How often is an album of cover tunes the most original, creative, and enjoyable CD imaginable? Well, how about when the self-styled “Four Bowmen of the Apocalypse” released Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos? Yes, that’s right, four classically trained cellists playing music by one of the loudest, angriest bands in the heavy metal universe. Sound strange? Not being a big fan of Metallica to begin with, I wasn’t overwhelmed with any great desire to listen to Apocalyptica. Then I heard the first track, and discovered my mistake. Apocalyptica is amazing.
Apocalyptica is composed of four exquisitely insane Finnish cellists trained at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. At the time of these recordings, the band consisted of Max Lilja, Antero Manninen, Paavo Lotjonen, and Eicca Toppinen. (According to their website, Max left the band in early 2002 and has not yet been replaced.) They began playing together in 1993 and recorded Plays Metallica By Four Cellos in 1996.
Heavy metal traditionally lends itself to images of anger, sexual abandon, and general debauchery. Apocalyptica strips the anger from the music, but leaves the darkness. If heavy metal is lusty, Apocalyptica is erotic. If heavy metal is cold malt liquor and busty bikini clad blondes, Apocalyptica is dark porter and absinthe and kohl-eyed velvet-cloaked sorceresses. Their cover of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is wild, dark, rich…”The Unforgiven” and “Creeping Death” are incredible, “Wherever I May Roam” is spooky and ghostly and haunting. “Enter Sandman”, “Harvester of Sorrows”, and “Sad But True” are not quite as moving when translated to cello, but the weakest song on this album is still fantastic.
Musically, there’s not much to analyze here. There are four men, playing melody, lead guitar, bass line, and rhythm on four cellos. That’s it. There’s not much else to be said. Except possibly to note that these guys were standing in line behind Robert Johnson at the crossroads, only they had a slightly more esoteric request.
If Plays Metallica By Four Cellos is a good album, and in my opinion it’s not only good but great, then Inaquisition Symphony is nothing short of brilliant. This album contains covers of songs by Metallica, Sepultura, and Faith No More, as well as three wonderful original tunes by Apocalyptica member Eicca Toppinen.
Inquisition Symphony was released only two years after their debut album, but it could be ten years judging by the development of their musical skills. At first listen, it’s hard to believe that there are only four cellos playing. Perhaps the band is casting illusions, like Eddi McCandry in Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks; in the title tune I could have sworn I heard motorcycles and guitars. In their cover of Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist” (which incidentally their website lists as their most dangerous song due to the number of bowstrings broken during each performance), I can hear any number of instruments that can’t possibly be present. Some of them might not actually exist. In fact, in the dissonant, discordant “Refuse/Resist” I can hear the baying of the Wild Hunt.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Metallica) is erotic, sexual, wild, passionate, lustful: this is the music the Winter Court must play at their revels. “M.B”, an original, could be the accompaniment to a ride in the Black Coach. Another Metallica cover, “Nothing Else Matters” is funereal and poignant, like the opening of a long sealed crypt, and Pantera’s “Domination” reminds me of an army of orcs marching.
Apocalyptica is fey music, in the truest sense of the word. They transform ordinary music into something otherworldly, something by turns harsh and sinuous, soothing and breathtaking, something that transcends the everyday. This is music made by crazed wizards who intend to transport the listener somewhere…else.
(Polygram Finland Oy, 1996)
(Polygram Finland Oy, 1998)