Australian Guitar - - Feature -

Okay, so Apocalypti­ca aren’t gui­tarists, but they’re rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies in their own right. The Fin­ish out­fit have made waves over the course of their 26-year ca­reer for their in­ge­nu­ity in mar­ry­ing the tra­di­tion­ally clas­si­cal cello with heavy metal, fus­ing to­gether the two worlds in an epic chasm of ef­fects pedals and head­bang­ing.

Three of the band’s mem­bers sit in the green room of the Syd­ney Opera House – cel­lists Eicca Top­pinen and Perttu Kivi­laakso, and drum­mer Mikko Siré – killing time be­fore they take to the stage for a spe­cial per­for­mance of their de­but al­bum, Plays Me­tal­lica By

FourCel­los: the re­lease that started a move­ment all of its own and put Apocalypti­ca on the map.

But we’re not here to talk about that. Apocalypti­ca are about to re­lease a new al­bum of all-orig­i­nal cello-metal, in­ven­tively ti­tled Cell-0, and with it open­ing them­selves to some seem­ingly un­ortho­dox meth­ods and emo­tions. Differentl­y com­pared to the rest of their discog­ra­phy, Cell-0 was about a re­turn to the band’s non-vo­cal days.

“We wanted to go back to our core in­stru­men­tal stuff – that’s why we self-pro­duced this al­bum,” says Top­pinen. “We wanted to go back to our roots – not of when we were play­ing Me­tal­lica, but when we were play­ing orig­i­nal in­stru­men­tal mu­sic.”

As a con­cept al­bum, there’s a melan­cholic beauty en­veloped in Cell-0; one that is typ­i­cally Apocalypti­ca, but in­tro­duces some strong ideals as well. “We ap­proached it from many an­gles,” be­gins Kivi­laakso, “But for me per­son­ally, one of the strong­est in­spi­ra­tions for all the ide­ol­ogy be­hind it is that hu­mans are the cancer of the Earth. We just f*** up ev­ery­thing. We are but lit­tle pieces in the planet and de­stroy­ing ev­ery­thing we can.

“Then we see par­ti­cles and de­tails in ev­ery­thing: space, bil­lions of stars, cells… The mu­sic is built from a lit­tle note and it cre­ates a full sym­phony. We looked into the mi­cro­cos­mos for the lit­tle de­tails, and Cell-0 is some­thing that is lack­ing in­side us and the uni­verse.”

“The god par­ti­cle might be the word,” adds Siré. “It’s more that the cell is the ori­gin of ev­ery­thing,” Top­pinen tidy­ing up any mis­con­strued ideas caused by the language bar­rier. In Apocalypti­ca’s vi­sion,

Cell-0 rep­re­sents a fall­out of de­struc­tion from one par­ti­cle. “And also, cre­ation,” says Siré, philo­soph­i­cal un­der­tones in his op­ti­mistic dis­cus­sion. “In the core of one cell, it cre­ates life.”

“That’s why we have strong con­trasts,” adds Kivi­laakso. “Some of the songs, they def­i­nitely flirt with de­mo­li­tion, but we also have the hope­ful ones where we build up the cre­ation.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing to hear the words ‘de­mo­li­tion’ and such, for it (and in­deed, lis­ten­ing to the al­bum) stirs up im­agery of a des­o­late sci-fi world that is – for lack of a bet­ter word – apoc­a­lyp­tic. Siré, struck by the ob­ser­va­tion, asks if I’ve seen the ac­com­pa­ny­ing art­work for the al­bum – the an­swer is no, so this whole por­tion of the con­ver­sa­tion piques his in­ter­est. The sound Apocalypti­ca have cre­ated is very much a so­ci­etal re­flec­tion of where we are now, and where we could push our­selves if we’re not care­ful. “It’s a com­bi­na­tion of where we are go­ing and where we should go,” Top­pinen says, smil­ing know­ingly.”

It’s hard to be­lieve that such vivid im­agery and colour­ful pro­jec­tions should be cre­ated with­out words. In­deed, there are el­e­ments on the new al­bum where the cello im­i­tates the sound of a siren – some­thing we’ve heard from the band be­fore in songs like “En Route To May­hem” – where Apocalypti­ca some­how make the in­stru­ment scream. As for the tech­nol­ogy they’re us­ing, it’s pretty sim­ple. “We have hand­picked gui­tar ef­fects, with the song in our head and just fool around to find a way to cre­ate,” Top­pinen says.

“It’s al­ways in­ter­est­ing to plug some­thing into the cello, be­cause even though you know how it sounds for the gui­tar, it to­tally re­acts differentl­y with the cello,” adds Kivi­laakso. “When you are play­ing [and] record­ing, there are many mo­ments where you ac­tu­ally sur­prise your­self and go, ‘Woah, I didn’t know this kind of song was pos­si­ble to play with the in­stru­ment.’ It’s in­ter­est­ing to ex­per­i­ment.”

Quite. And while Apocalypti­ca aren’t able (or per­haps will­ing) to give spe­cific de­tails as to the rig or speak­ers they chose to gar­ner some of the har­bin­ger ef­fects we hear on Cell-0, the band have been ad­vo­cates for Gen­elec prod­ucts, in­clud­ing the 8341 SAM mon­i­tors, the Loud­speaker Man­ager that fea­tures auto-cal­i­bra­tion, and G-Lab gui­tar con­trollers, in­clud­ing the MGC-6 MIDI con­troller and the GSC-3. It’s a safe bet to say that Apocalypti­ca have found new ways to op­er­ate the same sort of gear for the new al­bum.

“It’s one of the rea­sons we wanted to self-pro­duce the al­bum – we know all the ba­sic stuff and we can do that, but then we re­ally didn’t fin­ish ar­range­ments of the songs when we started to record them, so a lot of things hap­pened in the mo­ment in the stu­dio,” says Top­pinen. “A lot of things were very free. We un­der­stand each other so well, and it was hard to get some­one from the out­side to ex­plain to some­body what we planned to do.”

Does that mean there’s no go­ing back now – that Apocalypti­ca will con­tinue to en­joy the free­doms of self-pro­duc­tion on fu­ture re­leases? Their flex­i­bil­ity on past al­bums is cer­tainly one of the rea­sons for their suc­cess, but the three men si­mul­ta­ne­ously scram­ble to as­sert that this is not the case. “We never set rules for our­selves,” says Top­pinen. “This time we had more free­dom to cre­ate the full in­stru­men­tal struc­ture that Cell-0 needed, but we will prob­a­bly work with pro­duc­ers again.”

“At this mo­ment, we felt we had a strong vi­sion of how we should sound, and we didn’t want any­body to has­sle us,” adds Kivi­laakso. ‘Vi­sion’ is the op­er­a­tive word, too. Apocalypti­ca have gone into the stu­dio with one vi­sion, and the re­sult­ing an­thol­ogy might draw out a com­pletely dif­fer­ent vi­sion in the lis­tener. “That’s the best part,” says Siré. “We shouldn’t try to dic­tate how peo­ple feel. We do this as hon­estly as we can, and then we push it out, and then it’s not for us to de­cide.”

“Peo­ple com­ment to us in their own way,” adds Top­pinen. “That’s the magic of it, and that’s how we can re­ally touch peo­ple – by giv­ing them the free­dom to ex­pe­ri­ence our mu­sic in their own way.”

“It’s funny that with this con­cept, we only give you the mu­sic, some ti­tles, and some paint­ings for the songs,” says Kivi­laakso. “Ev­ery song has a pic­ture – some­times a lit­tle ab­stract, but it’s the only kind of ‘lyric’ you’ll get. We hope peo­ple watch through the pic­ture and lis­ten to the mu­sic, and then cre­ate their own story.”

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