“Unfortunately Roope and us, we went our separate ways” sighs Children of Bodom master of ceremonies, synths, spells and sonic illusions Janne Wirman as he contemplates the first change in the Finnish symphonic speed metal monsters line-up in over ten years and the departure of axeman Roope Latvala. “I think it matters to the fans too, to not have too many line-up changes” he states, clearly aware of the effect a change of personnel can have on a fan base and their loyalty to certain periods of a bands’ career. “There hasn’t been too many line-up changes ever, and we are a family and need to keep it that way. It was unfortunate what happened with Roope, and one of our strengths had always been that we keep a constant line up.”
Ninth album I Worship Chaos comes riding out of a blizzard on the back of 2013’s Halo Of Blood (both Nuclear Blast), a much vaunted firestorm of a return to form after the disappointments of their previous two releases Blooddrunk and Relentless Reckless Forever (Spinefarm). Darker in places, nonetheless …Chaos covers everything you’d want and expect from a Bodom release. “I think that sums it up. It’s a bit darker, but also catchier and more straightforward” Wirman agrees.
Changing the dynamic at this stage of the game, with a decade long stability broken against the backdrop of a band back on an upward curve, could have been a setback, but the timing of the change wasn’t one that adversely affected the Scandinavians. “(Roope leaving) was right around the end of the writing process, and fortunately the album had been written with two guitars as per normal.” It’s not unknown for one guitarist to record the majority of the part in other bands – indeed, James Hetfield and Scott Ian are known to record everything bar the solos in their not-insignificant bands – and Bodom had a ready-made replacement in mainman Alexi Laiho.
“It was not a problem – it meant Alexi played all the guitars in the studio, which was really not a problem for him because he can play both parts. It sounds crazy, but it wasn’t that different,” confirms Wirman. Seeing as the remaining four Children have been together since 1997, it’s no surprise that the change of second guitarist hasn’t derailed them in the slightest. And in terms of maintaining that family feel, Roope’s replacement was someone well known to the band. Or, at the very least, to the keyboard player.
“My brother, Antti, stepped in to help us with the live shows, because right after studio, we went on tour straight away.” confirms Wirman. “Luckily he had free time to join us for the summer and he is a great guitar player. I always felt he was one of the best ones in Finland, but he never landed a proper band. I’m so glad we’ve found someone within the family we all knew really well and it’s been a lot of fun. He’ll tour with us until the end of the year and then we are going to announce a new member for the band early next year.”
When we spoke about having to respect that which makes Children of Bodom distinctive, one of those elements is Wirman’s own role in the band. From the outset, the band has utilized keys as a lead instrument, and not just for ambience or to pad out a sound. Keys were treated with suspicion by some of the Guardians of Kvlt in the mid-90’s, but they’ve always been at the forefront of the Bodom sound.
“The keyboards are very crucial part of our trademark sound, especially with the early stuff. Then, the keyboards were really in your face and that helped set us apart and gave us a unique sound. Over the years we’ve experimented with things, sometimes we’ve had complaints that there are not enough keyboards on certain albums. I’m happy where we are at now with the sound; the new album sounds how it should sound keyboard-wise”. Including a sparring match between Wirman and Laiho. “That whole song, ‘All Or Nothing’, is pretty non-CoB-ish! But we decided it’s our ninth album, we can do what the fuck we want, so we put some weird-ass jam in there!”
Yet, playing keys in 2015 is a different beast to Wirman’s early days with the band. “It was very different when we started. We are so fucking old that our first 3 albums were recorded on tape, on DAT, and that was a huge pain in the ass!” he laughs. “You couldn’t do any of the quick fixes. With hard drive recording you can just hit undo if you fuck up something. Back then, you really had to know how to play, you had to practice whole passages and really, really nail them. I’m glad we’re that old we had to use the tape machines, because I would definitely be lesser of a musician if I didn’t have to do it that way.”
“I’m going to be producing a pop singers album”, Wirman continues, divulging that after recording the Bodom album at his own studio he is exploring his opportunities as a producer. “Then I’m recording an album for my brother’s new band. I love to do the studio and I’m hoping to do more work with that.
“But as much as love studio work, and I hope to do more of it when I have free time, for me the live, touring side of Children of Bodom is my main thing. We release albums to go back on tour. When the crowd is going mad, and you’re part of that, that’s the best thing!”
And as Wirman prepares for that rush of touring once again, what will the legacy of I Worship Chaos be? To those outside the band Halo Of Blood is hailed as the comeback album… What of its successor? “Maybe it’s an external feel, as it wasn’t quite like that for us. Though we keep hearing it; a lot of people are saying that Halo…was a comeback and this is a continuation. So, it must be true!” he laughs, with a modest tone in his voice.
“There is always pressure at this point in our career. You want to keep it fresh but not alienating all your fans, and have to keep all the key elements in there too. Judging by the feedback and the reviews, we have succeeded with this new album.”
WORDS BY STEVE TOVEY