Some Unorganized Thoughts on the Death of Alexi Laiho
Like many of you, I am still digesting the untimely and unspeakably sad death of Children of Bodom co-founder, guitarist and frontman Alexi Laiho. Unlike nearly all of you, my role in the media compelled me to think about coverage of his death first, then process my own feelings about it second. I’m just now catching up, having had the past 24 hours to fully digest it.
I don’t wish to write a lengthy career-spanning obit or construct a rambling, wistful thinkpiece on “what Alexi meant to metal.” But I do have several thoughts swimming around my head about Alexi’s death (and life!) that have been gnawing at me over the past day, and I need to get them out.
Here they are:
- Alexi was an icon. The Flying V-style guitar, front leg up on the monitor, hair tucked under a cap, Vans, baggy pants, black nail polish flying up and down the fretboard. You knew who it was the moment you saw, instantly recognizable in a way few metal stars today are.
- He was one of the most important metal guitarists of the past 20 years, although he’s rarely credited as such. Alexi brought virtuosic playing back to metal at nu-metal’s peak, when guitar solos were the furthest thing from “cool” they would ever be, and made them mainstream again. Without Laiho (and some fellow Scandinavian innovators), there would be no Killswitch, Shadows Fall, Lamb of God, no New Wave of American Heavy Metal. That’s a fact.
- Speaking of innovation: the idea for MetalSucks was hatched at a Children of Bodom concert: December 17, 2006, Amon Amarth and Gojira opening, at the Nokia Theatre in NYC. I turned to Axl between sets and said “Let’s do Pitchfork, but for metal, and make it like Beavis & Butt-Head in tone.” He retorted that we should call it “Metal Sucks.” There was a lot of weed involved. A week later we had the domain registered, a basic WordPress site live and we started writing. The rest is history. So, if you hate MetalSucks, blame Alexi!
- Alexi’s incredibly young age when he rose to superstardom has been lost in the conversation lately. He had turned 20 just a couple of weeks before Hatebreeder came out in 1999, meaning he was only 19 — NINETEEN! — when it was written, and only 18 (or possibly just 17!!!) when he signed to Spinefarm. That’s insane given how developed of a guitar player and songwriter he already was, and how mature of a work that album is.
- Like Alexi himself, Bodom’s fans tended to be on the younger side. I can’t tell you how many tributes I’ve seen over the past 24 hours on social media that contained the phrases “when I was in high school,” “when I was a young metalhead” or some version thereof. Something about Alexi’s vibrance and energy spoke to the youth and inspired countless folks to get into metal and/or start playing guitar, many of whom are now in successful bands of their own. Bodom were a gateway band for many, no question.
- Follow the Reaper -> Hate Crew Deathroll -> Are You Dead Yet? is an INSANE 1-2-3 punch, just absolutely killer material through and through. Three A-level albums from any band are extremely rare (The Beatles and Metallica only had four each!), and depending on your age and when you first got into Bodom, you might also throw Hatebreeder or Blooddrunk in with that group. Remarkable consistency!
- That same consistency would later become Bodom’s downfall. Their career — and Alexi’s life, sadly — flamed out way too early when they failed to evolve.
- People forget how vaunted of a guitar hero Laiho was in the first half of his career. Endless guitar and metal magazine covers! More recently, it didn’t seem that Laiho kept up with the times — he was never really in the conversation when it came to YouTube, guest appearances, social media and other emerging trends in the metal guitar world. Whether that had to do with an old dog’s inability to learn new tricks, health issues or something else we can only speculate, but it’s a shame either way; there’s an entire generation of young shredders — the entire past decade, really — who mostly won’t ever understand how important and how great he was.
- The guy was a notorious partier. Lots of folks on social media over the past 24 hours have been celebrating that well-known fact and throwing “the last true rock star” praise his way because of it… but I’m not so sure that’s something to be celebrated. He was from a different era at heart, that’s for sure.
- Speaking of being from a different era, there is a LOT we don’t know about Alexi; he always maintained a shroud of mystery in a time when very few musicians do. We never found out specifically why he was sick and had to cancel tour dates in 2012. We didn’t get a clear and concise explanation about why he left Children of Bodom and formed Bodom After Midnight last year other than that he’d “signed out of that company,” whatever that means… and we don’t know why that happened. We also don’t know why or how he died. He was a private person.
- Alexi was not well in recent years. No official update was necessary, and MetalSucks is not privy to any inside information here; if you saw the band live, you noticed with your own two eyes. It was very sad, to say the least.
- It says something that Alexi was very sick for months before his passing and that his family waited a week to announce it. Not only was he not well, but he didn’t want the public knowing, didn’t want to deal with the outpouring of concern or attention. He simply wanted to vanish and be done with it.
- On a more positive note, Alexi’s untimely death might serve to elevate him to the true legend status he deserves. I’m not here to glorify death the way some folks do when rock stars leave us too young, but perhaps the small silver lining is that in death Alexi will be able to reach a whole new generation of guitar players and metal fans he otherwise would not have.
That’s all I’ve got for now. R.I.P., Alexi, you were a real one.