Janne Wirman, Henkka Seppälä and Jaska Raatikainen reveal what really happened.

The secret of the Children of Bodom: Janne, Henkka and Jaska reveal what really happened

Children of Bodom, a band whose albums sold by the millions, did not break up in the way that Alexi Laiho described or as some fans deduced. Janne Wirman, Henkka Seppälä and Jaska Raatikainen showed Helsingin Sanomat the e-mail conversations at the centre of it all and told us what really happened.

10.5. 2:00 | Päivitetty 10.5. 6:43

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“I almost fell down on the spot when I heard.”

“When you said sit down, I knew right away.”

“I’d been afraid [it would happen], and when the phone call came, I just prayed don’t say it.”

Janne Wirman, Henkka ‘Blacksmith’ Seppälä and Jaska Raatikainen were the keyboard player, bass player and drummer, respectively, of Children of Bodom, a band whose albums have sold nearly 2,5 million copies. Their quotes above are in reference to the death of their friend, fellow band member and erstwhile antagonist Alexi Laiho (1979–2020) in December 2020.

HS interview with Janne Wirman, Henkka Seppälä and Jaska Raatikainen at the E’Milano restaurant at the Munkkivuori shopping centre in Helsinki.

This is the first time that the three have given a joint interview on this topic, for obvious reasons.

“Alexi was the only one to do interviews about the band breaking up, and his versions diverged from the truth.”

Alexi’s death was followed by a long period of mourning, and only now have they stepped up to put the record straight.

“The fans have a right to know what happened.”

Alexi Laiho at the Tuska festival in Helsinki in 2003.

The reason for the breakup was not that the three surviving members wanted to stop touring for family reasons, which is how Laiho explained it to Helsingin Sanomat in November 2019.

“We felt bad about that, also for our spouses. They’d always supported our international careers.”

The ultimate reason for the end was Laiho’s substance abuse, which is what eventually killed him a year after the band broke up. The death certificate mentions liver fatty degeneration and adipose tissue formation in the pancreas. There were also opioids in his system.

“Addiction is an illness, and he destroyed our trust in him with his actions in our business venture. But he apologised for a lot of things, and we did work together even after the band broke up.”

Children of Bodom in 1998, with the band’s original backup guitarist Alexander Kuoppala on the left.

There are many details that Laiho and the rest of the band have reported identically: the core quartet came together as teenagers, and after the band’s début album only the backup guitarist changed: first there was Alexander Kuoppala, then Roope Latvala and finally Daniel Freyberg.

The band’s albums made the Top 10 across a range of countries from Finland to Germany and Japan, and Blooddrunk hit no. 22 in the USA – a major achievement for Extreme Metal, regarded as a non-commercial genre.

Laiho made a substantial income in royalties as songwriter and lyricist, but with the establishment of a limited liability company for the band in 2003 – AA & Sewira Consulting Oy, referred to below as the LLC – all other income, from gigs to merchandise, was split equally.

“Alexi was all about the band,” says Raatikainen. Major tours or manager replacements were decided democratically, by majority vote.

And the money did come rolling in. The LLC paid the band members monthly salaries of up to EUR 8,000, with tens of thousands additionally paid out in dividends.

Henkka Seppälä recalls that Alexi Laiho “was stubborn as hell, for better or worse”.

”Alexi was all about the band,” says Jaska Raatikainen.

Laiho was initially brash about his substance abuse. It began to take a more serious toll on his music-making in 2008, when Children of Bodom were the supporting act for Slipknot on tour. In the early 2010s, Laiho admitted that he had messed up and promised the band members that he would not drink on tour any more.

He kept his word for a few years, and the other serious health issues he faced cut down on his other substance abuse as of 2012.

“He was really positive and happy when he was sober”, Wirman recalls.

“He was fun and relaxed, he liked to watch comedy. He would cackle at Seinfeld at the back of the bus”, Raatikainen adds.

The fans were thrilled: Children of Bodom in New Jersey in September 2009.

The band members’ versions of history began to diverge for the first time in 2015, when backup guitarist Roope Latvala was fired. Here, the trio agrees with Laiho:

“Alexi became frustrated because Roope didn’t perform his job duties, meaning rehearsals, so we went by the letter of the law: verbal warnings, formal warnings and finally termination.”

Latvala himself, in interviews with the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) and Helsingin Sanomat, was adamant that his firing came as a complete surprise.

In that year, 2015, Laiho was at the height of his creative powers and devised the ambitious composition 100guitarsfromHEL for the Helsinki Festival.

