Headbanging to Four Cellos: An Apocalyptica Review

>> Apocalyptica couldn't have picked a better venue than Babeville. The 19th century Gothic Revival-style church-turned multi-use arts facility is a sight to behold in the heart of the theatre district… and there I was, the only person around to marvel at it- at least for the time being. That's what I got for being early.

Tonight I would be hearing what started Apocalyptica in the first place: Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. Originally released in 1996, its concept was brought to mind in 1993 when a then 18-year-old Eicca Toppinen was looking through guitar songbooks in Helsinki. "I could only buy one," he chuckled "So I went with my favorite, Ride the Lightning. The rest of the songs, I didn’t know." When brought to the table, the band wasn't so sure about the idea; combining metal and classical music— no one had ever done anything like that before. "We were hoping to [maybe] just get a couple of local gigs and that was it." Little did they know this record would create a new genre, lay a foundation for a 20+ years career with millions of records sold and sold out shows around the world. 22 years later, Plays Metallica by Four Cellos has been re-mastered and includes three bonus tracks and the band set out on a limited North American run since they never toured on this record.

I have been familiar with the Finnish quartet ever since their 2005 self-titled album. The song "Bittersweet" which features a vocal duet with H.I.M's frontman, Ville Valo, and The Rasmus' frontman, Lauri Ylönen is what won me over—that and all of the mid-2000s guy-liner. For those still not familiar, 2007's Worlds Collide will ring a bell; the record catapulted the band to international status. It features "I'm Not Jesus" with Slipknot's/Stone Sour's Corey Taylor and "I Don't Care" with the then Three Days Grace's Adam Gontier which charted at 59 on the Billboard Hot 200 and number seven on the Billboard Top Independent Albums and Top Rock Albums charts— hopefully now your emo senses are tingling, but I digress.

Once allowed in the venue, I immediately grabbed a front row seat- they were on a first come first serve basis after all and I was not about to stand the whole night in heels. After what seemed like forever it was time to begin. Out they came one by one: Paavo Lötjönen, Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, and Antero Manninen, all clad in black. The show was split into two sets: the first set was Plays Metallica by Four Cellos in its entirely and the second set was more contemporary Metallica songs. The night started out with a bang with the classics, "Enter Sandman" and "Master of Puppets." "Hello, BOOF-alo!" Toppinen's accent was strong as he greeted the crowd "We thank you for coming tonight! We shall be playing our debut record in its entirety and then we'll take a short break, and then we'll, uh, play some more! We invite you to sing along." In all honesty, I haven't listened to enough Metallica to be well versed in lyrics, but I felt comfortable enough where I didn't have to be. There would be points when I closed my eyes and just listen. It was incredible to hear how Apocalyptica would arrange heavy hitters like "Harvester of Sorrow" and "Creeping Death" and make pieces that make you want to waltz and open a pit at the same time.

Throughout the first set, I was able to get a feel for each member's personality: the bass cellist, Paavo, was swept up in the music— emotions on his face through each and every song they played, it was especially noted during "The Unforgiven" his expression somber and sorrowful. Eicca, the rhythm cellist was swept up in the moment too; when he wasn't headbanging his eyelids were fluttered as if the notes he created possessed him. The lead cellist, Perttu, I dubbed him "Jack Sparrow Jr."— I could immediately tell he was the youngest by his tendency to be a jokester, messing around with his bandmates and putting on some Rockstar-esque airs (like rolling around on stage with a FUCKING CELLO). Finally, there was Antero: another rhythm and lead cellist, his face was that of stone the whole night, a very composed and calm manner; a stark contrast to the other three's antics; "That's ‘Mr. Cool' over there," Toppinen joked, "he plays at a lot of funerals."

With the first set being completed with "Welcome Home Sanitarium" and the members on break, the crew worked quickly to transform the stage unveiling a massive drum kit that would be played by Mikko Sirén. As the second set began, it was Perttu's time to speak; "This is more of a rock concert now! Everyone, up to the stage!" The crowd began to amass while he continued to speak, "Again we would like to thank you for allowing us to play in your church… we might have angered some spirits tonight."

"You know, originally I suggested to Eicca that instead of Metallica with four cellos, we should to an AC/DC with two cellos…" he smiled cheekily, throwing some light shade at Croatian duo, 2Cellos. Apocalyptica was simply amazing and captivating. To anyone who says you can't headbang or windmill to classical music, these guys will prove. You. Wrong. Seeing these guys shred hardcore on cellos was a sight to behold. Looking around me, everyone that was up by the stage was going in hard; I was especially impressed by a few older couples that were throwing up the old horns. And then behind in the seats, there were some little ones whose bedtime clearly was past, but regardless, everyone was enjoying themselves.

Some key points to this set include the band dedicating "Orion" to late Metallica bassist, Cliff Burton; playing "Escape", a song which Metallica never perform live, Antero playing a cello with its f-holes in the shape of a skull, glowing and billowing smoke, Perttu's stormtrooper tank top because hey, it's Star Wars, and Paavo personally handing me the set list at the end of the night. The evening concluded with an encore of "Nothing Else Matters" and finally, "One." The audience grew quiet as Toppinen spoke, "This is a song about war. Remember to take care of yourself, take care of each other. Love each other and love yourself."

It's one thing to watch band perform their music but it's another thing entirely seeing how much the band enjoys playing; seeing the smiles on their faces (sans Antero who only gave us a quick glimpse of enjoyment) and how they threw themselves into every note they played— the energy that was exchanged between band and audience is what can really make or break a show, and holy shit did they make it.<<