Finlands most extreme metal export began as Inearthed in 1993. It wasn’t until 1997 that the band became known as Children of Bodom, a name derived from Lake Bodom in Finland. Lake Bodom was the sight of some of the most gruesome murders the region has ever seen. Which, by the way, have yet to be solved. Guitarist Alexi Laiho, keyboardist Janne Wirman, bassist Henkka T. Blacksmith, drummer Jaska Raatikainen, and guitarist Daniel Freyberg have together released nine studio albums including their latest, the soon to be released, Hexed. The band is known for combining many different styles of music into a dense, dark fusion of heaviness and musicality. Look for Hexed to be available on March 8 of 2019 via Nuclear Blast (pre-order here).
We spoke to Henkka T. Blacksmith about writing and recording the new record, the bands history, the keys to longevity and life on the road. Here’s how it went.
Henkka, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us.
Where are you?
I’m in Finland, I’m actually up north in Finland close to the arctic circle, we have this old, old school cabin here in the woods with my friends and with their families. We are just taking the winter holidays here.
Fantastic. So you guys have a new record coming out on March 8th called Hexed.
First let me ask you, if you had a chance to meet someone who has never herd of Children Of Bodom, what would you say to them about your band?
Haha. Well, it would depend if the person has any idea about metal music in the first place. If the person would know that we are metal band then I would say that we are a band that has been mixing all kinds of styles of metal together for twenty years and now we are still mixing them, but we are mostly melodic, but our vocals are quite harsh. Something like this. (laughs)
Always have to warn them about the vocals right?
Yeah, that’s usually the no go for a lot of people that have never heard us. They are like, “Oh, that’s nice,” but only up until we start singing. (laughs)
That’s funny. What influences can you say you drew upon for the new record?
Alexi has been writing most of the riffs, I don’t think he usually even has any real conscious influences. It’s mostly what we have been going through as a band within the last few years. Of course we have been touring a lot, we also did the twentieth anniversary tour. We practiced a lot of songs from the late 90’s, I’m sure that has something to do with it. I don’t know, for some reason he just ends up making cool new riffs and cool new music. Then we have what we have now, Hexed. We don’t really pick any influences, we don’t try to follow certain stuff. We just do it how it comes naturally and this time it came like this.
Let me ask you about the writing process for the band. Do you have a set formula that you use when writing new music, and if you do, please tell us about that.
Well, we have pretty much the same formula since the beginning. Which is, Alexi writing stuff at home and then when he has a few riffs or a melody or two, then we get together and he shows them and the we start jamming them and we start putting stuff together. Then he goes back and then he writes more, we get together again and try to put the pieces together. Usually we go by one song at a time, but sometimes, with this record, we were working on a song and then he had another part for it, but then we thought that this part wouldn’t fit this song. So we put the new part aside and let it wait for a song that it would fit. But usually we complete one song and then we move on to the next song. Sometimes there are riffs that don’t actually match the song that we are working on then we just have to put them on the side and then come back to them later.
Does Alexi have a stash of song ideas that couldn’t be used, just waiting for the right application?
Yeah he has, but usually he puts all of his ideas in the one song that we have on the table. Sometimes he has an idea that is something completely different. We try to make it into a song but it just doesn’t work so then we use it for a later song. But usually we use all the ideas that he shows us, there are not very often that there are any left over ideas or ideas that aren’t good enough.
Do you always write together as a band or do you ever write online sending ideas to each other over the internet?
No, this we do as a band physically in the same place. Actually always. Only new thing with the digital thing is that sometimes Alexi writes a new riff for the song and then he emails the riff for us to practice them by ourselves a little bit before we go over them together at the rehearsal place, just to be more efficient and saves time. Because usually we are there, five guys in the room. For example me, I will be going over the bass lines and the three other guys are just waiting when I’m picking up the bass lines, I mean it’s the old school way but not really efficient. So sometimes it’s easier to just send the stuff a little bit before hand that when we get there everybody is already familiar. But that’s a new thing for us.
So you each have a chance to get familiar with the music and work on some of your own individual ideas before getting together.
Yeah exactly. But that is a very new thing for us like maybe two years ago we started that. Certain bands have done it for like ten years already. When it comes to this music composition stuff we are quite old school. We get there together and we manually compose the songs.
So you feel that when you get together the vibe and the chemistry is very important when you are writing music.
We never thought about it but I’m pretty sure it is. We never thought about it because we always took it for granted that this is just how we do it. We never did think of any other way to do it. But I’m pretty sure it’s very important to see peoples faces and reactions for certain things is also things that matter.
Interesting. That kind of leads me to my next question. You’ve been doing this for 20 years. How is it that Children Of Bodom has, for the most part, remained intact with most of the original members for all these years?
I think mostly because we started so young. We did the first time when I was 17, the other guys were 18 and I think for these kind of bands the first years, the first albums are the hardest things because that’s the time when you have to work a lot without any financial compensation you have to tour a lot, you have to be away from home. It’s fun when you’re young, but if you would have to start now or even when you are 30, it would be super hard because then you would have to make choices between work and family and Blah, blah, blah. And that’s probably when a lot of bands tear apart so I think the fact that we started so young, we got through the most difficult times as teenagers with no pressure from home or from work or from wives or from kids and then when we are in our early 20s and we are already quite established and quite stable. From then on it’s been a little bit easier. So I think that’s one reason. And of course being friends since 14 or 15 years old it’s kind of like a brotherhood we know each other so well. We know how to be on the road so that no one is getting pissed off, give people privacy and so so. I think it is the same with a lot of bands. I think the main thing is we started so young that we are able to still be going on.
