Many bands do not fit neatly into a specific genre category, and I think Apocalyptica is one such band. Riding different lines between various styles of music, the band has been active for over 20 years now, which is sort of hard to believe. Anyways, the band has released their first fully instrumental album in over 17 years, called “Cell-0”, and this brilliant record has proven that they have not lost any feeling or inspiration.
Apocalyptica hails from Finland. The band consists of Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lötjönen, and Mikko Sirén. All members of the band play the cello, save for Mikko, who is on drums. This band is perhaps the first metal band in the world to focus solely on the cello. Their earliest albums are almost entirely cello, even their debut that consisted only of Metallica covers. What at first was a novelty to me, and perhaps even to them, has morphed into a string of stunning original compositions of the highest quality.
I’ve personally been listening to Apocalyptica since 2007’s “Worlds Collide”, a huge album for them (though I had heard their Metallica album before that). Though they were well known in Europe and had dabbled in more accessible formats in the past, that album was where their popularity absolutely exploded. On that album and on subsequent, they wisely brought in vocalists from bands like Three Days Grace, Shinedown, Flyleaf, Gojira, and more in order to reach audiences around the world. This is where I entered the fold, but I soon found myself enjoying some of their older albums even more.
So, what kind of band is Apocalyptica? They obviously dabble in more mainstream and alternative rock fare, and I think they do it very well. On the surface, they are a metal band, featuring deep and satisfying riffs that hold a special quality because of their performance on the cello. Indeed, the band’s riffing is instantly recognizable because of that. Apocalyptica, however metal they may seem, are also equal parts progressive and neoclassical. This trio of metal, progressive, and neoclassical is not unheard of, especially in our musical community, but there is something special about momentous cello riffs played up against winding orchestral passages and climactic song structures. The band certainly knows how to be memorable in their compositions.
On “Cello-0”, as I mentioned, the band returns to the fully instrumental format of some of their earliest albums. They have not lost a bit of creativity or energy, though, and their style has evolved in dynamic and interesting new directions. In fact, this might be their most expressive, purposeful album yet. So, while their cellos are as wonderful as ever, and Mikko’s drumming is as mind-blowing and zealous as ever, it is the soft touches, like flute and grand piano, that truly take all of this to another level.
The band released three singles, “Ashes of the Modern World”, “Rise”, and “En Route to Mayhem”. These tracks are wonderful representatives of the album. The first and latter are more chaotic and technical, full of huge metallic moments and seemingly unstable feelings. “Rise”, though, is more serene and evocative with its slow burning, yet climactic ending. All three are wonderful, though they are not the songs I would call my favorites on the album.
For my money, while the first half of the album is beautiful and engaging, the second half of the album is truly unforgettable, brilliant fare. The only thing that challenges that thought is that the first half does contain the title track, which is intense, monstrous, and dominating in flavor. It is absolutely astounding. The second half, though, starting with the frigid heat of “Fire & Ice”, expresses itself in various colors, feelings, and impulses. In fact, the last three songs on the album, being “Scream for the Silent”, “Catharsis”, and “Beyond the Stars”, are as good as any trio of songs I’ve heard in some time.
Let’s talk about that trio some more. “Scream for the Silent” begins with snaking passages of stunning cello, but in the middle it becomes a spacious, soaring piece of cinema. It flows upwards and outwards with glory and might, and features some beautiful grand piano. “Catharsis” follows and feels poetic, classical, and weighty, climaxing in deep notes that play so well against the lead cello. My favorite on the album, however, is “Beyond the Stars”. You can imagine the feelings present here, I am sure. It is a song of imagination, wonder, and hope: a song that longs to traverse the spaces outside the universe, but also those within us. It offers subtlety contrasted with heft, and poetry with might. The song and album climaxes with spoken word and surging cellos to the delight and satisfaction of my heart.
Apocalyptica have been around for some time, but they have lost none of their fervor or power. “Cello-0” is the band indulging themselves in what they truly love, and offering us a view to enjoy that. I honestly haven’t been this moved by one of their albums in a few years, perhaps since “7th Symphony” in 2010, but “Cello-0” has delved the depths of my mind once again. I’m so happy to see this band producing something of such quality after so many years. Indeed, perhaps it is that maturity that has allowed it to happen in the first place.
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