Words and Photos: David Thrower
The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester is not your typical metal venue but then again Apocalyptica is not your typical metal band.
For over two decades Apocalyptica has been giving rock and metal fans an air of superiority, a smug, self-satisfied warmth that while we may listen to the Devil’s music we can at least appreciate the classical. During their 20-plus year career, these four cellists have written their own material, recorded alongside the likes of Brent Smith and Corey Taylor, rocked festivals and even played the half-time show at the Eurovision Song Contest. They have also made the cello sexy – I assume that’s why one loud-mouthed woman to my left kept shouting out annoyingly between songs/pieces even going so far as to ask if the band wanted her number. Mind you, it could also have been the boyish charm of blonde-haired cellist Eicca Toppinen or the classically-attired cellist Perttu Kivilaakso. It may even have been the austere professionalism of returning cellist Antero Manninen or the hunched-playfulness of Paavo Lötjönen, also on cello, that had her declaring her undying love. One thing’s for sure – Apocalyptica, regardless of the size of wood between their respective legs, rock like a motherfucker.
2016 saw the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut release ‘Plays Metallica by Four Cellos’ and what better way to celebrate this milestone than to offer up two distinct sets made up entirely of Metallica material and in venues more accustomed to Mahler than metal. So, as the lights dipped the four musicians strode onto the stage, each carries a cello. They took their positions, readied their bows, and created sounds few ever thought possible when accidentally tuning into Classic FM. ‘Enter Sandman’, for me the weakest ‘song’ on their debut, drew the audience in with its deep, swirling tones but it was when they segued into ‘Master of Puppets’ that the place finally came alive as the cello created sounds closer to those of a guitar than I make…on my guitar! The highlight of the first set was the stunning rendition of ‘Creeping Death’ which retained all the speed and passion of the original yet added a certain grandeur. How often do you get to see a cellist perform a guitar solo incorporating a wah-wah pedal?
After a short break, during which the road crew set up a drum kit, the band returned and set about creating a more recognizable metal show albeit one with the volume kept below punishing no doubt to protect a sound system unused to such extremes. ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ was the first real singalong for the crowd who remained seated throughout but there was no denying the ferocity with which the musicians performed particularly on a blistering rendition of ‘Battery’, a song Eicca admitted they couldn’t play on their debut album because they simply couldn’t play it. It was during this song that Antero switched cellos for one that glowed with demonic eyes and belched smoke as he played. Closing on ‘Seek and Destroy’ the band once again had the crowd singing (shouting?) along and left the stage to rapturous applause only to return for an encore of the stirring ‘Nothing Else Matters’ before the riveting ‘One’ that culminated in flashing lights and mayhem. In a word – stunning.
Apocalyptica has helped show to the world something we fans have known for a long time – metal transcends a simple genre term. Our music is powerful, emotional, brutal, melodic, captivating and unforgettable, from the crashing of drums and the roar of guitars to operatic voices and symphonic largess, metal is all-encompassing. When performed as a string quartet (with some additional drumming) the music doesn’t fade and suffer it simply develops another facet. However, should Perttu live up to his promise of returning to Manchester to play ‘Oasis with One Cello’, I for one won’t be there to hear the result?
First Set – Plays Metallica by Four Cellos
Master of Puppets
Harvester of Sorrows
Sad but True
Wherever I May Roam
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Second Set – with drums
Fade to Black
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Fight Fire with Fire
Until it Sleeps
Seek and Destroy