I was fortunate enough to catch Apocalyptica live for the first time, only a few months ago, at the Sydney Opera House. And I must say, there is nothing that can really prepare you for the intensity and mystique of this outfit live. I was literally blown away, and even though I have been going to metal gigs in Australia and overseas for over thirty years, I have never seen anything like this. Apocalyptica fuse their classical instruments into a juggernaut of heavy metal power. Their individual musicianship, morphed with their symbiotic arrangements, makes for an experience like no other.
I know that I have left my run a bit late to witness this sensation as they have been together for nearly twenty six years and they have eight albums under their belt. They have come a long way from essentially a cello heavy metal covers ensemble, something that could have been a one album project, a gimmick if you will. But the band took the metal, and dare I say classical world, by storm, with their interpretations and arrangement of Metallica songs way back in the nineties, and now they are a highly respected and unique force of musicianship and art. Next we will see their ninth studio album hitting the shelves on January 10th which will solidify their career even deeper, if the singles ‘Rise‘ and ‘Ashes of the Modern World‘ are anything to go by. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Paavu Lotjonen, founding member and bass cellist…
Paavu, can you take us through how Apocalyptica write their material?
“Over the years many many different ways, but, on this time we wrote the music all along. Its fun to write together and arrange together, but it is time consuming. This time we brought music along in basically rough demos and presented this to the rest of the band. The final forming happened in the studio. This was quite honest music from all of us, you can hear the music and where it has come from and its own flavours. But during the years we have done so many things together, that we know what each other’s like, you know what they think, and what each of us like musically. This album was composed a year ago, it was quite a tight schedule and we were still touring. We had 230 gigs in 45 countries. Last winter we had some time off and so we composed a lot of the music during this time. We recorded in Helsinki in February March. We also didn’t use a producer this time, we know what we like, and we wanted to make it for us. It does not need to fit to a radio format or anything like that”
How do you arrange and record the pieces once they are written?
“Well we only had an engineer, and no producer as we said, and he was very good with recording. He was awesome and let us just do what we do. We wanted to concentrate on the music. It is difficult to record as the instruments essentially are not rhythmic, and we need to emulate this, it takes time. You have to work gently with the bows and use a specific technique to get the sound. You also need to track a number of times to get the sound and the tone right. This takes time and patience. There are a lot of layers to our music to make it happen the way it does. So it is a slow process and quite an intense one.”
The two songs I have heard, ‘Rise’ and ‘Ashes from the Modern World’, are very dark and brooding, is this the mood of the entire album?
“Those two songs are like a game opening and there are different elements in these tracks and they are the shorter songs. The more intricate songs are over ten minutes so these songs are just a taste. The album is typical upper power Apocalyptica songs. You know, it is the world that we want to present from our music. Tomorrow we release our third single, ‘World to Mayhem’ this is an extreme song very very fast.”
How do you see this album fitting within your back catalogue? Is it a surprise release, or an extension of the path the band have taken over the years?
“Cause we decided to create a 100% music album, this is not mainstream. This is for hardcore and more music lovers. It’s kind of career suicide to do these type of albums. There will be no radio play on this but the world has changed so much with streaming services and the business in general. So we wanted to create something for our hardcore fans and who are coming to our live shows and really spend time with the music. This is so much open for visions, just close your eyes and make our own mindscapes with the music. I say it is mind candy.”
Looking back now over your previous eight releases, what pieces stand out for you and why?
“If we compare this album I would see it as our third album (Cult, released in 2000) where we started to create our own music. We had a percussion element and recorded our cellos. And we just at that time changed record companies and recorded it ourselves, and it was very honest and it was us. We didn’t care about airplay or anything. We are really proud of this album and we are excited to hear how other people feel about it when it comes out. ”
You have toured with some huge names in the industry, and completed countless festival gigs, but are there any that stand out for you?
“We have played so many, it is a really tricky question. We think that every single show is important and we want to always play 100%. It doesn’t matter what the audience is or the size. From last year, the Sydney Opera House as it is an iconic hall and the background was amazing. With huge festivals we played in Mexico to 65000 people and at Wacken to 85000. They are amazing to play, but as I said, all gigs are special to us and we are happy just to play for people.”
When you first started playing live, what was the initial reaction from metal fans?
“Everything happened step by step. This twenty three years of touring has been very surprising in many ways and we didn’t expect anything in the beginning. We thought that we would do one album of Metallica songs and we thought we would sell about 1000 copies but now we have sold over 5 million copies of our albums and we have played all over the world a great journey. We are thankful for what it has brought to us and feel very lucky to have done what we have done.”
On the back of the release of Cell-O, is there any chance of an Australian tour to support the release?
“We definitely want to come back but now we have just released gigs for next year. We start playing with Sabaton, then Finnish Shows, then the US and then back to do festival dates in Europe so it is very busy. We will come to Australia 2021 I think, but it is definitely going to happen.”
It is exciting that we have a heavy metal scene that has produced an ensemble such as Apocalyptica. There are so many great bands out there, and releases coming to us every day, but when you come across something as refreshing and original as this, it makes you even more proud to be a metal fan. I really can’t see how Cell-O could possible disappoint any metal fan, on the back of the two singles being released, the band’s back catalogue, the live shows that they produce and the great people these guys are. It was a real pleasure to speak with Paavo, and get an insight into the phenomenon that Apocalyptica is.
Interview by Mark Snedden
Cell-0 is out Friday, January 10th. Pre-Order here
Apocalyptica – Cell-0 tracklisting
1. Ashes of the Modern World
4. En Route to Mayhem
5. Call My Name
6. Fire & Ice
7. Scream for the Silent
9. Beyond the Stars