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Children of Bodom’s eighth release, Halo of Blood, marks the first time the band has recorded an album in their Helsinki, Finland, rehearsal studio. “We got this hall with three different rooms and there was enough room for a studio so we built one there for demos and stuff. Then we were like, ‘Why not record the album there as well?’ It made sense since we’re paying a shitload of rent for that place anyway,” says frontman and guitarist Alexi Laiho. Initially this move was a source of consternation. Just to be safe, the band recorded drums at Petrax Studios up north in Finland. But there was another concern besides the sonic aspect of the recording. “At first I was worried about how it was going to turn out because we’re used to going somewhere totally secluded, like in the middle of the woods,” Laiho says. “This was definitely different and I was worried if the guys were going to be distracted by everyday things because everyone was so close to home. But it turned out to be really good.”
The change of scenery resulted in COB’s most diverse album to date. Halo of Blood features the band’s fastest and slowest songs ever. And as to be expected from a band that’s recorded covers of Britney Spears’ “Oops! ... I Did it Again,” Pat Benatar’s “Hell is For Children,” and Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” (among other unlikely selections), Halo includes covers of Roxette’s “Sleeping in My Car” and Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” the latter featuring a guest appearance by Jeff Waters from Annihilator. “I just played rhythm guitar on that one,” says Laiho. “I wanted him to go crazy and play stuff, throw licks here and there throughout the whole song.”
The seeds of this new album were planted in the summer of 2012 after Laiho fell ill with a serious stomach infection and was rushed to the hospital, forcing the cancellation of several key dates on the COB tour. Shortly after his recovery, he began writing music for Halo. “I write everything—the riffs and melodies—and take it to the rehearsal space. We jam on them and take it from there. We do all the arrangements as a group,” says Laiho. The band hit the studio just after Christmas and everything was mixed and mastered by the end of February.
Premier Guitar caught up with Laiho to discuss the Halo sessions, his guitar heroes, and why after all these years he’s finally retired his Lee Jackson preamp.
Halo of Blood takes the Children of Bodom sound to new places.
I think it has more diversity, for sure and I’ve heard other people say that, too. The title track, in my opinion, is the fastest song in the history of the band. It’s basically like blast beats throughout the song. Another song, called “Dead Man’s Hand on You,” is by far the slowest song in the history of the band. That was definitely something we’d never done before. It has clean guitars and a grand piano, and just the whole vibe of the song in general is so different from the other tracks.
Did you intentionally aim for these extremes?
It just turned out that way, dude. None of this was thought out or planned—everything just happened naturally. It was definitely a challenge for us to do something like that but I think we did a pretty good job. Those two songs are my favorite tracks on the whole album, so we must have done something right.
Even so, Halo still distinctly has that COB stamp throughout.
A lot of people have told me that there are a lot of elements from the early COB days, like elements from Hatebreeder or Follow the Reaper. That’s something I wouldn’t have even noticed until someone pointed it out to me. Then when I listened to the record, it kind of made sense.
What specific elements were they referring to?
You’ll have to ask the people that told me [laughs]. I guess certain types of melodies and the fact that it is more melodic. That’s the main reason.
Do you feel that over the years COB has strayed away from its original sound?
Not exactly strayed away, but we’ve definitely developed it. When you listen to Something Wild, our first album, we were still searching for the sound of Children of Bodom. I’d say we found it on the Hate Crew Deathrollrecord. And now with each album, we just try to make it better. But it’s still the same concept—super angry and aggressive death metal or whatever the fuck it is. It’s metal, anyway.
As to be expected, Halo also features a ton of smoldering solos. Are your solos worked out or improvised?
I improvise them on the spot. I like to keep things fresh and spontaneous sounding when I do solos. I usually don't like to write anything beforehand. What I do is take the solo part and loop it over and over again. Then I record every take—I’d do like 20 different takes or as many as it requires—and then listen to each one of them and if I hear something that I like then it’s like, “Okay, I’m gonna do that thing.” Then I do it again and I listen to it again, and eventually I have the whole solo and I just play it.
Some shredders focus on one technique and use it almost exclusively throughout their careers, but you have killer legato, alternate picking, and sweep picking abilities.
I was just really driven to learn all of those techniques. I wanted to learn pretty much everything. I started to work on most of these things the day I got a guitar in my hands for the first time, when I was 11 years old. So now, when I’ve got those techniques down, I can finally concentrate on the musical content of the solo. The techniques are just like tools, really. Of course there has to be some showing off too, that’s part of the whole thing. But at the end of the day, I think a good solo should complement the song and serve the music.
What’s your favorite solo on the album?
Off the top of my head I’d say, “Scream for Silence.” That’s a good example of what I was just talking about. I think that solo actually makes the song sound better.
That solo also has some fierce trading between you and keyboardist Janne Wirman. Does having to compete with a keyboardist who can play cleaner and faster than most guitarists make you ’shed even harder?
It’s a challenge to do the whole guitar/keyboard duel thing, that’s for sure. We have this fun, competitive thing going on. Usually I record my guitar solos first then he listens to them and plays off of my solo. We’ve been playing together since the first record, which came out like 16 years ago. We know each other musically so well that it’s fun.