There aren’t many rock bands on this planet that wouldn’t like to be regarded as unique. Of course, in these times of nostalgia and endlessly recycled ideas, very few actually deserve that description. Finland’s Apocalyptica deserve it more than most. Utterly original in every respect, these classically-trained merchants of genre-shattering metal, sound quite unlike anything or anyone else in musical history.
Formed in the early 90s Apocalyptica chose an entirely individual path from day one. A few years earlier, while students at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, these young virtuosos joined a cello band that specialized in playing music by everyone from Bach to Hendrix. However, Eicca Toppinen and his three comrades had something louder in mind. All fans of heavy metal, they decided to form their own band. Toppinen wrote some unique arrangements of songs by Metallica, Slayer and other metallic legends and the group embarked on a series of shows at student balls. As their services became more and more in demand, Apocalyptica took the bold step of playing a gig at a bona fide heavy metal club…
“We got to play at an after-Christmas party for metal heads at Teatro Heavy Metal Club in Helsinki in 1995,” recalls Toppinen. “There were three other bands and every band was doing covers. It was one of the first shows when HIM played. They were covering Type O Negative, we were covering Metallica. It was really scary to go there and play in front of metal heads. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We thought they might kill us! But they really freaked out and had a great time.”
Lurking in the audience at this soon-to-be legendary gig was one Kari Hynninen of Zen Garden Records, who was so bowled over by the band’s ingenious interpretations of metal anthems that he instantly offered them a contract and the chance to release their 1996 debut album, Plays Metallica by Four Cellos’.
“He called us and asked us if we wanted to make an album,” says Toppinen, shaking his head with bewilderment. “For ourselves, we never thought we could make an album out of what we were doing. It was just for fun, some therapy away from practicing all those shitty scales! So when the first album was released, we didn’t expect much. If it had sold 1,000 copies in Finland that would’ve been great, but it sold over one million copies worldwide!”
Apocalyptica were an overnight success in their native land, embraced by a surprisingly large audience that contained both die-hard metal fans and chin-stroking classical aficionados. It might seem a peculiar combination, but for the band the two genres have a logical and natural relationship.
“There’s a primitivity to be found in both metal and classical music,” says Toppinen. “It’s more hidden in classical music, but it’s very powerful and strong. If you listen to the symphonies of Shostakovich, when he’s really going hard it’s comparable to Pantera or Sepultura. Also, people in both worlds love good musicians.”
Inspired by their sudden and surprising rise to prominence, Apocalyptica spent the rest of the 90s riding a towering wave of creativity and earning themselves a formidable reputation as a jaw-dropping live act. In 1998 they released their second album, Inquisition Symphony’, a second batch of cover versions that this time included songs by Faith No More, Pantera and Sepultura. It also featured the band’s first original material: three songs that revealed that there was far more to Apocalyptica than novelty. By the time the Finns reached their third studio effort, 2000’s Cult’, they had decided to move away from cover versions and produced nearly a whole album’s worth of fresh material that set the band’s wild and compellingly diverse blend of disparate genres in stone once and for all. Now reduced to a trio Apocalyptica were determined to establish themselves as a powerful creative force.
“Writing our own songs brought a new dimension to the band,” states Toppinen. “We already knew what we could do with cover versions and it wasn’t interesting anymore. We needed to write new, fresh music for the instruments. We didn’t think We need to do this to be credible’, we just wanted to keep it interesting for ourselves and not to repeat the same shit.”
With their reputation soaring, Apocalyptica entered the new millennium with another major step forward when they collaborated with legendary Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo on their fourth studio album, Reflections’ (2003).
“We were playing at a metal festival in ’97 in the Netherlands and Dave was giving a drum clinic,” recalls Toppinen. “He came up to us and said Can you play some Slayer as well? Would you like to play with me?’ so we said Sure!’ We played South Of Heaven’ live together with him, and after that he said Whenever you need a drummer, call me.’ We’ve been friends ever since.”
Realizing that Lombardo’s rhythmic muscle had given their sound a new lease of life and enabled them to veer off in numerous new directions, Apocalyptica enlisted their own full-time drummer, Mikko Sirén, for 2005’s self-titled opus. Easily the strongest album of their careers, Apocalyptica’ saw the band strengthen their song writing skills and invite some guests into the studio, including HIM front man Ville Valo, Lauri Ylönen of The Rasmus and, again, Dave Lombardo, all of whom helped metal’s premier bow-wielders to reach a wider audience than ever before.
And so to 2007, and Apocalyptica’s brand new album, Worlds Collide’. Produced by long-time Rammstein muse Jacob Hellner, this is plainly the pinnacle of the Finnish ingénues steadily accelerating upward ascent; a dazzling collection of stunning mini-epics that touches upon every aspect of the band’s history while introducing countless new ideas and unexpected detours to their unmistakable sound. Or simply put: a collection of great rock songs. Work began on the record back in August 2006, and since then the 40 or so songs the band wrote for the project have been whittled down to a concise and flawless dozen, including collaborations with Stone Sour/Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor (on first single I’m Not Jesus’), Lacuna Coil’s sublime Cristina Scabbia, Three Days Grace vocalist Adam Gontier and again their long time friend and collaborator Dave Lombardo.
“It’s been really exciting,” enthuses Toppinen. “For the last two albums we were producers, song writers, everything. This time we opened the door for different singers, a producer and even some co-writers. We’ve allowed other elements to come into Apocalyptica’s world. It’s been really interesting and exciting.”
When Apocalyptica took centre stage as special guests at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki, millions of music lovers around the world were blown away by the sight and sound of a band that create an ear-boggling spectacle wherever they go and who wear their uniqueness as a badge of honour. With the release of Worlds Collide’, Apocalyptica are poised to conquer hearts and minds all over the globe
“We have tried to deliver a world class album,” concludes Toppinen. “For us, it’s an exciting time. We have great people working for us and I’m absolutely thrilled. For the first time in 11 years I feel that the whole team is working together. With that team we should be able to
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