Interview by Jason Williams
Finnish melodic death metal group Children Of Bodom, even with all members still in their mid to late 30s, are veterans of this genre, having started out in 1993 as teenagers. Through these past 23 years, they’ve marched non-stop in their quest, consistently releasing studio albums and touring the world relentlessly. Their ninth and latest album ‘I Worship Chaos’ was released in 2015 via Nuclear Blast Entertainment, and on their second North American tour in support of it, Children Of Bodom embarked on a headline run with opening acts Abbath, Exmortus and Oni in November 2016. The tour arrived in Southern California for a gig at the Observatory in Santa Ana, and our writer Jason Williams sat down with bassist Henkka T. Blacksmith to discuss the ongoing tour, the latest album, musical direction, his longstanding relationship with the rest of the band, future plans and more. Enjoy the conversation below.
How are you and the band on this winter Tuesday evening?
It’s very good. It’s nice actually, here (laughs). We’re by the Huntington Beach here today, went for some surfing, walking on the beach, and it doesn’t feel like winter.
This is a great tour package with Abbath, Exmortus and Oni opening the shows. How has this unique tour been coming along, and what else has the band been up to thus far into the year?
Well, we’ve been touring for the ‘I Worship chaos’ album, and it’s actually our second American tour, the last one with Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies. We’re getting back as a headliner, and having these bands along, it’s a really good package. We’ve been touring for two weeks, and have about two more weeks to go, so it’s kind of a nice four-week run, coast to coast, and we’re in the middle of the run at the moment. And yeah, it’s really good to be back here in California.
Fans of Immortal and Abbath, and fans of Children of Bodom, I believe are pretty close together in terms of the sound that they like. How did it come about bringing Abbath on tour?
It was our booking agent, and they got a hold of him. When we heard about the opportunity, we were like, “Yeah! That’s a brilliant idea!” I’m glad it really worked out.
With ‘I Worship Chaos’ being your latest release, fans all around me, and online, throughout the media too, have called it somewhat of a return to your earlier sound as on the ‘Hatebreeder’ and ‘Follow the Reaper’ albums, a little more melody and instrumentation than in more recent releases. Can you talk about this new album, and the process for the writing stages?
The writing was almost the same as we’ve always done, so we didn’t really change anything. For some reason, I think we got a little bit more “melodic”, and that stuff back into the music, as opposed to the couple more thrashy albums in between. Everybody seems to enjoy it, and we’re all really happy with the album. We didn’t really change anything, the music just came in natural like it is, and this time it came to be a little more melodic.
Speaking of music becoming natural, you’ve been in the band since the very beginning along with most of the group as the same. And over the years, your fanbase has changed along the way, in which you have a group of fans who adore and love the first three records, fans who prefer the last 6 albums starting with your 2003 record ‘Hate Crew Deathroll’, and another group who can appreciate both eras. But I feel that Children Of Bodom transitioned to a new period since that said record, more catchy hooks, slightly shorter songs, the focus on instrumentation, slower songs too, in comparisons to say ‘Something Wild’. What have you noticed over the years in response to fans who have either loved the new era, or as a lot of old-school fans are, which prefer the band’s earlier style?
Well, I’ve been a fan of bands myself, so I know how it feels when you really love the first two or three albums and then the band starts to change. That’s what music is. I think every band is like an organic element, and usually if they’re humans, they’ll change a little bit (laughs). The music tends to change with it as well. I think the more important thing is that you’re happy with the music yourself, and then you can keep on doing it. We tried to make our setlist in a way that it has a little bit of everything, for everybody. So, I’ve always been very strict on what we have to play, and we usually have lots of old songs. But of course, the new songs too. As a fan of other bands too, I know that if I’ve been following some band for like 15 years and I happen to like their recent album the most, of course I want to hear a couple of songs from the new album too, but of course I want to hear the old songs. It’s about balancing between these things, and we have 9 albums out, so it’s a little bit difficult involving everything in it, but we try to and we tour a lot, so we change the songs a little bit every tour, and I think at the moment we have a good balance of it, and we’ll just keep it going.
With Children of Bodom, in terms of it being a more extreme form of melodic metal, as many would describe the music to be, the band does very well here in North America. You’re one of the higher tier bands, like say Behemoth, that can play pretty much anywhere in America, headlining tours, larger festivals as well. Can you talk about what happened within the band many many years ago in regards to touring, that really broke the band through that barrier? Was it a particular, more popular band that COB supported, that paved the way?
I don’t think there is any one moment that happened. We’ve been touring here a lot, we’ve been working a lot here in America (laughs). I think we’ve played more shows here than we’ve played anywhere else, so that’s one thing that has led us to where we are now. But I’ve also noticed the attendance at our shows, it goes like up and down, and one year we’ll have less people, and the next the year we have more, and so on. It’s the same thing with other bands too that I see, like for example Slayer. Sometimes they’ll play smaller shows, and sometimes they’ll book arenas. It’s a funny business. But I just think we’ve been touring a lot. We’ve been doing headlining shows, and also supporting tours, for example the Unholy Alliance tour with Slayer was a really big event for us ten years ago. We’ve been supporting Lamb of God, and supporting many other bands here. But also, we’ve been doing a lot of headline shows, a lot of small shows, and play everywhere. I think that’s the most important thing.
You’ve mentioned about touring here more than other places, which I’m sure means touring more than say Europe. Is the saturation for more melodic types of metal bands in Europe apparent? And with more festivals, shows all within a very short distance to one another due to countries and areas within Europe being so close and confined, is it easier to tour in North America, and does the band actually do better here?
