Children of Bodom – Chaos ReignsSunday, 4th October 2015
Hard to believe that Children of Bodom has been releasing records at this point for almost two decades. There’s something to be admired about a strong vision, proper execution, and maintaining the numbers to tour the globe successfully in a marketplace that has so much competition for consumer interest. They helped put Finland on the map in the late 90’s as a melodic, power death force to be reckoned with through speedy, aggressive albums like Something Wild and Hatebreeder – and subsequent road work solidified their reputation on stages small and large.
I Worship Chaos is their ninth studio album – one that the band should be proud of because while many of their brethren may seek more groove-oriented, commercial pastures, CoB never lose sight of the fluid runs and roar that their fans desire. Reason enough for me to seek out a Skype chat with bassist Henkka Blacksmith, who is very laid back and quick with his answers in our allotted short time together. You will learn more about his multiple language proficiency, their unique cover choices, and pinnacle moments for their career – and do seek out the new album as it’s possibly their strongest studio output in over a decade.
Dead Rhetoric: The new album I Worship Chaos is the ninth studio album for Children of Bodom. How do you maintain a level of consistent creativity and aggressive output while striving to not repeat yourself too much?
Henkka Blacksmith: I don’t know, that’s a good one! (laughs) I think we don’t think about those kinds of things, but of course everybody tries to avoid repeating themselves. There are certain things you may always repeat but I’m always happy when I feel most surprised about the things that we do. I feel excited about that aspect. It’s as simple as Alexi having an amazing talent when it comes to writing songs and riffs, for some reason he can block his mind from everything else and he writes what he has, he doesn’t even think about what it is and how people react to it. That’s the beauty of it.
Dead Rhetoric: Now I just saw you recently released the video for “Morrigan”, what can you tell us about the visual concept of this as it differs from a typical band performance piece?
Blacksmith: We thought that this time we would do instead of a performance video we would do in a way a short story video. We chose the song “Morrigan” because of the story and the character which is from old Irish mythology. We hired these guys we know very well with Patrick Ullaeus – he’s directed a lot of our videos before and he did the Stockholm live DVD for us so he knows us really well. We gave him the story and we gave him like free reign to do a video for that. We got this and we are happy with this – it’s a different music video for a metal band but I think it fits well.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think of the bonus cover choices for Amorphis, Kenny Loggins, and the Plasmatics? You couldn’t ask for much more variety, right?
Blacksmith: Yeah, that’s right. We always have a hard time choosing the covers. This time we had the idea of doing a song switch with Amorphis so they did one of our songs and we did one of theirs, so that made it a little bit more easy. Alexi for some reason he suggested The Plasmatics song and everyone was in agreement. That Kenny Loggins song is just a classic track and was very fun to do.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as your main role in Children of Bodom? And how do you view the friendships within the group, is that just as important as the musical output in terms of long-term success?
Blacksmith: First of all I am the bass player. What else am I? That’s a good question. As far as friendship, I think we are beyond friendship because we have been together almost 20 years now. We started so young so I wouldn’t consider us friends, we are more like family. By this we are very different, we don’t really hang out as much when we are not touring. We still respect each other a lot and everyone knows each other very, very well. It’s easy to be on tour with these guys because everybody knows how everybody else is behaving and what are the needs (for touring). I think we are lucky that we were able to start when we were so young, we have been growing together and got to know each other so well that we can avoid a certain kind of conflicts that are not needed.
Dead Rhetoric: How is Alexi Laiho as a person these days? Have you settled down from your early party hearty ways where injuries seemed commonplace?
Blacksmith: Yeah, we have definitely settled down. And Alexi especially, he’s very much settled down, he doesn’t do any drinking or party anymore on tour. It’s really good, because we are also getting very old, and performing live is a heavy exercise for anybody. If he drank every night it would be really, really hard and dangerous. We had to bite the bullet and think about the physical side of touring. I think Alexi is doing better than I’ve ever seen him do, he’s doing really well.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think you’ve been able to maintain a lot of your early fans from the Something Wild and Hatebreeder days, or has it been a case of gaining new converts to replace old ones who may have moved on?
