Love from the Hate Crew: Children of Bodom at the Observatory

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I know a concert was good when every time I try to sit down and write my review of it, I get distracted by composing music myself instead. This was most gloriously true of the Children of Bodom concert at the Observatory in Santa Ana on March 2, supported by Tyr and Death Angel. Even though I love the word, I reserve it only for special occasions like this one- fuck… Children of Bodom were so fucking good. That does sum it up, but I will elaborate.

Children of Bodom, a melodic death metal band who hail from Finland, played an epic, crowd-pleasing set, which immaculately showcased songs across their recording history. The set itself reflected the essence of the band, showcasing their technical prowess, while also just being plain fun. Along with being so technically talented across the board, the band never seems to lose focus on the pure enjoyment of what they are doing and make an effort to make their fans, their “Hate Crew”, feel appreciated and included. I’ve never seen such a joyful mosh pit.

They opened with a heavy rendition of “Sixpounder” from 2003’s “Hate Crew Deathroll” and went on to take a rousing tour their entire catalogue, also playing “Bodom Beach Terror”, “Angels Don’t Kill”, and “Hate Crew Deathroll” from the same album. From 2005’s “Are You Dead Yet?” they played the title track and “Living Dead Beat”. They played crowd favorites like “Blooddrunk” and “Follow the Reaper” with ferocisty. From the new album “Halo of Blood” they played an unrelenting version of the title track, which lead singer and guitarist Alexi Laiho calls the fastest song in the history of the band. Also from the new album, they played the moody “Dead Man’s Hand on You”, which is noted as “by far the slowest song in the history of the band”, adding an interesting contrast to the set.

A highlight of the evening was the rare performance of “Lake Bodom” from the band’s first 1997 album “Something Wild” and “Towards Dead End” from the 1999 album “Hatebreeder”. The band ended the show with a medley of “In Your Face” (from “Are You Dead Yet?”) and their cover of the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”. Lead singer Laiho closed the concert by saying “Santa Ana! We love love love you!” The feeling was very mutual. IMG_7678
This was my first time seeing the band live after only being introduced to the band’s music about a year ago, so this added to my being awe struck by the music at the end of the night. It is rare to seen a band play such a tight and solid set of powerful music, so seemingly effortlessly. Each musician, from Alexi Laiho on vocals and guitar, Janne Warman on keyboard, Jaska Raatikainen on drums, Roope Latvala on guitar and Henkka Seppälä (Blacksmith) on bass, played parts that fit into the whole in such wonderful overlapping layers. Perhaps it’s lead singer and guitarist Laiho’s early classical influence, but the entire set could be thought of as a whole, like each song was a movement in a symphony, with the melodies ascending, descending and swirling into some mesmerizing state of musical ecstasy. That is, if the symphony entailed songs about drinking and death and a metal cover of the Beastie Boys. That’s exactly what makes Children of Bodom delightful- which might be an odd choice of word to describe a death metal band- so I will call them fucking delightful.

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Prior to the evening’s epic show, I was privileged to sit down with bassist Henkka Seppälä (Blacksmith) to talk about the band’s past as well as their new album “Halo of Blood”, current tour and Seppälä’s masters in history.

Interview:

You’ve been a member of Children of Bodom since you were young, yet you have studied various pursuits at university. Was there ever a time you considered another career besides music?

Not really because I was so young when I joined the band. It was hobby for many many years and then I started studying. Then the hobby, little by little, became work. So, no, I really never thought about anything else.

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How many years did it start for your to start getting paid doing music?

Well, we put the company up in 2002, so that’s when there was enough money coming in that it made sense to have a company.

So from about ’96 to 2002?

Yeah.

You were self funding before that?

Yeah, just like any other hobby.

A lot of your early albums have classical influence. Do you personally have any classical influence in your playing?

No, I was never into classical music myself. I have learned everything from death metal and thrash metal.

Who was it in your band that had the classical influence?

Alexi (Laiho) is the only one because he did violin when he was a kid, so I think that’s where it comes from. Janne (Warman) is more into jazz. He went to jazz school.

In regards to the production of your albums, how much influence does a producer have on the process?

We basically produce ourselves and we need a sound engineer to tell us to play better. Only twice we had producers who had something to say with the structures. All the other albums we’ve produced ourselves.

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What song from the new album has proven to be the most fun to play live?

I like the title track (Halo of Blood). It’s always challenging because it’s so fast. It’s always a little scary to see if we can keep it together.

In terms of technicality what has been the most technical song for you regarding the bass in the discography of Children of Bodom?

There’s usually one or two really, really difficult ones on each album. Probably on the latest one it would be “Bodom Blue Moon”. There were some tricky things.

I remember back in the day, songs like “War heart”… there was a really nice bass line through that song.

Yeah, especially back in the day it was more technical, it was more like a guitar playing.

You have toured all over the world and in the last few years have gone to countries like India where you’ve never been before. Have you been surprised by any of the crowds?IMG_7013 copy

Usually there have been pleasant surprises. We’ve been together for 15-20 years, so usually when we go to a new place, we kind of expect there must be some fans who have been waiting for us for 15 years. Like in India. There have been a lot of good surprises. Especially on this tour, we have been really surprised by how many people are showing up to the shows. We did 8 shows in Canada and it was really good.

Have you experienced meeting any of your personal heroes?

Yeah many… Dave Mustaine and Kerry King, for example.

If you’d like to choose one person to play with that’s dead in history, who would it be?

I’d like to play with Pantera.

How do you balance your life at home and touring? It is hard?

No, it’s not hard. They are totally different worlds. Here you live in an everyday schedule. You don’t have to think anything yourself. You just wake up and you see the daily schedule and you just live by that. When you go home, it takes a couple of days to realize there’s nobody telling you what to do today. You get used to it pretty fast.

How is Children of Bodom navigating the age of digital downloads?

In my opinion, metal music has always been not so badly effected by digital downloading. Metal fans are in a way conservative because they like to have their copy of the album, which is good for us. But, we have noticed also it is effecting metal music. I think it’s just a thing we have to live with. We are going through a transition phase in the music industry. We have to keep on supporting the legal (downloading and streaming sites), like iTunes and Spotify. It’s still a little unbalanced between the old physical forms and the streaming forms; the money is not in balance. But we’ll be there.

Do you find that makes you tour more?

Yeah, may be, yeah. We get the most money from touring, so yeah. IMG_7046 B&W copy

Is there anything you miss about how you experienced music as a kid in today’s music industry?

I remember when I started playing it was like one day I started to listen to music totally differently. Then I started to realize what is actually happening in this song. That changed my life completely. In a way it would be kind of cool to go back to the days before that and to see and to feel how it actually felt to listen to music without knowing what’s actually going on… without thinking about the notes or the melody. I don’t even remember how that sounds.

What makes you nerd out?

I am a history geek. Modern history- the past 300 years. I was educated in Finland, so I know Finnish and Scandinavian and European history better. But I am always eager to learn wherever I go about local history. I just finished my masters thesis one and half years ago. It was about Finnish development projects and how they changed from 1995 to 2008.

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Interview photos by Eric Stoner, http://ericstonerphotography.com/

Concert photos by Joy Shannon.

Filming and additional interview questions by Dimitri Tzoytzoyrakos.

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