“So we can only wonder why he went into a tailspin again in 2016”, sighs Wirman.

The videos show Laiho auditioning guitar players for 100guitarsfromHEL and part of the concert.

In 2017, Laiho complained that his income was declining.

“I’ve thought about pulling myself out of the company”, he wrote on 4 December 2017.

Wirman recalls that the LLC did default on salary payments to all band members a couple of times when a tour was coming up. “But all the backlog was paid up when the income from the tour came in.”

Laiho suggested that the other band members buy him out of the LLC, that he would be paid his fees directly by gig organisers and that he would still pay his share of the expenses. This caused resentment, because it would have complicated things.

The trio has shown HS documents and hundreds of e-mails, according to which the LLC was still bringing in an average of about EUR 500,000 per year in 2016 and 2017, notwithstanding the financial crisis and the decline in record sales because of streaming. The members’ monthly salary had been reduced first to EUR 5,000 and then to EUR 4,500 because of the declining trend.

On the other hand, in 2016 the company paid out a bonus amounting to a couple of months’ salary, because the company’s financial performance had been so good.

This was not enough for Laiho. On 5 June 2018, he resigned by e-mail.

“i have no choice but quit the fuckin band. U can post this to everyone,” wrote Laiho and added that he was “bankrupt”.

That was probably an exaggeration, but it freaked out the other band members. They had mortgages, and the company had contractual commitments, such as delivering their nearly completed album to the record label against the advance payments they had received.

Their manager reminded Laiho of this and was told: “So you’re saying that if I personally can’t do this anymore, everyone is gonna get sued by the record company? No man, Neva seen that before.. i mean sometimes people quit. If that does happen I’ll take the blame and go to jail for these guys, they shouldnt suffer.”

Uncertainty ensued. When Laiho was at his second home in Australia, he wanted to quit. When he was in Finland, he wanted to go on.

“It got so bad that my heart raced whenever I saw that there was a message from Alexi,” Seppälä recalls.

On 7 July 2018, Laiho sent an e-mail that seemed to resolve the situation: “I don’t wanna leave things unfinished or especially just bail between tours. Im really not expecting to get anywhere near as much money as we did 10 years ago and i know i can be an intolerable, impulsive fuckface sometimes and I easily explode when everything goes to shit especially when im just mentally exhausted (I gotta work at that). That said, there is some truth behind what i said about how i feel, but nothing justifies me blaming anyone for the situation and for THAT I truly am sorry and also hoping we can do these shows without bad vibes.”

The album Hexed was released in March 2019, and Laiho’s autobiography, edited by journalist Petri Silas, was published for Laiho’s 40th birthday.

“We didn’t dare read the book, Alexi’s memory being what it was. But from what we heard, it was very well put together”, say the trio.

Laiho was dangerously underweight on the US tour in March and April 2019, and the gigs ended up being shorter than agreed.

At a business meeting in New York, their manager brought up Laiho’s substance abuse. Laiho refused to go into rehabilitation but did agree to see a doctor. He was diagnosed with diabetes, and the medication prescribed did help his condition somewhat.

Laiho indicated that he was ready to make one more album together and responded “OK” to the suggestion that the band would be wound up in a controlled fashion, with a couple of years of farewell tours.

He never arrived at the meeting where the matter was discussed. The result was a cascade of misunderstandings and “fuck off” messages. But those too would pass.

Then came August 2019.

Children of Bodom at the Download Music Festival in Madrid in July 2019.

In the middle of the summer, the Finnish Patent and Registration Office received an application from Laiho’s representative concerning the registration of the name ‘Children of Bodom’ to Laiho.

The legal counsel of the LLC of the Children of Bodom members noticed this in August. Even though Alexi was the songwriter and leader of the band, this smacked of an attempt to hijack the name and brand that was controlled by the band’s LLC.

Laiho was sent a formal legal notice of loss of confidence together with a demand that he sign over the application for registering the rights to the name ‘Children of Bodom’ to the LLC owned by the core quartet of the band – including Laiho himself – within one week. Otherwise his employment with the LLC would be terminated, and he would be fired from Children of Bodom.

Laiho was enraged at the wording but did admit that the name of the band belonged to the LLC.

“It can be taken back, I didn’t realise it was somehow so serious”, he wrote on 4 September.

Because of their history of 10 albums and 22 years together, this was indeed a serious matter for the other band members, but they too were conciliatory: the threat had been a legal formality and a panic response.

The next tour approached.

Janne Wirman, Jaska Raatikainen and Henkka Seppälä recall the traumatic final months of Children of Bodom.