Blacksmith: I think that happens all the time. That’s how it goes with this kind of music. I remember myself if my favorite band did another album I didn’t like and I was looking for a new direction I would find some new band that I would be into a little bit more. This happens and I don’t know how many fans we’ve lost or how many we have gained but I am happy that when we play a show, it doesn’t matter where we play there’s always enough people to pull off a good show, and that’s what counts.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the standout moments in Children of Bodom’s career, be it a particular album, tour, or pinnacle achievement?
Blacksmith: The obvious one is when we got the record deal in 1997, the first album. The first European tour was a big thing, and then the next big thing was maybe the first tour of the states which was six years after the first European tour, which was weird because of the big gap. And of course when you first get to meet your idols, of course that’s in a dream come true category. On a personal level, opening up for Slayer was mind blowing and still one of the best moments in my life.
Dead Rhetoric: You didn’t tour America extensively in 2003, was it just a case of building the profile of Children of Bodom in Europe and elsewhere first or a struggle to get the right tours?
Blacksmith: I think we didn’t have the distribution channels or anybody who would be interested in the states to make the effort. We played one show at the Milwaukee Metalfest in 1998 or 1999, but after that there was nobody who even tried to bring us overseas. I think it was because we didn’t have a steady record label over there. When we got George Vallee who was working at Century Media back in those days, he was so into us personally that he made the effort to bring us over, and ever since we’ve been coming back.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you develop the proficiency in multiple languages beyond your native Finnish and English, as I understand you know Russian, Swedish, Spanish, and French as well? Has this helped the band when touring so as to not get screwed over by outside agents, promoters and so forth?
Blacksmith: I do not know Russian! I can speak Swedish, English, French, a little bit of German, a little bit of Spanish, and a little bit of Portuguese. Usually we have somebody from our management to take care of business things, and when the band goes there we are taken by the locals and we don’t know what’s happening. My language skills are good when we are going out to order some food and then I can translate the menus to the guys.
Dead Rhetoric: What are the essential keys for Children of Bodom tour survival? Are there any new places you’d like to hit but haven’t been able to as of yet?
Blacksmith: As in countries and places. Personally I would go anywhere that anyone would like to book us that we could do a show that would be minimalistically profitable. South Africa, I also think North Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, they would be quite realistic. I think those are the ones I would put next on my list to play.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it a challenge to come up with the ideal set list, given that you now have nine studio albums to choose from?
Blacksmith: Yes, it’s always hard and getting harder when you come up with a new album. First we try to decide how many new songs we will put in and then after that it’s just a matter of choosing the old classics. But then again you don’t want to play the same old classics, maybe you try to rotate a little bit. It’s always best if we can get 25 songs that we know and then rotate the set list a little bit, that’s the most interesting style and way of doing things.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a particular preference in terms of the theater shows versus festivals?
Blacksmith: I like the small venues like theaters because of the intensity, the crowd is closer and you get sweaty. You usually get a proper sound check as well so you know everything is alright when you go on stage. All in all I prefer the small club shows.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the metal scene on a world scale these days? What changes would you like to see take place if given the opportunity to do so?
Blacksmith: That’s a good one. It’s been very interesting to see that being active in the metal scene for 20, 25 years almost it’s a weird thing to see the big bands still there, like Metallica or Slayer. They still play, they are still touring and kicking ass. I think it’s going to be a weird moment when these big bands retire and aren’t there anymore, to see who are the next big bands. I think that’s why I’m kind of like not looking for but eager to see how the metal scene looks when the big old ones are not there anymore.
Dead Rhetoric: What activities or hobbies do you like to pursue when you get the time away from music?
Blacksmith: Football (soccer), swimming, yoga, and hanging out with friends and family. I think that’s it.
Dead Rhetoric: Where will Children of Bodom be going over the course of the rest of 2015 into early 2016?
Blacksmith: Next week we will be going to China, playing a couple of shows there and in Southeast Asia. We end up in a festival in Tokyo, Japan. And then we go with Megadeth to Australia for five shows. There is even New Zealand. Then we come back to Europe and we will be touring with Lamb of God there. Next year in February we come to the States, we start with the 70,000 Tons of Metal Festival cruise and then we hopefully will do a six week tour, but I haven’t seen the routing as of yet.