Banging your head to most cello music won't do much for you besides getting your rowdy ass thrown out of the concert hall. But if the cello wielders are four guys from Finland bustin' out heavy metal on their classical axes, you can slam your cranium without fear of retribution.
Since 1995, Apocalyptica has been boldly going where no cellos have gone before -- putting a new shine on metal. Covering Metallica got them their first record deal in 1996. But when the group started doing its own material, it attracted a wide range of visiting metal frontmen and even a high profile head-banging beat backer, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, to tour and record with them.
But not everybody was thrilled at the direction the former classical students had taken. "My cello professor was really against it and horrified and shocked," Apocalyptica's Perttu Kivilaakso says, laughing at the memory. "Basically, we didn't talk ever since."
However, a jury of its peers listened and exonerated the band. "Finnish students are listening to a lot [of] rock music and therefore they really appreciated the things that we were doing," Kivilaakso says.
It's easy to see why. The band is not a novelty act. It's real metal; heavy, crunchy and loud. You have to listen closely to figure out the sound you hear is indeed cellos banging out the metal and not guitars cranked to 11. But there's no studio trickery going on. What you hear are real, live cellos -- the big old boxy wooden kind, not some kind of bastardized electric hybrid.
"There is just not balls in electric instrument," Kivilaakso says. "And the original cello is vibrating much more, creating high tones what you basically just sense they exist but you can't hear, and therefore the sound of the cello in a distorted way is also really rich and interesting."
But sticking to playing classic wooden instruments, which can cost up to $100,000 apiece, proved to be a ball-busting expense for the classical metallurgists. "Actually, we are using Chinese and cheaper ones because many times they get broken in airplanes," Kivilaakso says. "But they are real and real-sized cellos." "I think it's exotic because it's done by cello and cello can never sound like really a guitar," he says of his band's music. "It's always a little nastier maybe, and maybe crappy, and that's the cool thing."
To make it even cooler, the band started to get away from its all-instrumental cover phase of their debut album, Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. For its second album, Inquisition Symphony, three original songs accompanied covers of Metallica, Faith No More, Sepultura and Pantera. And by the time 2000's Cult came out, the band -- now down to a trio -- had added guest singers and was doing nearly all original material. Breakout success came in 2003's Reflections when Slayer's Dave Lombardo sat in on drums. "Let the cellos take care of all the melodies and riffs but to have the solid drumbeat, it's bringing just more kick into the music and of course we have much more fun on the stage too when the drums are really loudly there," Kivailaakso says. The band liked having a beat behind the music so much, it hired its own drummer, Mikko Sirén, who debuted on 2005's Apocalyptica.
For its latest, Worlds Collide, the band has gone all out, recruiting metal throats from the heaviest bangers on the planet. The breakout single, "I'm Not Jesus" features Stone Sour/Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor. Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia and 3 Days Grace vocalist Adam Gontier also guest, along with Lombardo.
The guest vocalist thing is not just a publicity stunt. "With our voices, it's better to play and ask really real vocalists to participate," Kivilaakso cackles. He says it's important for the band to do albums with 45 minutes of interesting music and not just two or three cool songs. "They are so from different worlds, the sounds of the singers, there is something which connects them to the music of Apocalyptica, a dramatical treat from the beginning to the end."
As good as the record is, it pales in comparison to the band's live show. "To see the thing, the absurdness of these guys banging their heads, rolling their heads with their cellos is ... I don't know," he says, temporarily at a loss for words. "I never see our show from the audience, so I cannot say if it's a good or bad show, but I believe that it's ... yeah, it's horrible," he chuckles. "It must be horrible. It's like horror movies, that's maybe why people would like us too."
Apocalyptica plays May 8 at Amos' Southend at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and $17.