Apocalyptica, RFH | reviews, news & interviews
Scandinavian rockers reveal the cello in a whole new light
Apocalyptica are a band that became famous for playing Metallica on cellos. And tonight they’re playing only Metallica covers because it's 20 years since they released Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, their debut album. The quartet formed at Finland’s Sibelius Academy in 1993 and the man responsible for bringing together classical cellists to play metal is Eicca Toppinen. Tonight, referring to their debut album, he admits that they were “expecting to sell 1,000 CDs”. Six million albums later and constantly on tour they return to their roots: without Metallica there would be no Apocalyptica.
They walk on stage clutching ordinary, wooden acoustic cellos. Despite the metal mayhem to come, they do not favour electronic instruments. With all four cellists silhouetted against backdrops they launch into a righteous rendition of "Enter Sandman". After this Eicca picks up the microphone to explain that, without any vocals, it is up to the audience to sing! Without drums the concept of metal on cellos is really put to the test.
What makes this band special is that they have taken the cello to a new audience
By the end of the 19th century the cello had surprisingly little repertoire compared to many other typical orchestral instruments. Conversely, the 20th century was a great time for the cello. It is an enormously versatile instrument: from peculiar avant-garde experimentations to backing up pop stars on big stages, from providing drones in Indian music to jazz. When it comes to metal, tonight’s concert illustrates why the cello works so well. The players produce gritty, biting, chugging riffage, electric guitar wails and solos (including inspired use of the wah-wah pedal), clean melodic vocal lines, atmospheric four-part introductions to several songs and some excellent pizzicato intros on "Wherever I May Roam" and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)".
There's a lot of very convincing shredding in a proper metal style, some going right off the top of the fingerboard. It's hard to believe such sounds are coming out of a cello. However, my favourite is produced by bowing beneath the bridge to produce a terrifying Satanic howl; when compared to the gravelly growl of the more frightening metal singers the effect is remarkably life-like (perhaps, death-like).
After a short interval the band re-enter looking more metal, with sleeveless tops and long hair down: “Welcome to the rock part of our show”. They’re not kidding. Pretty soon the two long-standing original members, Toppinen and Paavo Lötjönen, are playing stood at the front of the stage with drums providing the extra kick that the audience want. Metallica’s "Fight Fire with Fire" is absolutely ferocious. Their version of "Orien" is classic, chugging metal riffage with a beautiful middle section perfect for this band. They are showmen and really enjoying it now; 12/8 time signatures at 200 bpm and there’s even a cello with a skull on it. And is that smoke I can see coming out of it? By the end of the set there's a row of headbangers standing in front of the stage. At the finish the whole audience sings along with "Seek and Destroy".
There is a bewildering array of heavy metals in the world: neoclassical, symphonic and power metal might all describe Apocalyptica. What makes this band special is that they have taken the cello to a new audience. They will happily play Beethoven’s Fifth or fellow Scandinavian Edvard Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King alongside their skilful cello metal thrashing. It is a joy to behold.
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