It’s amazing for a successful metal band to have such longevity with almost all of the original members. Most bands cannot make that claim.
Yes, that’s true.
We talked about your formula for writing music, do you have same type of thing when it comes to recording?
Yeah, that’s been changed a little bit also because the technology has been changed a lot since the beginning of our career. Nowadays we have this way that we, of course, get drums first. Also lately the last couple of albums we have been demoing the songs, using quite good quality equipment so that you can actually practice with the demos before we actually enter the real studio time. That’s a new thing for us but is really, really helpful. Then of course, drums you lay first, because that’s a must. But then when the drums are all done, the drummer does all the songs and then we string players, we start do two or three songs at a time or something like this, so that nobody has to be in the studio for too long in a row. You play two songs and then you have a break for maybe a week when the next guy is doing two songs and then the next guy is doing two songs. So that’s our new thing and I think it’s really healthy because it gives you more time and gives you more space to practice the coming song. I think I am really happy with this way we do nowadays and I think everybody agrees with it. But back in the day the first album we did back in ’97 I think we had seven days total of recording time and it was all on a tape so it was very, very stressful compared to these days gear when you have digital and now that we are doing it in our own studio we have almost all the time we want. Of course there is gonna be a deadline for delivering the master but still there is a lot of time. We can be there 24 seven if we need to be.
How do you go about choosing a producer to work with?
We’ve been changing a little bit, the first few albums we worked with the same guy we knew from Finland And then the third one we made quite a crazy move and went to Sweden with Peter Tägtgren from hypocrisy. That was a good experiment, and then we came back to our go to guy in Finland And then we found Mikko Karmila with whom we’ve been working with ever since actually. Relentless Reckless Forever record we had Matt Hyde From America Coming to Finland as an exterior producer It was the first time ever we had a guy already In the composition phase to evaluate the songs. It was a nice experience to have a sixth member there when you are making the songs. We really loved him, and he did a really, really good job. But then for some reason after that we went back to our normal routine, just do it with the five of us, and then having Mikko Karmila recording the stuff, which is nowadays quite a standard thing for us. And we were very comfortable with that and I think at this time we just like to do it. Maybe one day again we might have a producer from somewhere else but this time we felt that our songs were good how they are and we want to record them on the quality equipment with a quality recording guy and that’s why we chose Mikko Karmila This time.
So your upcoming tour will take you into Canada through the United States and then to Europe. Can you tell me if you have a favorite city in the U.S. to play or to visit and why.
Well of course usually the favorite is the one where we have the most successful shows and that’s usually where the most population is, so that’s usually Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York or Chicago, any of the big cities. I know that the next tour is going to end up in New York City at Irving Plaza So I think that’s going to be good and actually I think even last tour we did was also ending at Irving Plaza. So, New York is a very safe place to say that it’s always, always really good and especially Irving Plaza has a really Good vibe in it and especially since it is the last show of the whole tour so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be one of the best nights on the tour. And as a tourist of course New York is Always always a fun and exciting place to go but I am also really into going to places that people don’t usually go especially Europeans, And there’s a lot of cities we’ve been able to go to and I always find something exciting in the cities. For me it would be really hard for me to say what would be my favorite place to actually visit. Usually I would say a place that haven’t been before.
How about in Europe you have any favorite European countries to visit or play?
We’ve been having really, really good crowds in France lately, And I like France in general. Also the funnest thing now is the crowd in France is crazy And then also when it comes to the catering at the venues, France is the best. So I would say any French shows are really good for us at the moment.
When you are on tour do you have any rituals that you like or any certain ways that you keep in shape on the road?
I do. I’m an old sportsman so I need to keep my body in shape in different ways just exercising either if it’s running or doing yoga or swimming or this kind of stuff. And it’s usually quite easy to do in the states because the weather is usually nice so it’s easy to go out and do your exercise. That’s really, really important for me, otherwise if you wouldn’t take care of your body, it would be really hard to be able to do these kind of long stretches. So that’s one thing, you need to keep yourself in good condition, and also it helps mentally, not only physically. When it comes to rituals or routines regarding the show there’s not really many, for me, it’s just getting backstage early enough and make sure your fingers are warm. Then there’s all the mandatory routines like preparing your in ear monitors and getting them ready for you and stuff like that. But there’s no exciting rituals or anything like that and of course guitar players and drummers, they have their very strict routine about warming up they usually do about one and a half hours, one hour before the show, and that’s their ritual.
Okay, last question. And again I really want to thank you for your time. Who is your favorite band right now?
I’ve been saying the same thing for about two years already, I would say it’s Gojira. They have a really really unique sound at the moment, something that I haven’t been able to hear from any other bands lately so something fresh and something new that still kicks you in the butt so I’m still going with Gojira.
That’s a great pick. Thank you so much for talking with us and we will see you at Irving Plaza at the end of the tour.
Thank you, see you there. Thanks for having me and I’ll see you soon.
Children Of Bodom will begin touring in Quebec, Canada on March 13th. They will make their way across North America and Canada before returning to Europe ending in St Petersburgh, Russia on October 18th. Check out their North American tour dates with Swallow the Sun and Wolfheart here.
Check out Children of Bodom’s new music video for “Platitudes And Barren Words”