)

Mika Ringman for Musicalypse, Tuska 2014

To be upfront, BODOM was never one of the big bands for me. Yet, as my fellows have mentioned, you just can’t deny Alexi Laiho‘s influence on heavy metal, and not just in Finland. While other bands had already drawn me into heavy metal, it wasn’t actually until I moved to Finland that I started figure out what the hype was all about. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of love that this country (and the metalheads of the world) have for the man, but the music seeped into my bones as well, and even if the vocals had put me off in my pre-Finland years, I quickly warmed to my band when another French Au Pair friend of mine played me some songs from her favorite band. To this day, “Needled 24-7” was one of the most-sung songs I remember from the days of singing heavy karaoke at Heavy Corner in Helsinki… not that anyone ever came close to doing it as well as Laiho did.

The first time I saw them was, to my recollection, at Sauna Open Air in 2012. I had heard that the band could be very hit-or-miss live and this was definitely one of the days when they were on fire. I remember being wildly impressed with their technical skill and stage presence – what a first show to see! I have several other truly fond memories of seeing this band, largely from festivals. One was a year at Tuska Open Air when BODOM was headlining the final day. The first two days had involved utterly garbage weather, leaving the Suvilahti grounds in front of the main stage a dirty muddy mess. I was dressed in steel-toed boots, cargo pants, and an admittedly skimpy neon pink bikini top, losing my shit in the moshpit, thrashing around, getting soaked in mud and gunk and heavy fucking metal. Due to an old whiplash injury, I don’t mosh often, but when I do, I go crazy, and to this day, this was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a pit.

The other was another year at Tuska. The band wasn’t headlining this time, but they had a fabulous stage set-up with old trucks with grills in the back, so a guy was walking through the photo pit, letting the front-rowers grab a hot steak, fresh from the stage. Now, to make a long story short, my aforementioned French friend, being a HUGE BODOM fan, had grabbed me in true front-row conquest fashion, dragging me through the crowd to get as close to the stage as possible. We made it behind a couple of young girls, and the girl in front of me happened to bash me in the face with her skull while headbanging (accidentally, of course). So… when she got a pork steak from the plate, my friend terrified her into giving me a piece of it. I didn’t need it, but it was repercussions, or so I was told. I still chuckle when I think back on it.

I know it’s all silly nonsense, really, but those are fond memories that I hold very dear, and without one Mr. Alexi Laiho and the music he and his friends had created, if he hadn’t done such great work to inspire my friend(s), I wouldn’t have all these great memories. Even though I never met him, nor rarely went to their club shows, the band was always one of the special ones, one of the original legends, a Finnish founding father of heavy metal. It’s hard to imagine a world without his furious fretwork. He will rightfully live on through his music, and will definitely be missed. Rest in peace, Wildchild. (by Bear Wiseman)