On the Russian tour in October 2019, Laiho “was hitting the bottle like back in 2008”, the trio recalls. His performance suffered, and their manager had to intervene again. Laiho responded: ”Im the devil cos of some codeine and valium? Fuckin intervention dude? U embarrassed me in front of everyone and i was sick.

He then proceeded to list every intoxicant and medication that he recalled the other band members using.

“I told Alexi that you don’t usually drink starting at breakfast before a gig, and now you don’t even warm up with the guitar before going on stage like you always do”, Raatikainen recalls.

Laiho said that someone in his family was sick and that he was drinking because he was sad.

“I get that, but it’s not helping that you’re destroying these gigs. Get some sleep, see you in the morning”, said Raatikainen.

In the course of the night, Laiho fired off vicious drunken e-mails to the band manager and the other band members. In one of them, he declared that Henkka and Janne would be fired immediately after the concert in St Petersburg.

“That was the sickness talking, not Alexi”, Wirman concludes.

On the next day, Laiho apologised and stopped drinking for the last concerts of the tour.

“His hands were shaking for two days, but the gigs in Moscow and St Petersburg went pretty well.”

They informed the tour organiser that the band had broken up. Laiho was remorseful: this was not how he wanted the tale of Children of Bodom to end.

What about the gigs in Finland that had been agreed for December, asked the organiser. What would it take to get the rest of the band to perform with Alexi?

They decided to go with Alexi’s wish from a few years back and buy him out of the LLC. He would be paid the tour fees directly by the tour organiser. “This also gave the three of us the freedom to continue with the business of the LLC as we best saw fit”, says Wirman.

Laiho naturally retained the rights to his music and was paid royalties on performances and record sales as before. What he sold was his holding in the LLC that owns the name of the band and the merchandising rights.

A bulletin was put out, declaring that the band would disband after the gigs in Finland. Alexi turned up and remained sober for the entire tour, now as a paid employee. He played and scream-sang through the gigs like only Alexi Laiho could.

It was a better ending than any in the band had dared hope for.

Laiho wanted to continue making music, and according to the trio he could easily have had permission to use the name ‘Children of Bodom’, if only his lawyer and the LLC legal counsel had come to an agreement about it.

No such request ever came.

“He was smart enough to ask whether it would be OK to call his band Bodom After Midnight, and we said of course it was,” says Wirman.

In early 2020, they exchanged cordial messages, and after the pandemic hit, they devised Children of Bodom face masks, with which Alexi posed for photos.

“When we were about to launch our new shop, we asked Alexi to come on board with a one-fourth share in a number of products like before, and he was closely involved right up to the end of his life”, says Seppälä.

Bodom After Midnight on stage at Tavastia in Helsinki in October 2020.

After all that has happened, the trio underline that it is an honour to have had the opportunity to make music with Laiho for decades. Their relationship was more brotherhood than friendship, which is why the end of the band was so traumatic to deal with. Even therapy was required.

Children of Bodom at the Tuska Festival in Helsinki in 2014.

Today, Seppälä has a degree in political science and has returned from teaching to music in a band called Moon Shot, which includes other successful musicians from Disco Ensemble and Lapko. They are planning a European tour.

Henkka ”Blacksmith” Seppälä.

Jaska Raatikainen plays with Mercury Circle, who are working on their second album.

Jaska Raatikainen.

Janne Wirman is studying architecture at Aalto University.

“And we still work for our LLC”, says Wirman.

“There’s all sorts of stuff in storage that would be of interest to fans. We have a dream of setting up a Children of Bodom museum-cum-bar.”

Henkka Seppälä, Jaska Raatikainen and Janne Wirman are currently compiling a photo exhibition on Children of Bodom.

The trio are currently compiling a photo exhibition on Children of Bodom to be put on display at the Espoo Cultural Centre in October 2022, jointly with Alexi’s estate.

“They have the full support of our family”, says Alexi’s sister Anna Laiho, representing the estate.

“It’s comforting to be able to do something small together in Alexi’s memory.”

Anna Laiho agreed to talk about the final attempts to rescue her brother in autumn 2020. She, his Australian spouse Kelli Wright-Laiho and a few close friends again attempted to get him professional help, but he refused.

“At heart, he was a warm and caring person, always ready to help others. But he had his demons, and he wanted to fight those alone”, his sister says.

“He wanted to make his own choices. For better or worse.”

Alexi Laiho and Children of Bodom in the Kaisaniemi Park August 2019.

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi.

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