Apocalyptica are a singular voice in music. From their days as a cover band in Finland to one of the most original metal bands in history, they've long since left their days as a musical curiosity behind them. Sold out venues the world over say it all - the band that closed the chasm between Shostakovich and Metallica, between concert halls and rock venues - has become one of the most respected groups on the planet. At last, they're releasing recorded document of their remarkable rise to fame. '"Amplified - A Decade of Reinventing the Cello" is a retrospective testament to the first ten years of a soaring career that no one, not even them, could have predicted. And with their upcoming "The Life Burns Tour" DVD, they've got even more goods to prove it.
"I get the impression that most journalists decided years ago whether or not they would ever like us," says Eicca Toppinen, Apocalyptica'S primary composer. "Some of them think we're just a joke and they anxiously anticipate justification every time we release a new album. But our music is much more complex than people think. We're doing something new, which causes a confusion that then transforms either into rejection or fondness." Fortunately for Toppinen, he's Finnish enough (read: clever and stubbornly ambitious) to overlook such short-sightedness. But if Apocalyptica'S music leaves some people confused, they make no apologies. The raw energy and excitement of their live shows - all played and finger-shredding speed and without the help of sheet music - is a sound to behold.
"It definitely feels good to hear such things, especially from musicians that might have laughed at us in the beginning," says Toppinen. "But we don't allow ourselves to be too influenced by that, just as we don't get too distracted by the negative criticism of a few disgruntled detractors. I was afraid that would go to our heads and start to influence the band. We are all rather normal people and we intend to remain so."
It's just that kind of resilience that's made Toppinen an inspiration to countless young, aspiring classical musicians around the world who see classical and popular music as mutually-exclusive pursuits. "We've managed to change something in people's consciousness," he says. "Of course it's been the case for a long time that playing the cello isn't exactly the hippest thing a kid can do. With chamber music and orchestral theory you have to study and practice daily while other kids the same age are playing soccer or going to dances. Anyone serious about playing an instrument is considered to be a weirdo and has a diffiCult time being accepted. But we've brought a free spirit back to classical. For students at Sibelius Academy, it is very normal to try out some Jimi Hendrix on the side. That's actually how Apocalyptica came to be. We didn't plan it that way - it just happened."
So imagine for a moment the surprise people felt at the first sight of Perrtu Kivilaakso strutting about the stage, a psychedelic shirt on his back, shredding to Sepultura's classic "Inquisition Symphony".
The story of Apocalyptica'S 1996 debut "Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos" was an unlikely story. Four students from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki gathered to play Metallica covers at the Teatro Heavy Metal Club. Unbeknownst to them, Kari Hynninen - from the tiny independent label Zen Garden Records - was in the audience and signed them on the spot. Unfortunately Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, Max Lilja, and Antero Manninen were more interested in completing their studies and, like millions of other young people, only listened to Metal music in their spare time. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that Hynninen didn't have any money for regular studio time. Apocalyptica were consigned to fiddling late at night or in the early morning hours, but their efforts paid off when Metallica's record label, Mercury, caught wind of the project and offered worldwide distribution. To date, they've sold over a million copies of their debut album. Not bad for a band that started as a distraction from more 'serious' pursuits.
But by the time of their 1998 follow-up, "Inquisition Symphony", Apocalyptica were out for blood. Hiili Hiilesma, the man responsible for producing HIM's "Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666," yanked the band out of the classical niche to altogether by modernising Apocalyptica'S sound. In addition to their more traditional Metallica covers, the covers, it features renditions of classic Sepultura, Faith No More, and Pantera tracks. Toppinen also added three of his own compositions to the release, which perfectly dovetail with those ambitious re-workings, like their neck-snapping cover of Metallica's "Fight Fire With Fire". On their subsequent "Cult" tour, they began appearing up as a wild gang of head bangers clad in patent leather - the metal/classical crossover was complete.
Apocalyptica'S third release also saw the introduction of Perttu Kivilaakso, who replaced Antero Manninen. The young Kivilaakso - highly trained and a Metal fan to the core - brought new qualitied to Apocalyptica. "I'm a solo cellist in the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra with a lifetime contract, basically on a very extended vacation," he says.
"I love to try new things and to explore myself musically in every conceivable direction. The highpoint of my career was accompanying Luciano Pavarotti during his performance in Helskini. I love Italian operettas."
With more than 500 concerts - most of which were sold out - in over 60 countries (including Mexico, Russia, Japan, and the USA), Apocalyptica were quickly becoming Finland's top musical export. Unfortunately, that skyrocketing success overwhelmed founding member Max Lilja, who left the band prior to the release of 2003's "Reflections". The remaining trio soldiered on, composing 13 straightforward songs, with arrangements refined by the addition of piano, trumpet, double bass, and violins, and recorded with two drummers. Slayer legend Dave Lombardo provideed the light-handed beats under compelling thrash numbers, with reknown ex-Stratovarius jazz sticksman Sami Kuoppamäki taking over for the album's groovier components. But "Reflections" was more than an experimental release - it also revealed the band's temporary state of insecurity. "It's about us - the frightened young men from Helsinki who have grown up. It's a confrontation that takes the music business along with it. We had a lot of problems on the 'Cult' tour and 'Reflections' was supposed to get us back into shape. We almost got bored of the band and were as close as we could have come to breaking up."
But to Apocalyptica, it was that experience that made "Reflections" such a powerful album. And with their last release, 2005's "Apocalyptica," the three Finns upped the ante even further. Never overextending themselves beyond four minute compositions and serrated by drummer Mikko Sirén's pummeling attack the overall strength of the material was enough to overshadow Dave Lombardo's presence on one of the tracks. But no one could overlook HIM's Ville Valo and The Rasmus' Lauri Ylönen's vocal duel on the release's first single "Bittersweet," which was accompanied with a video from acclaimed Finnish director Antti Jokinen.
When they're not busy, Apocalyptica have also become sought-after session musicians, and they've added their talents commercials, video games, motion pictures, and theater productions. And well-known vocalists are more than happy to be invited by the three cellists to lend their talents to a new single. For their upcoming "Amplified - A Decade of Reinventing the Cello" retrospective they invited Brazilian Metal legend MAX CAVALERA (Soulfly, ex-Sepultura) and MATT TUCK from the UK's skyrocketing Bullet for My Valentine to collaborate, both of whom are jewels in the crown of the album's stellar guest vocalists. It's just a teaser for their new album, due to be released next year.
They may confound some and inspire others, but whatever you make of them, Apocalyptica are originals, and theirs has been a rock 'n' roll fairy tale come true.