To the outside world the marriage of classical music and metal seems odd. To those within the complex world of metal it is an obvious love affair. Both genres are dramatic, tap into the height of technical skill, bring complex lengthy songs, have deeply passionate fan bases and the list goes on. Metal musicians have been roping in classical music for decades now from early symphonic black metal to the more modern inclusions in death metal bands like SepticFlesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse. Hell, even Entombed recreated Clandestine to be performed live with a full orchestra in 2016. We like us some dramatic stringing and booming brass.
Apocalyptica sticks out from all these groups for one distinct reason – they bring metal into classical rather than bringing classical into metal. Whether these other bands utilize one classical instrument for a few key passages or work alongside a full orchestra for several albums, they are welcoming an outside influence into their metal world. Apocalyptica takes the metal world, twists it, contorts it and turns it into a more “traditional” form that could be palatable to those high-brow opera-going folk. They are at once the comfortable familiar feeling of a sipping on a $2 PBR and the elevated pompousness of an $85 stout aged in a Pappy Van Winkle barrel for 6 months with 95% dark chocolate cacao nibs and Kopi Luwak coffee beans. That is a combo that doesn’t exist in many places and the beauty of this bird of paradise truly shines when they can strut their stuff on stage during the musical mating ritual of a live performance.
They split their performance into two sets and upon arrival for the first you simply see four guys sitting with their cellos in front of them in a dark room with stark backlighting on some ornate back drops. I came in during “Sad but True” and the feel of the music was like entering into one of Dorian Gray’s grand balls in Penny Dreadful. This was music to be played in a castle for well-to-do vampires. The band began to impress immediately as they managed to garner a crowd chant-along during their next song, “Creeping Death,” despite having no vocalists or mikes set up during the songs. A big part of Metallica’s fan base gloms onto them for their guitar leads, so it was fantastic to see Apocalyptica figuratively and literally shred (their bows) during this track. I was not aware that a cello could be played the way they did and it honestly came off like a guitar solo.
Even more impressive was that all four of them traded off doing this type of lead work throughout the show, which means each one of them is incredibly skilled. Each player would be introduced and be the leader of a song. That kind of sharing doesn’t generally exist in any music, let alone in metal. This was a rare performance devoid of ego. The set one highlight had to be “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” It had a weeping intro with distinct plucking over top that is the epitome of classical and they even managed to perform fucking SLIDES to compliment the lead work. All this needed was some candelabras and ball gowns for this masquerade to be complete.
Apocalyptica took an intermission, but didn’t simply return to their seats when it was time to resume. All of a sudden there was a drum set onstage that looked like Dr. Seuss built it. Now all of a sudden this went from formal dance to a rock concert. They opened with “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and holy hell do those drums make a difference. This isn’t a normal kit, but one that brings the boom, metallic pings and strength in the bottom end that vastly enhanced the hard-hitting nature of the cellos playing metal. They managed to even windmill headbang during this song, so formality was right out the window.
The second set ran through a quite frankly hostile version of “Fight Fire with Fire,” a cello riff that was dropping jaws during “Battery” (this prompted the band to ask if the crowd was still alive) and they even pulled off a dueling cellos move during “Seek and Destroy.” Their rendition of “Nothing Else Matters” could’ve been in a horror movie soundtrack and no one would bat an eye. They even played a snippet of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC just to get the crowd amped up.
Their performance of “Orion” was probably the highlight of the entire evening. As an instrumental song, it’s structure obviously lends itself to this format more so than some of these other. The segment of the song that slows down saw some serious strength from the performers with a light show that knew how to add to the effect. It brought goosebumps to the skin and tingles to the spine.
This is a show unlike anything else you will see and well worth your time if you are a fan of heavy metal in any form looking to stretch your wings a bit.
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