Apocalyptica is a rare phenomenon. When I first became aware of the Finnish quartet they were a novelty act playing Metallica covers. They were ahead of the plethora of YouTube stars doing novel niche covers of classic metal.
What makes them a rare breed is that as the era of the online cover was taking flight, they performed the unheard-of feat of moving from a novelty cover band to creating their own material, increasing their popularity along the way. I can’t think of another example of any artist pulling off this trick.
Their original material got mainstream play as the cellists collaborated with artists such as Rammstein’s Till Lindeman, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Three Days Grace’s Adam Gonthier to name a few. The marriage of neoclassical sound and metal isn’t necessarily a stretch, both genres follow similar beats. Sweeping movements, technical virtuosity and theatricality are staples of both. Many metal musicians claim inspiration from classical music, but none marry them so effectively.
Now known for their collaborations, Cell-O takes Apocalyptica in yet another direction by dropping vocals entirely to find their voice in their cellos yet again. The result is overall a dark, brooding and beautiful journey through baroque landscapes that sounds like the soundtrack to Game of Thrones meets Yngwie Malmsteen. Don’t worry, there’s no season 8 let down though.
Lead single and kickoff track “Ashes of the Modern World” sounds like it may have been recorded inside Dracula’s castle. It drains your blood and kicks you in the teeth, but leaves you asking for more. It features a guitar solo that kicks the proceedings up a notch.
Title track “Cell-O” moves from driving rhythms to haunting melodies seamlessly. It’s a 10-minute opus that takes you across peaks and valleys.
“Rise” gives you the softer more introspective moments of this tale. It’s a lighter journey that leans much more heavily on the classical than rock side of the band. It seems to form a triptych with “En Route to Mayhem” which kicks it up a notch and “Call My Name” which brings it back down and features some more Celtic influences.
Nowhere does the Game of Thrones analogy hold more weight than on “Fire & Ice” which even takes its name from the series of books that inspired the series. There are moments where I can almost hear the theme before the track picks up into a frantic battle scene of a crescendo.
The album ends on a high note with “Beyond the Stars.” This track takes the sharpest turns of any on the album. If you were picking settings on a treadmill, this is the one that takes you straight from 3 to 10 and back down to 3 repeatedly until you’ve built up a sweat and your heart is ready to explode.
Cell-O is billed as a return to their instrumental roots, but I see it more as a marriage of their early instrumental roots material and their later innovations into the rock mainstream. I think the title was chosen because this is a love letter to their instruments. This album wasn’t made to gain airplay on modern rock radio, it was made to bring the emphasis back to their instruments and not the music they love. There’s an honesty that shines through and delivers a powerhouse album.
Apocalyptica return to Montreal on May 23 to play at MTelus. Tickets HERE
Review – Richard Brunette
Live Photos – Kieron Yates