I think we have more people per show in Europe, maybe? But we play more shows here (laughs). So I don’t know, I think the market is just different. I think here, of course it’s a bigger country, so it’s kind of like more ground to cover. Bands play here more often and you have to be present a little more often, to maintain your position. As in Europe, you can do one tour per album and you’re good, and maybe you shouldn’t do any more. I just think it’s a different culture.
Aside from the rhythm guitar spot, since 1997, the entire band has been present, with yourself, Alexi (Laiho), Janne (Warman), Jaska (Raatikainen), and that’s really rare for a band to have that amount of members to stay together close to 20 years now, and how that core lineup must have astounding chemistry, and consistent. Talk about your relationship with the rest of the band, on a personal and musical level, and how you’ve been able to keep it going like this, since the beginning?
Well, we started so young. I think that’s one reason. I joined the band when I was 14, and the other members were 15. By the time the first album came out, I was 16, and the other band members were about 17. So, I think that’s one thing. And we kind of went through the hard times. Like the band having hard times, where you actually have to push and push without really making any money. We were very young at the time, so we’re kind of lucky in that we didn’t have to make any sacrifices, in a way. And I think that was one thing that helps us be together, and we’re like a family. We’re like brothers, you know? We’re not best friends, we don’t hang out outside of the business, but everybody knows each other very, very well, and we know how to avoid certain situations and know exactly how people react to certain situations. So we just try to keep stuff nice for everybody. If you want to keep the atmosphere good, then you have to respect everybody, and deal with it, and most importantly, if you enjoy the shows, then it’s pretty easy to keep everyone here, because that’s the main thing we do here. We go on stage, and we have fun there. That’s our kind of like lifeline, here.
The majority of Children of Bodom fans associate the band mainly with Alexi, of course. Creating the music, his guitar work, lyrics, vocals, and everything. I understand that he writes most of everything, and the rest of the band is involved as well, so how is the writing process itself for the band? When he has the backbone of the material, is it individuals who present their parts, or does the rest of the band collaborate together?
Yeah, he brings in the ingredients. Alexi usually brings the riffs, and we jam them, then when we have several riffs, then we start putting it together as a group, then everybody has their own opinions on what part is what, and what should be the intro, outro, chorus, what should be the verses, and so on. It’s pretty collective when we start putting the songs together, but Alexi brings all the material in.
After this tour finishes in about two weeks, what will be next for Children of Bodom? With your most recent 9th album being toured for, is there a certain vision, or goal in doing a particularly larger or more unique tour?
Next year, we’re going to do a headlining tour in Europe, kind of like a 20-year anniversary, planning to play a lot more older stuff, and then we’re going to start writing new material, playing some shows in the summer, of course festival season, then we’re going to go back writing and recording. I think we should have a new album out by early 2018.
Exmortus and Oni are the opening bands through this four-week tour, really gaining momentum especially Exmortus from Los Angeles, getting on a ton of support tours, a couple headliners, playing 150 shows this year, and counting. I think it’s really generous, and important, for a bigger band to bring in a band that’s on the up and rising, and to give them really important exposure, and of course let the band do the work and give 100 per cent. With that being said of the music industry, it’s harder for smaller extreme metal bands to tour here in North America. Is there anything that can be done better to get more fans at the shows?
I don’t know (laughs). That’s something the booking agent probably knows better. I think a metal show should have many bands, a little bit different kind of music, of course the ticket price on a good level. I don’t know, there’s so many bands touring at the moment, even just Scandinavian bands. I was pretty scared that how are all the bands going to have any people at the shows. But we’ve had a good attendance so far. I think it’s all about the package. You have to have a couple of really good metal bands, and little bit of variety, while keeping the ticket price okay, and then you’re good.
That’s all accurate for sure, in speaking more from the musician within a band’s perspective. But as a fan, and the music you listen to, and the people in bands you know and perhaps idolize, what could you possibly say or think of as a fan perspective, that you would like to see bands bring back?
Well, for myself, I like small clubs, and small shows, three bands per night. Have it in a small venue, where you can drink beer and have a good time, and as I was saying earlier, not having to pay too much for the ticket. And you would want nothing more, and I think that’s how it always been, and maybe it’s more difficult than that or not, but I don’t know anything else, and I think that’s just the way to do it.
Does Children of Bodom prefer club shows? The Observatory is a larger club venue which holds closer to 900. If the band had the choice, would it be more fitting those smaller club venues?
I like to play anything that’s packed with people. So if we have a packed 1,000 in a venue, that’s perfect. But I rather play a packed 500 club, then non-packed 1,000 seated club. But in general, I like small clubs, so if I could choose, I would love to play 500-700 people clubs that are packed, sweaty, small stage, intense, people right in front.
My last question, you mentioned playing a special 20th anniversary tour in Europe, playing more older material, and I was meaning to ask before you said it first. Would that special tour be more of the first three albums only or more of a whole collaboration of your entire discography, including the earlier stuff? And also, would it ever be possible to have a special show that had say, playing the entire ‘Something Wild’ or ‘Hatebreeder’ record, for example?
This is more like, we’re going to concentrate on ‘Something Wild’ and ‘Hatebreeder’. We hadn’t considered playing them whole, but we’re going to combine half of the setlist to be from the first two albums, so lots of songs that we’ve never played before, so lots of learning for us too, and let’s see if people actually like the songs or not (laughs).
Would you ever bring that unique tour here in North America? That would do very, very well.
I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes in Europe, and then we have another album out soon, so I think it would be great to have the Americans also have the same opportunity, to hear the old stuff.
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Remaining Tour Dates:
12/17/2016 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of the Living Arts
12/18/2016 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
12/19/2016 – Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw