CELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE
RETURNING TO THEIR SYMPHONIC METAL ROOTS, APOCALYPTICA PAINT A BRUTAL PICTURE – BOTH SONICALLY AND VISUALLY – WITH THEIR NEW ALBUM CELL-0. WORDS BY ANNA ROSE.
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.”