The Forum, London
7th March 2008
All live pics and review by HannTu
Metal played on cello? How would that work? Apocalyptica made waves when they first started as the crazy Finnish quartet who played Metallica covers on cellos. That was back in 1996/7, and they have come a long way since. They were regarded as little more than a novelty then, but they have rebranded themselves, losing the tag of a Metallica cover band. They did this by establishing themselves as songwriters capable of making their own music; they added a drummer to give some drive and power to the songs. At the same time, they wrote powerful riffs for the unique tone of the cello, which on the lower registers sounds like a distorted buzzy guitar, but at higher registers is capable of the most beautiful and moving melodies.
Also, as time went on, they started getting guest singers in to add some vocals to their songs. This was a smart career move, and produced some truly amazing songs like the haunting and powerful “Seemann” (a Rammstein cover) with singer Nina Hagen, “Bittersweet” with the HIM and The Rasmus singers, and “Faraway (Vol. 2)” with Lambretta’s Linda Sundblad. Dave Lombardo from Slayer contributed drum tracks to a few songs on their REFLECTIONS album, and surprisingly, the collaboration with Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on “I’m Not Jesus” was pretty good. On the other hand, it produced some stinkers such as “Repressed” (with Max Cavalera and some emo singer), and “SOS” (the music was average, and Cristina Scabbia’s vocals are impossibly annoying).
Apocalyptica are touring in support of their latest album WORLDS COLLIDE. They came last December, and they’re back to give us more of their unique Finnish madness.
What a turd of a band. Firstly they play some kind of indie rock that I can’t abide. Normally if that was the case, I would have just ignored them and not bothered to review their performance. What pissed me off was their attitude. Is it some indie thing to look as bored, disinterested and as lackadaisical as possible? To not bother to speak to the crowd? To turn their backs on the audience and play to the drummer? What’s that about. They got a pretty good reception from the crowd nearest to stage, which makes me think that they’ve got some fans and are pretty big here. Utter crap anyway.
I needed the sweet sounds of the cello to wash the shite from my ears that had collected during the last set. The crowd was an eclectic one, reflecting the crossover appeal of these four Finns: middle-aged couples, metalheads, Goths, young girls and old rockers, music students and professionals in business suits. As the four thrones were unveiled, the noise levels really went up. The lights on stage went out completely and the band members took their places in total darkness. A single spotlight shone from behind a figure seated on the throne (it later turned out to be Antero Manninen, long time Apocalyptica guest touring musician) that completely silhouetted him. He plucks a note. Then the blinding spotlights shine on the rest of the band one by one, first on blonde Eicca Toppinen, as he plays a lone cello melody, then Paavo Lotjonen, and finally the top-hatted Perttu Kivilaakso.
As they played “Worlds Collide”, the first song off their latest album similarly titled WORLDS COLLIDE, seated, I began to wonder about the famous antics of the quintet. Where was the wild headbanging, the cello spins and general mayhem that Apocalyptica is famed for? Perttu, jettisoning his top hat, was the first to show some signs of impatience, getting up during the second song to start some headbanging, and it didn’t take long for Eicca to join him. It certainly is a sight to behold, two heads of hair wildly windmilling in unison while grasping bow and instrument, not something you see every day.
The crowd screamed their heads off when the unmistakeable funky opening of “I’m Not Jesus” was played. Eicca, in heavily accented English, invited the crowd to sing along, as if they needed an invitation. This song is definitely catchy as hell, Corey Taylor or no Corey Taylor. We photographers exited the pit and made our way to the back, as the front was absolutely packed with people!
The 5th song was the first Metallica cover of the night, “Master of Puppets”, and it was rocking. Please take note, I’m not saying: “It was rocking, considering that it was played on cello”. I’m saying, “It was rocking”. Period. It was during this song I started observing Antero a little more closely. While in the pit I sort of ignored him, he wasn’t providing me with many million-dollar photo opportunities. From the back, he was just as motionless, playing his pieces without expression – even looking slightly bemused at the antics his bandmates were pulling (at one point Eicca and Perttu bumped heads while headbanging too closely to each other – without skipping a note!) He’s an interesting character to say the least.
Eicca and Perttu took turns in introducing the songs, and “Betrayal” was introduced as being “fast and furious”, and hot damn, it was. Fast, aggressive and thrashy drum lines and fills, with a beautiful melodic, haunting and slow solo at the end, the shuddering left hand vibratos lending it that special spine-tingling emotion. How I wish they had played “Farewell” after this song, it would have been perfect. They really made the cello weep in that song. Too bad they didn’t play it.
“S.O.S.” drew screams when Cristina Scabbia’s name was mentioned – apparently it will be their new single released on Monday (10th March). I’ll just say that it sounds better without her vocals on it. It’s pretty okay as an instrumental. Even more screams when the next song was introduced as “the more beautiful side of heavy metal”, and the name “Ville” was heard, and I concluded this must be “Bittersweet” with Ville Valo and Lauri Ylonen. It is a pretty lovely tune played without vocals, and to be fair, the vocals on the CD actually add something to the song. “Let’s try your sense of humour,” said Perttu as he introduced “Life Burns!” Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy” got an almighty reception, possibly the loudest of the night – as the crowd yells “Searchhhhhiiinngggg…Seek and DESTROY!”
As the band left the stage after “Seek and Destroy”, the stamping and cheering and whistling grew louder and louder until they reappeared with huge grins on their faces. “Enter Sandman” was next, with Kirk Hammett’s wah solo reproduced exactly! Again, the crowd reaction was deafening. On “Hall of the Mountain King”, Paavo took centre-stage for what must have been the first time of the night. The band dedicated the closing song to their long-time tour manager, who had apparently lost his mother that night. There was a sympathetic round of applause before the fittingly funereal yet powerful “Seemann” was played. This was the one song I wished I could have heard vocals on, but it was magnificent nonetheless.
Tonight’s performance made me ponder what it is that makes us define one band as metal, and another as not. Obviously I have known for a long time that distorted guitars and pounding drums do not a metal band make. What is it then? Certainly the metal aesthetic is a major part of it – and this encompasses not just the music (loud overdriven guitars, powerful drumming, “heavy” on bottom end), but to some extent, the look and image. But there is more. There is the metal attitude as well. Tonight was a great illustration. The opening band had THREE distorted guitars and even introduced one of their songs as a “heavy metal song”, but their attitude was one of a pussy band. Metal is about power, about saying “fuck you” (admittedly in very differing ways). It doesn’t matter that Apocalyptica play on cellos and it doesn’t matter that they don’t sing. They are metal, and they were metal even before they added a drummer. They have virtuosity in abundance, they are technically skilled with great ear and feel and emotion, but they also have the cojones to take it up one step further onstage – to go faster, wilder and be more extreme than many of their BC Rich-toting counterparts.
I’m Not Jesus
Master of Puppets
Seek & Destroy
Hall of the Mountain King