Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW
29th September, 2019
Sydney Opera House, the start of spring and Apocalyptica. It really doesn’t get much better! As the sun came down and I entered the venue the lights of the harbour bridge were in full colour and Sydney siders were milling around the iconic venue and going about their Sunday evening business. This is actually the first time that I have seen a metal band at the opera house, if Apocalyptica are an actual metal band. Well, in my opinion, they definitely are and I am very excited to see them here tonight.
So tonight Apocalyptica play Metallica by Four Cellos, and they are playing to a packed audience! To the uninitiated, they are a Finnish outfit who play metal and rock songs with cellos, and they have actually been around for a while (since 1993 in fact). They have taken the world by storm with their branding of sacred metal songs and the feeling in the audience is that they are more than accustomed to what we are going to see. However, a comment on the audience is warranted here, we have metalheads, full families and a number of well-groomed elderly citizens, some, unless they have had rough short lif, well into their eighties.
As the four piece hit the stage the audience are ready to go, and a rapturous applause welcomes them to the iconic venue tonight. They open with ‘Enter Sandman’ and they couldn’t have picked a better song. They are tight, have arranged this song on many levels and tones, to give the soundscape width, and the sound is crystal clear. As the band move through their next three songs in quick succession, ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ and ‘The Unforgiven’, the band’s debut album, Metallica By Four Cellos, becomes apparent. The band have split their set into halves and the first half is a celebration of this album.
The band navigate through the album in exact order, working through ‘Sad But True’, ‘Creeping Death’, ‘Where Ever I May Roam’ and ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’. I need to now comment on the stage. For this first set, the band are mostly seated and they play in front of separated plain backdrops that display imagery at times, cast silhouettes and display vibrant colours. Each member is also under their own spotlight which gives a haunting, yet totally engaging feel.
I needed to explain this, because during the interval the stage is completely stripped back to reveal a drum kit/percussion set up and a larger more traditional backdrop. So as the band hit the stage it becomes clear, very quickly, that this set will mirror a more traditional metal set and feel. The band open with ‘Fade to Black’, just brilliant, and the addition of the drummer/percussionist, just rounds the sound out. The drummer is amazing, and he gives the music such a lift. The band now power through the second set, and in most cases standing, looking the audience squarely in the face, and dominating the stage in the way that any metal does. The cellos fade as a classical instrument, and the four show convincingly show just how metal a classical instrument can be. The band tear through tracks such as ‘Fight Fire with Fire’, ‘Battery’, ‘Until It Sleeps’, the masterful ‘Orion’, and the sadly underrated ‘Escape’. Every few tracks the band talks with the audience, giving little anecdotal stories about tracks, the band’s journey and where they have come from as metal fans and classical musicians. They come across as completely down to earth and are very excited about playing this iconic venue.
The band closes out the set with ‘Battery’, but return triumphant, after only a short period, for an encore of three more songs. They blast through a bastardised version of ‘Seek and Destroy’, and topped it off with a snippet of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’, which worked so well. Just an observation, I was really blown away how this group actually played the guitar solos on the cellos. They were playing them note for note, and believe me, a lot of the audience would have picked it up if they deviated from the original compositions. The band also took on different parts of each song, meaning, each had a turn at solos, vocal melodies and riffs. This alternated throughout the set and gave each musician an opportunity to display their wares. The encore rounded out with ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘One’. Both were amazing, and for different reasons, obviously ‘Nothing Else Matters’ lends itself to the instrument, and with ‘One’, we saw a different dimension to this track.
The amazing thing about the band is the fact is that they are able to engage the audience, and not only in the songs, but their ability as live performers and characters to draw the audience in. There is no way that anyone in this room went away disappointed or underwhelmed by this performance, it was simply mind blowing. Apocalyptica put on an amazing show, hands down, no argument or discussion. Whether you were a metal fan, a classical fan, or just a fan of music, you went away satisfied. This was a magical night, the venue, the music and the atmosphere, what more do you need? Apocalyptica release Metallica by Four Cellos live later this year and I can guarantee that it is an album not to be missed, whether you have the original 1996 debut, or are just getting on the wagon.
Review by Mark Snedden