APOCALYPTICA – Shadowmaker

Apocalyptica - ShadowmakerA long time ago, back in the mid 80’s when yours truly was a teenager, I remember having a discussion about music with two good friends, both guitar players and both with some very strong opinions about the subject, just like me. One of the guys, the one that was my then one of my best friends had the most talent and knowledge, the other a more attitude driven guy with a pretty narrow-minded view on music and not so talented. The less talented guy, let’s call him J, hated all music that wasn’t thrash, speed or heavy metal and he pointed out that there was no way in hell, hard rock could have the use of keyboards and still be called hard rock or metal. The other guy, the talented one, we can call him A, told J that, “dude, you can play heavy metal on violins, if you want. It’s not about the instruments, it’s about arrangements and how you build the music”. J looked at A like he was a complete idiot, told him – in a bit of a rage – to go fuck himself and left. I always agreed with A and have since been in music discussions where the topic has come up and I have often used A’s exact comment, with many times the result of being laughed at. I think you know by now where I’m going with this little story. Of course, A was right all along and so was I because I copied his line and stole it. I don’t have any contact with neither J or A today, which is kind of bummer. Anyway, this little band called Apocalyptica came along back in 1996 with an album called Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos and proved A (and me) right! Apocalyptica is a group of cellists from Finland that decided that you can play metal on a cello, thank you very much and decided to cover Metallica with only cellos and drums to prove their point. In the beginning, the band only did instrumentals, but with their third release Cult from 2000, they started to bring in guest vocalist for their albums which gave them a more “mainstream” approach, even though the word “mainstream” is completely off the wall in Apocalyptica’s case. The same thing with drummers, they are all hired for each album release. Vocalists that might raise an eyebrow or two that have guested their albums are Nina Hagen, Brent Smith (Shinedown), Max Cavalera (Sepulture, Soulfly), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), Till Lindemann (Rammstein) and Ville Valo (HIM). This is the band’s eight record and it’s the first one I have taken any interest in. Sure, I have heard the odd song or two with the band before, but for some reason, what I have heard has left me cold and I haven’t been that interested in checking them out further. So why now, then? Well, to be honest, I saw an interview with James Michael from Sixx A.M. who praised the band and told the story of why Sixx A,.M. decided to bring them along on their first ever tour as their opening act. He name dropped the song “I Don’t Care” (Worlds Collide, 2007 featuring vocalist Adam Gontier of Three Days Grace) and just like Michael, I was floored by the song and I decided I had to check their new record out. “I Don’t Care” really couldn’t be their only killer track, now could it?

Joining cellists Eicca Toppoinen (also double bass, percussion vocals and programming), Paavo Löjtönen (also backing vocals) and Perttu Kivilakso (also programming and backing vocals) and drummer since 2005,  Mikko Sirén, for this album is lead singer Franky Perez, a solo artist who used to be the guitar player for Scars On Broadway. By the looks of it, Perez will be a full-time member of the band from now on. As I am not familiar at all with Perez, I was curious to hear what the guy might contribute with. The album opens with an instrumental intro called “III-V Seed Of Chaos”, a bombastic, over-blown piece of work that builds an atmosphere for what’s to come. And what’s to come first is the leading single “Cold Blood” that tells me right away that what I heard in “I Don’t Care” wasn’t just a lucky strike. It’s a radio friendly rock radio track with lots of power and intensity – what a brilliant piece! And yes, Perez is a great singer. The title track follows – big, heavy, epic, but with all the catchiness in the world – albeit dark catchiness. “Slow Burn” is just awesome, very memorable, but still heavy and a big hit feel. With “Hole In My Soul” they give us a ballad, but there’s no cheese involved. This is more like the way Slipknot write their ballads. Think “Snuff” with a twist of power balladry and you’re close. Fantastic song. “House Of Chains” is monstrous –  a killer groove, heavy and aggressive with an awesome chorus. “Riot Lights” is an instrumental, but it is built like a vocal-tune where the lead cello replaces the lead vocals. A great song that never gets boring – quite the contrary, it’s both heavy and catchy. Listed as a bonus track, “Come Back Down” is  heavy rock in a more modern way and I’m thinking of Avenged Sevenfold here, mostly because Perez sings in a similar voice to Avenged Sevenfold’s singer M Shadows. It’s a great track, too good to only hold a bonus track position. “Sea Song (You Waded Out)” is a slow, but heavy and dark metal track, rhythmic with a killer melody that sticks like super glue – one of my favourite songs on the album. “Till Death Do Us Part” is an eight minute long instrumental – dark, heavy, progressive, melancholic. Sounds dull? No way – the opposite. This is really good stuff. “Dead Man’s Eyes”, a dark and levitating ballad-like tune finishes the record and leaves this writer almost hamstrung with delight.

To me, this album is quite startling. I had no idea you could do so much with just cellos and the fact that they are connected to guitar amps makes the sound come out much harder than you’d might expect. In fact, many times the cellos sounds confusingly alike electric guitars. Although, if you listen closely in headphones, you’ll hear that there is no use of guitars at all. The whole album is full of killer tunes and there isn’t one song that is even close to bad here. The whole production is just resplendent and holds me captivated throughout the whole hour of listening. This is powerful stuff, folks and it rests a darkness and a hard-edges atmosphere over the whole thing. To sum it up – I love this record and while writing this review, I’m on a Apocalyptica-trip all over YouTube, finding out how much of their killer music I have missed up until now. But better late than never, right? A highly recommended album.

Jon Wilmenius (9/10)

Tracklist:

01. I-III-V Seed Of Chaos
02. Cold Blood
03. Shadowmaker
04. Slow Burn
05. Reign Of Fear
06. Hole In My Soul
07. House Of Chains
08. Riot Lights
09. Come Back Down
10. Sea Song(You Waded Out)
11. Till Death Do Us Part
12. Dead Man’s Eyes

 

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