BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT – Something Wild
May 13, 2021, a month ago
When Children Of Bodom surfaced in 1997 with their first album, Something Wild, nobody could have known the band would one day influence an entire metal genre and the man behind the music, Alexi Laiho, would be regarded as one of the best metal guitarists in the world. He would lead them to world domination over the course of ten albums, inspiring countless bands to try and follow in Children Of Bodom's footsteps, simultaneously taking his rightful place at the table occupied by guitar greats such as Zakk Wylde, Jeff Waters and Steve Vai to name a few. On November 1, 2019, however, the band announced it would play their final show on December 15 of that year, with the band members having opted to go their separate ways for professional reasons. Unable to continue using the Children Of Bodom name without permission from his former bandmates, Laiho announced he would move forward with COB guitarist Daniel Freyberg under a new name, Bodom After Midnight, taken from a song from the third Children Of Bodom record, Follow The Reaper. Music was written and recorded, a label deal was hammered out, and plans were made for the release of a new EP, Paint The Sky With Blood, meant as a taste of greater things to come.
Laiho had every intention of picking up where Children Of Bodom left off. The future was bright, but in a tragic turn of events Laiho passed away on December 29, 2020 at the age of 41 due to ongoing health issues. The news cast a shadow over the metal world that won't fade out any time soon. Paint The Sky With Blood features the final three songs in Laiho's staggering catalogue of work. They are everything fans had come to expect, and they rage with the promise of something even more captivatingly epic on the horizon that will, sadly, never come.
It fell to Freyberg to take up the role of promoting Paint The Sky With Blood, and one couldn't help but feel terrible settling in to discuss the new music and Laiho's legacy so soon after his passing. The Bodom camp have always been fiercely private about the inner workings of the band - save for whatever hilarity they chose to unveil on their behind-the-scenes DVDs - thus the reasons for Children Of Bodom's split will remain behind locked doors. Conversation instead begins with the birth of Bodom After Midnight and choosing the name to carry Laiho and Freyberg into what should have been the next stage of their careers.
"There were a couple of options," Freyberg begins, "but Alexi insisted on having 'Bodom' in the name. We didn't want to make it too close to the Children Of Bodom name, but not too far from it, either. Bodom After Midnight seemed fitting considering this band was formed when Children Of Bodom had ended."
The tallest order of business, however, was finding players to fill out the line-up that were on par with Jaska Raatikainen (drums), Henkka Seppälä (bass) and Janne Wirman (keyboards). They were also a large part of the reason Children Of Bodom became the iconic band that it was.
"It was actually very easy to find these guys," Freyberg reveals. "They were on our A-list, so to speak... not that we had a B-list or anything like that (laughs). These were the guys that we wanted and if they had said no we would have moved on to some other people that we knew. I've known Waltteri (Väyrynen / drums) since he was a teenager, and Alexi knew Mitja (Toivonen / bass), so we asked them and everything just fell into place. There was nothing to process. Alexi and I chose the COB songs that we wanted to do for the shows we had planned in Finland (for October 2020) and those guys just learned them. By the time we went to the rehearsal space the songs were tight. They did a perfect job."
Bodom After Midnight made their live debut on October 23rd, 2020 in Seinäjoki, Finland followed by two shows in Helsinki. They performed a set of Children Of Bodom songs spanning the band's career; if there was any new material ready by that point the band kept it under wraps. These shows made it clear the Children Of Bodom spirit was very much alive even if it was wearing a different name, but Freyberg admits there was some concern as to how the new band would be received.
"Then again, I knew how well these guys would perform the songs because they're really fucking talented,” says Freyberg. "And we rehearsed a lot, so I wasn't worried that we wouldn't deliver. We were a little bit worried about how people would react since we were playing COB songs under a new name, but at the end of the day they were Alexi's songs and they sounded like him. And that's what the fans wanted. They were near perfect shows. These guys were playing their first shows with us - and unfortunately their last - but it felt like we had been playing together for years. The songs were tight from the very first show, and I think the people in the audience noticed that based on the comments I heard and saw afterwards."
In the hearts and minds of diehard Children Of Bodom fans nothing that followed the band's demise could hope to overshadow their legacy. If you've watched the Bodom After Midnight shows on YouTube - or better yet, were in attendance - it's fair to say they were most certainly not a diet version of Children Of Bodom.
"Absolutely not," Freyberg agrees. "More like Children Of Bodom on double the amount of caffeine (laughs). That's how I felt, at least."
