APOCALYPTICA - InstruMentally Yours
January 28, 2020, a month ago
Even though people (justifiably) rag on the '90s for the sweeping changes to the Excess All Areas rock / hair metal mindset of the '80s, there is no denying the decade of grunge, overhyped teen angst and questionable fashion choices also introduced some amazing elements to the metal world. Theatre Of Tragedy pioneered the Beauty Meets The Beast doom goth vocal format that is standard fare in the 21st Century for the genre, Rammstein began their ridiculously successful bid to destroy the international language barrier, and a little nation called Sweden became a raging Ground Zero for an entirely new sound that inspired metal fans the world over. And, one country to the right, four graduates of Helsinki's Sibelius Academy proved that cellos were indeed heavy metal with the release of Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos in 1996. Almost 25 years and nine albums later, Apocalyptica are still on their journey, challenging the world to come along for the ride.
Paavo Lötjönen - one of two remaining founding members alongside Eicca Toppinen - locked in with BraveWords towards the end of the press junket for Apocalyptica's latest release, Cell-0. He discussed the making of the album and going back to instrumental basics for the new record after years of balancing and compromising in order to flesh out the Apocalyptica sound with vocalists including Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Sandra Nasic (Guano Apes) Till Lindemann (Rammstein), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and Adam Gontier (Saint Asonia, ex-Three Days Grace) to name a few.
"The reactions have been quite positive," Paavo says of the feedback, which Apocalyptica has received by the truckload. "I'm really happy that many people got the point of what we tried to do with the new album. They understand that this is not a typical metal album, it's not something you can put in a box. Cell-0 is a unique piece of art, Apocalyptica-style, and it is very hard to compare to anything else. Maybe you can compare it to our earliest albums, but that's about it. You can't say this album sounds anything like 'normal' metal releases from today. You can't put this music in a box, and Apocalyptica's origins were all about breaking down walls and borders. Our roots are in classical music and metal at the same time, so really, we don't see a difference between the two, if you know what I mean. So, categorizing our music is really stupid (laughs)."
Paavo pauses, thinking on his own words. Then...
"Actually, even talking about the music is stupid (laughs). Okay, not stupid.... let's say 'challenging.' It's almost like a Mission: Impossible case in a way, but it's also inspiring to try and talk about it because there is never just one opinion with our music. It's refreshing to get these different outside opinions, and that is something special about Cell-0; it seems to be different for every listener. If you sit down, close your eyes and listen to it, the album will give you a different kind of scenery or mindscape from anyone else. Music is like a time machine; it brings back different memories, and I'm sure everyone hears and 'sees' different things on this album. I call Cell-0 gasoline for your mind (laughs)."
He goes so far as to suggest what Apocalyptica has created with Cell-0 is a form of mental or spiritual healing. Not in a hippie tree-hugger sense, but in a very practical (and logical) diversion from the day-to-day grind of the modern world.
"These days the media presents so many apocalyptic situations, our lives are stressful, and we are exposed to so many negative things. There never seems to be enough time to keep your feet on the ground, which is why music becomes more and more important for people. I have three kids, and they get all the information about the world through their phones and computers. Everything is very visual for them. They used to read books a lot but that isn't the case anymore, and of course I encourage them to read more, but I also push them to listen to music. Instrumental music, like what we do, creates certain kinds of moods but doesn't tell a ready-made story, which is what makes it so magical. And that sort of thing is good for a person's mental state."
Band and fans alike have been making a big deal about the fact that Cell-0 is Apocalyptica's first top-to-bottom instrumental studio album in 17 years. There has been no lack of instrumental output over the years, but the new album is a return to Apocalyptica's roots. Back to when they started creating their own music on Cult (2000) and Reflections (2003), albeit within a much more complex framework.
"To be honest, we don't see too much of a difference whether we use vocalists or not," says Paavo. "For the fans, the focus is so much more on the instrumental music now. On the Shadowmaker (2015) and 7th Symphony (2010) albums we had huge instrumental pieces, which is what we took to the next level on Cell-0. The songs with vocals, of course that is a totally different format, and the instrumental parts of those songs aren't as challenging. Songs with a singer, with a normal rock 'n' roll format, it's like fast food - verse / chorus / verse / chorus and so on - it's easy. It can be challenging to do it well, of course, but it's still easy. Instrumental music is the opposite of that, and I'm sure if you try to listen to our music while you're doing your homework or your taxes, you will be distracted because this is something that demands that you focus on it. There are so many layers in these new tracks; you will never catch everything the first couple times you listen to the album."
It's worth noting that in spite of the complexity of the tracks, many of them are catchy or at the very least memorable after only one or two listens. Lead single "Ashes Of The Modern World", for example, more than smacks of Metallica - which may be attributed to the band's 230 show 20th anniversary tour for Plays Metallica By Four Cellos - while follow-up "Rise" sounds like a present day Devin Townsend anti-violence composition.
"That's great to hear," says Paavo. "As musicians we're really happy about the mix on Cell-0 because it can be really tricky with this kind of music. It could have turned out to be a big mess. Our engineer (Andrew Scheps) worked some true magic with this album. He found definition for all the different layers and you can hear all the various symphonic elements."
According to Paavo, Cell-0 was not created from the ground up as a group effort, calling it more of an independent work
"We weren't jamming very much at all when composing for this album," he reveals. "We composed things separately and then sent the demos to each other, and the instrumentation and arrangements were created in the studio. I can't say it was teamwork when we were writing, so we wanted to make it a team effort in the studio. It worked out well because our aim was to create complex music without limitations, so many of the compositions have as many as ten different instruments - such as multiple cellos - so jamming with only three cellos trying to make them work would be a problem. That said, it's a problematic thing to perform these new tracks live, so we will have to make live arrangements and figure out which are the most critical parts."
"Some of the tracks were inspired by specific ideas, and others were created just as instrumental music without any meaning," he adds. "Those tracks just came from the universe and our heart and souls. Many times when we record a track there might be a working title, and then we need to find an official name for it. I would say the titles of these tracks are a guideline of the course we are taking at the moment with our music. But what that means is up to the individual listener and what he or she gets from the music."
(Photos - Ville Juurikkala)