By Carl Begai
Back in March, BW&BK was invited to attend the listening session for CHILDREN OF BODOM's highly anticipated new album, Halo Of Blood, to be issued through their new label Nuclear Blast on June 7th. The 'net is abuzz with reports that the band have taken a back-to-the-roots approach this time out, and while it may seem that way on the surface, turns out Halo Of Blood is so much more than a rehash of a successful formula. For those that have written off the Hate Crew as having their best years behind them, Halo Of Blood will be a a pleasant surprise for some, a kick in the nuts for others.
We sat down with keyboardist Janne Wirman and drummer Jaska Raatikainen following the initial run-through of the new album.
BW&BK: Making the move from Universal to Nuclear Blast seems like a logical step considering you were on Spinefarm/Nuclear Blast at the start of the band’s career. Was moving to a smaller label a case of feeling lost in the shuffle on a big roster of artists?
Janne: “The first three albums were just licensed to Nuclear Blast, so we didn’t really have that much of a relationship with them, but we’re excited about the move. We had a great relationship with Spinefarm, but Spinefarm got sold to Universal as you know, and when a major label takes control of a smaller label things don’t always go as planned. Little by little it started to be a sucky deal for us, so when our deal ended with them we started shopping around for a new deal. A lot of labels made offers, but in the current market when major labels are going down anyway, it was a good decision to go with an independent metal label that is also the biggest metal label in Europe.”
Jaska: “Everybody always says we were a Nuclear Blast band because of the licensing deal, and the first tours we did were Nuclear Blast festival tours. Still, we knew the people involved so it was nice to come to this label. As Janne said, it was a logical decision.”
BW&BK: Alexi (Laiho/vocals, guitars) is and always has been the songwriter in this band, but there has to be more that one guy involved in the creative process for a band to be around for 15+ years. Did the rest of the band have more input on Halo Of Blood compared to the last few records?
Janne: “Maybe the whole band’s arranging of the songs had even a little bit more to say this time. Alexi is the musical director, he’s composing the music, but we played around with ideas more this time. We tried different things and experimented a lot. I think we spent more time arranging these new songs together than we ever have in the past.”
Jaska: “I noticed that if someone had an idea, and we tried it out and it didn’t work, someone in the band would still be working with it to see if we could get something out of it after all.”
Janne: “We spent hours working on changing the drum beat in one part of a song, then we’d play the whole song and listen to how that would change affect the whole thing…”
Jaska: “… And we found that these little things did change the entire song.”
BW&BK: Halo Of Blood is loaded with double-take moments, but the title track sits at the top of the heap with the reappearance of blastbeats in the Children Of Bodom arsenal. Completely unexpected…
Jaska: “I love these kinds of challenges. I was glad that Alexi came up with this idea of using the blastbeats. We had blastbeats on Hatebreeder, but after that, never again. So, that’s over 10 years. One day Alexi came to the rehearsal space and he had this idea for a riff, and I was like ‘Are you kidding me? Blastbeats?’ (laughs). This new album was full of surprises for us while we were making it. There was always something new going on. One day it was blastbeats, the next day it was the slowest song we’ve ever done (‘Dead Man’s Hand On You’). It was good that Alexi could still surprise us.”
BW&BK: But it was still a group effort, for better or worse.
Janne: “There were a lot of times when we disagreed on things, a lot of things, and like I said, we’ve never spent so many hours trying so many different things making an album.”
Jaska: “Once we had a song completely ready, and I suggested we slow the tempo right down and Roope (Latvala/guitars) got pissed. He was like, ‘We finally got the song done and you want to do it over again?!’ (laughs).”
Janne: “We also made the correct decision on three of the songs to slow the tempos down just a pinch, and it made the songs so much clearer. I’m not saying that we couldn’t have played them live, but when you lower a tempo slightly it makes something like a 16th note guitar riff way more audible and clearer.
“It’s funny how stubborn Roope can be, because for him, lowering the tempo is like a huge insult or something (laughs). We lowered the beat 2 bpm and he got mad at the rest of the band. It was like, ‘What the fuck…’ (laughs).”
BW&BK: The first song 'Waste Of Skin' is standard old school Bodom, and might be dismissed as same old same old, but from 'Halo Of Blood' on you can't predict where it's going to go. And the last four songs ('Dead Man's Hand On You', 'Damaged Beyond Repair', 'All Twisted', One Bottle And A Knee Deep')... what a way to go out on an album. It's all over the place dynamically but it works.
Janne: “That’s something I like about the new album. Even I couldn’t figure out or predict what was coming next during the first listen, and I played on it. After the third time through we were all thinking ‘Fuck yeah, this is killer. There are no filler tracks on this. We made sure that if we were going to have 10 original tracks, the shit was going to be good all the way through.”
BW&BK: It’s interesting listening to the reactions going around the press room. Everybody’s drawing comparisons to Hatebreeder and Follow The Reaper pretty much across the board.
Janne: “We were just discussing this between interviews, that for me, judging our own music is so difficult sometimes. Now, when we get these opinions from you guys in the media, we can see how things are and start to hear the album with a different set of ears. No matter how subjectively I might try to listen to the album at home, after you’ve worked on it for six months you just can’t do that.”
BW&BK: But Halo Of Blood isn’t an intentional back-to-the-roots record even though a large portion of your fanbase has been screaming for one for years now.
Janne: “What’s funny is that people don’t believe that we never sit down and say ‘Hey, let’s go in this musical direction…’ when we start writing new songs. We never say a word about that. We just go to the rehearsal room, Alexi comes in with his riffs and we start working on the songs from there. I think it would be ridiculous for us to discuss going back to our second album. We would never do that.”
Jaska: “It doesn’t work. I think the only thing we were conscious of is… Henkka (Blacksmith/bass) kept saying ‘Whatever sounds good,’ which is what we were going for. That was like our motto for this album. We never talked about what we should sound like this time out. “
Janne: “And we cared less about the reactions. Sometimes, back in the day, we were writing new songs worrying about how people were going to react. This time we just didn’t give a fuck. If it felt good, we did it.”
Jaska: “It was the same way we felt when we were teenagers doing Hatebreeder, so in that way I guess you could compare Halo Of Blood to that album and Follow The Reaper.”
BW&BK: You had Peter Tägtgren (HYPOCRISY, PAIN) involved in the production, who was involved with Follow The Reaper, but you also went back to producer Mikko Karmila to master Halo Of Blood. Was that another intentional return to familiar territory?
Janne: “We went back, yeah, and I think it was a great fucking decision to do that. People that work in the trade, when they hear the new album they all say that Mikko has done a fucking great job. “
Jaska: “On this new album, we interacted more with Mikko than we ever have in the past, and he was more open to our ideas…”
Janne: “I think he was always open to our ideas, but we were just too drunk to give him any ideas (laughs).”
Jaska: “He knows how to make the Children Of Bodom sound and we trust him. This time we really wanted to say something with this album and Mikko respected that.”
BW&BK: And for the first time in Children Of Bodom history, you guys FINALLY have album artwork that’s worth boasting about. It stands out, it’s not as over-the-top busy or straight-up ugly as the last few album covers, which makes for great ads and will translate to album and merchandise sales to some extent.
Janne: “I would hate to give any credit to our bass player on any level (laughs). I think it was one of Henkka’s ideas to use a winter theme and white with the Reaper and the icy lake. I think it’s great. I love the input the label gave us on it, because when we gave them the first draft of the artwork I thought the Reaper was too small and needed to be the focus. Like you said, the artwork is so recognizable you’ll be able to see it from miles away as a Children Of Bodom record.”