So, Finnish classical metalhead quartet APOCALYPTICA have issued an audio-visual tribute to famed composer Richard Wagner
. So what, right? Three cellists and a drummer paying homage to one of the greats in classical music is hardly a stretch for folks that cut their teeth in the realms of the genre; at least one would think so. But, in actual fact Wagner Reloaded - a live performance shot in Leipzig, Germany to celebrate the anniversary of the composer's 200th birthday - is the band's most ambitious project to date. On top of original music composed in the spirit of Wagner by Apocalyptica mastermind Eicca Toppinen, the production features a choreography, dancers numbering close to 100, projectors, moving props, and even a fire breathing dragon. Wagner Reloaded is a bold theater piece more than anything, so damn big that the script probably came stamped with "Logistical Nightmare" on the cover.
Begging the simple question: Why?
"It was really intriguing to be a part of it," laughs drummer Mikko Sirén, agreeing that the project does sound slightly insane. "We've been asked to do all kinds of classical collaborations and projects over the years, and it finally felt tight. The choreographer Gregor Seyffert is behind it all; it was his vision to do this kind of project, and it was that vision that made it really interesting for us to work with the guy. He's renowned in his own field, he's a beyond amazing dancer and choreographer, and his energy in how he approaches things inspired us."
"The whole production idea comes from Gregor, and when we first started talking about it he was saying stuff like 'The stage is going to be 60 meters long...' and we were laughing our asses off. 'Yeah yeah, 60 meters my ass' (laughs). A lot of times you meet people with crazy visions and no reality behind it, so when this started to evolve and we saw the place we couldn't believe our eyes. Everything Gregor said was exactly so, and sometimes even bigger than what he'd said."
"We were very happy with Gregor's approach. Wagner is a controversial person and there's lots of shit written about him, but in the classical works he's the kind of person that you can't criticize even though you should. Wagner was kind of a dick when it came to his political views, so we were careful and precise in making sure that people wouldn't see Apocalyptica as sharing Wagner's political ideas. For us this was only about the music."
Asked if there was a specific point when the band realized the magnitude of Wagner Reloaded as a full production, Mikko says it sank in slowly rather than being hit over the head with it.
"For me it was really late in the production. For Eicca it was at a much earlier stage because he composed the music all by himself and spent a lot of time talking with Gregor about it. He kept telling us all these numbers and all these things like 'There's going to be this dragon spitting fire and we're going to play inside it...' and again we were like, 'Yeah right.' Eicca was convinced, but I think for the rest of the band it started to be real when we went to Leipzig three weeks before the show. We were shown our rehearsal room, and I'd make a bet that it was the biggest rehearsal room of all time (laughs). It was in the convention center and it was ridiculous. You could have put two jumbo jets in there, it was such a big fucking hall. We put our equipment dead center in the room and it looked ridiculous. There was a second hall which was the convention area where the dancers rehearsed. There was a big stage, which we were told was half the size of the real stage. When we saw the place where we were going to play we finally realized just how big the production was."
"This was a very special production in that Eicca did all the music himself. For the last four Apocalyptica albums everyone has contributed to composing the songs, but this is 100% Eicca. We came in at the end, where I rearranged some of the drum parts. I'd say about 80% of the music is original Apocalyptica material. There are three or four Wagner pieces and one Beethoven. At one point this began to feel like our version of PINK FLOYD's The Wall. Sort of like Apocalyptica's ode to Roger Waters (laughs)."
Performing live while surrounded by several moving elements took some getting used to, but it turns out it was an easy role for Apocalyptica to play.
"There were specific parts of the stage where we played. There were some moving risers which made it kind of difficult to perform, but other than that there were people to tell us where to go and what to do. It was important for us to nail the music because everything was on time code for the projectors, pyrotechnics and everything. We were working with a classical orchestra as well (MDR Leipzig Symphony Orchestra), and as you know they're not super happy to play with a click track, so there was an artistic conversation about that. 'Can we play without a click track? No, you cannot' (laughs)."
Which was an important factor for Mikko in keeping everything together as the backbone of the music.
"There was a moment in the middle of the show when I realized that if I fucked up a certain change the entire system would come crashing down (laughs). It doesn't matter if a cello plays the wrong melody, but if there's a structural mistake bad things can happen. So there was a moment when I thought 'Oh shit, where am I?'"
"When it comes down to recording the show, it's very cool because it's a live recording," he adds. "We had an orchestra so there were a lot of open microphones, which meant there was no possibility to re-play or re-record something. The producer on our last album had a phrase that we still use when we make mistakes: 'Learn to love it.'"
Wagner Reloaded was promoted and is being pushed as an Apocalyptica production, but the band is really just a small part of a big machine, at least for those of us watching.
"Gregor got his initial inspiration to do this when he was asked to do a piece for the Bayreuth Opera Festival because of Wagner's anniversary," Mikko reveals. "That was the moment he decided he wanted to present Wagner live through our music. He's used our music on his previous dance projects as well, so the initial impact for the whole thing was our music. But, when it came down to how the whole thing was presented we were just a part of it. It was cool because normally at our shows we're the focus; this time it was more like doing music for a movie rather than an audience at times. There were moments on stage where important things were happening and our music was just there to support the storyline."
With that in mind, it's worth noting that a YouTube search for Wagner Reloaded footage coughs up the full performance without a single mention of Apocalyptica anywhere. No doubt uploaded by a Wagner fan.
"That's thing thing about Wagner; there are these people that know his music on an almost religious level. For them, they don't give a damn who is performing it. They're different (laughs)."
Which stays true to the Apocalyptica tradition of roping in fans of metal, classical music and movie scores for any given show. Add theater-goers to that list from here on in.
"I think it was all that," Mikko agrees. "As you said, normally our audience is really mixed which is a great thing, but on top of that mixed audience there were people at Wagner Reloaded that go to see events Apassionata or Cirque de Soleil. And then there were the posh classical elite amongst them all, so it was a really mixed audience. But, as always at our shows we found that it didn't matter because people react to music in their own way. They all feel it equally strong even if they show it in different ways. It felt like a really united audience."
And while press and hype for Wagner Reloaded continues, Apocalyptica are quitely working on their next studio album. Having satisfied the classical side of their art in the biggest way possible, the thinking from this side is that the band will be getting back to cranking out music bent to satisfy their metal-oriented followers.
"We don't have a musical direction in mind for the album but I'm happy you put it that way," says Mikko. "Normally when we talk to reporters about opening the doors to classical music they think the next album is going to be even more classical. Fuck no! That's the attitude in the band at the moment, but of course nothing is definite yet. We haven't made up our minds on any of the songs yet. We want to make a band-oriented album, that's the bottom line."