Freyberg wears his time with Children Of Bodom and Bodom After Midnight as badges of honour. He looks back on Children Of Bodom fondly, and he reveals the position wasn't just handed to him. He had to work his ass off to stay there.
"I was happy about joining the band, obviously, but it was a bit of a surprise because the call had come so late. I figured they had already found their new guitar player to replace Roope (Latvala). I got to play with them and see the world, and it's probably the best time of my life so far. But, it wasn't that easy to learn the songs and get used to how the band worked. That was a bit of a shock to my system but in the end it all worked out. The guys in Children Of Bodom had their own methods of learning the songs; nobody gave me any extra help (laughs). I had to figure these things out by myself."
So basically, working with Laiho was somewhere between a challenge and an education.
"(Laughs) He didn't give me any instructions. I had to figure everything out about the songs for myself; what parts Alexi played, what parts Roope or Alexander (Kuoppala) had played, and I had to try and map them out. Then we had one session where I would play the songs with Alexi before we went in to practice with the whole band. He would tell me what needed to be corrected and what I had gotten right. There were usually only one or two, maximum three points per song that had to be corrected. It was a lot of work."
The final Children Of Bodom album, Hexed, was released in 2019. It is Freyberg's only official studio recording with the band and remains a huge source of pride for him.
"I'm proud to have been a part of COB, even for just one album. In the middle of making Hexed I was still learning. Alexi didn't do any Pro-Tools demos or anything like that. He would show up at the rehearsal space with riffs and melodies and showed me what I should play, then the bass lines, then the keyboard lines and so on. Alexi didn't always have the song structures figured out so the guys would help with the arrangements sometimes. It was a very different creative process from what I was used to, but it was fun. It's actually a really good method of making songs now that I look back on it because you have to learn the songs right away. It's a very efficient method. You don't have a demo where you can say, 'Yeah, okay, I'll learn it tomorrow...' (laughs)."
While Hexed was hailed by many Bodom fans to be some of Laiho's strongest material in years thanks to its callback to Children Of Bodom's early records, Paint The Sky With Blood saw him taking his new band in a heavier direction. One can only imagine where Bodom After Midnight would have gone musically.
"Alexi wrote the riffs and the melodies for the new songs, but I think as a band we had a lot of input on the arrangements," says Freyberg. "Everybody contributed, and because we had new players I think it does sound a bit different from COB. For example, Waltteri plays a lot different from Jaska, so I imagine you can hear that. We also had a new keyboardist (session player Vili Itäpelto) who wasn't an official member of the band, and he used some different sounds from Janne, so that's another flavour as well. And, me and Alexi both played solos on the Bodom After Midnight songs, so there are two lead players which was kind of different."
"We added a lot of details as we were working on the songs," he continues. "We actually tried a lot of different things as we went along, before we decided on the final versions of the tracks. I think these songs are Alexi at his best, and 'Paint The Sky With Blood' is probably one of my favourite Bodom songs. They have a bit of a symphonic black metal vibe; it reminds me of some of Dimmu Borgir's stuff. Maybe it's just me but that's what I get from it."
As for choosing to cover the Dissection classic "Where Dead Angels Lie", Freyberg says there was no deeper reason other than Bodom After Midnight as a collective love the band.
"It was originally Waltteri that brought up the idea of doing a Dissection cover. But, in spite of the fact we love the band, they're a band that me and Alexi were kind of afraid to touch (laughs). But, we thought about it and saw a challenge there; if we could make a killer version of what is already a killer song, maybe push it a little further, that it would be really awesome. Having said that, we didn't want to stray too far from the original because we wanted to honour Dissection. Alexi did a great job on the vocals and he played all the leads on that song."
Freyberg has gone on record since promotion for Paint The Sky With Blood began that the EP marks the first and last people will hear of Bodom After Midnight. There is no material left in the vault and they will not push forward without Laiho. Freyberg will continue to make music, however, and fans can expect his return in the near future.
"I have a project that I've been working on for a long time with some good friends of mine who are well established Finnish musicians. We're in the middle of recording an album, and the plan is to finish it and then make an official announcement. There's definitely some new music from me coming but I can't say too much of it at this point."
In closing, I ask Freyberg if there is there is perhaps one special moment or time that stands out in his years of working with Laiho. It's understandable that Freyberg isn't able to do so.
"That's a big question to answer in just a few sentences. We could spend the rest of the day talking about it. Alexi is definitely the most talented musician I've ever worked with. I learned so much from him, and he was a great friend of mine. He was a very loyal friend."
Rest in peace, Wildchild. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.
(Photos by: Terhi Ylimäinen)