According to respected sources, the oldest surviving cello can be dated back to 1572. It was fashioned by the Italian Andrea Amati, a Cremonese craftsman who could never have guessed that distant cousins of his cherished �violoncello� would one day be fitted with pre-amps & pick-ups then remorselessly bowed to the brink of sawdust�
�Oh, we love to punish our instruments! Most of the time they are full of hair & sweat & rosin � our old teachers definitely wouldn�t be happy..!� � Paavo.
Simply, there is no other band like Finland�s Apocalyptica � a four-strong collective of classically-tutored cellists (with attitude!) who have successfully brought together the seemingly disparate worlds of classical music & hard rock without diluting either one. Since 1993, when these Sibelius Academy graduates first raised their black-haired bows in rock�n�roll anger, they have released two critically-lauded albums (of covers & originals), with a third, the Kai �Hiili� Hiilesmaa-produced �Cult�, due out in October through Mercury Records, Germany; during this time, the Helsinki-based �heavy cellists� have put their suitably dramatic moniker to over half-a-million album sales and topped the three-figure mark for concerts in more than 20 different countries, picking up accolades (such as the 1997 �Export Project Of The Year� Award) along the way.
Not bad for a band who started out playing Metallica songs for fun�
�Right from the beginning, we were listening to a lot of metal music,� recalls Max, �but Metallica was our number one choice; so we made cello arrangements for a couple of their songs and then played them to our student friends, all of whom thought that it was great! This gave us the encouragement we needed��
The turning point for Apocalyptica came in December 1995 when they were asked to perform at the heavy metal club Teatro in Helsinki; it was here, whilst giving the full four-cello treatment to Metalli-classics like �Master Of Puppets� and �Creeping Death�, that the burgeoning A-Team were spotted by local independent Zen Garden Records, who suggested they make an album showcasing the modern metal classics nearest (and dearest) to their collective heartbeat.
The rest is heavy cello history�
Since its release in Spring 1996, the debut Apocalyptica album �Plays Metallica By Four Cellos� has notched up worldwide sales in excess of 350,000, gaining rich & ready approval from both sets of supporters (strictly classical & hardline rock); what�s more, by focussing on the unadorned sound of the cello, this dare-devil disc of Metalli-covers not only gave a dramatic twist to high-profile outings such as �Enter Sandman� & �Sad But True�, but also showed what well-wrought compositions they really are�
�Well, obviously it�s heavy music,� says Max, �which is something that we love, but there�s enough melody there, including in the vocals and the supporting riffs, for it to be played on stringed instruments. It�s really all to do with melody & harmony��
As a result of the recognition afforded to ��Four Cellos�, two tracks from which were featured in US movie �Your Friends And Neighbors� (1998), the band were able to take their �maple wood & metal� show to a host of European territories; these included Germany, Switzerland, Estonia, Turkey, Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Holland, the UK, Scandinavia & Finland, headlining in some places playing major festivals in others.
No doubt about it - word on this uniquely rockin� outfit was seriously starting to spread; even before they crossed the threshold of Millbrook Studio, Helsinki, in January 1998 to set to work on the ��Four Cellos� follow-up, there was already anticipation as to what kind of record this might be. Would these Four Bowmen Of The Apocalypse (!) continue to file their fangs on the music of Metallica (an act they�d already supported twice in the Finnish capital), or would they choose to add some other ingredients to a pot that was already on the boil..?
In the event, �Inquisition Symphony� saw the band taking a more w-i-d-e-s-c-r-e-e-n view, casting their net over a broader range of covers and further enhancing their recorded sound. This time, just four of the 11 tracks were full- blooded Metalli-covers, with the bulk of the LP being divided between Sepultura, Faith No More & Pantera �remakes�, plus (most significantly of all) three outings by Eicca himself � the first time that the Apocalyptica main man had committed his own tunes to tape�
�With the metal covers that we do, we are effectively transferring the songs to cello,� explains Eicca; �we tend to stay true to the ideas of the original composers. When it comes to my own stuff, however, I feel that I can produce the sounds in many different ways and make the arrangements a lot wilder � it�s just much more fun!�
Released in April 1998 in Finland and internationally thereafter, the �IS� album once again saw the band shifting into total tour mode, starting with dates in their native land and then striking out to other countries, some of which (Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Bulgaria, etc.) were figuring on the itinerary for the very first time�
Says Eicca: �The four dates in Mexico were quite overwhelming, and the same holds true for the shows in Eastern Europe, which is currently one of our best live areas; we�ve been selling out halls of 2,000-2,500 in Bulgaria, and last time in Lithuania we played to around 3,500. The audiences there really seem to appreciate a professional show��
In many ways, �IS� � now a 250,000-plus-seller worldwide � helped the band to prove a point; not only did it see them charting Top 10 at home, where they also picked up the �Video Of The Year� Award for �Nothing Else Matters�, but it showed that their own material could happily stand shoulder to shoulder with the often anvil-heavy rockers they were continuing to interpret with trusty Chinese cellos, double-bass rosin & extra-tough strings � a fact that comes across with even greater force on �Cult��
Now confirmed for release on October 2nd, the third Apocalyptica album steers a bold yet well-charted course between the clashing rocks of classical drama & rampant hard rock, veering from the purist strains of �Coma� (recorded in a church, one take only) through to the heavy cello thunder of Metallica�s �Fight Fire With Fire� - a 100- metre sprint of a song with the steroid-free four-stringers breasting the tape first by the length of a broken �C� string. What�s more, of the 13 tracks on �Cult�, only three do not carry the �Eicca Toppinen� credit; that�s the aforementioned �Fight��, the stirring �Until It Sleeps� (a prime Metalli-cover) plus a risk-taking run-through of �Hall Of The Mountain King� by Norwegian composer Edward Grieg � the first strictly classical piece recorded by the band�
According to Eicca: �We haven�t gone down this route before because there�s no real reason for us to do �honest� versions of classical compositions. With �In the Hall��, however, there were a lot of ways for us to break that piece down and then build it back up again, which is exactly what we did; plus, the music already has a dark & doomy feel� which suits us perfectly!�
Whereas the first two albums were generally an exploration of the sonic capacity of the cello (to the power of four), �Cult� sees the band pushing back boundaries both in terms of the complexity of the arrangements and the variety of instruments used. Just prior to the start of recording (at Petrax Studios, north of Helsinki), they were offered the chance to remix/rework the Bush single �Letting The Cables Sleep�, and it is clear that this experience did much to inscribe a brand new chapter in the black leather-bound �Encyclopedia Apocalyptica��
�Naturally, we came up with some HM cello parts for the Bush remake,� explains Eicca, �but we also explored the more traditional use of strings as a way of adding color in the background; it was this that gave me the idea to try a string quartet in a supporting role, making it possible to set metal-type solos against a string orchestra, which is something we�d never done before�.I also tried adding in some drum loops, but they took too much away from the cellos, so in the end we opted for orchestral percussion, which fits in much better��
Further on, it is likely that Apocalyptica will take their tiger-eyed vision to a higher level still; they�ve already discovered the joys of the sequencer and commenced a collaboration with German artist Witt, so chances are it won�t be too long before club mixers & guest vocalists are likewise draped in the Finnish flag; for the moment, however, they are 100 per cent focussed on the Autumn release of �Cult�, plus a touring schedule that continues to keep their passports enthusiastically inked.
Just recently, the four undertook their first ever trip to Russia, playing shows in Moscow & St. Petersburg, and in August they�ll be adding Japan to their ever-growing list of countries claimed, with a return trip to South America and a full Euro schedule locked into place for later in 2000. Having been invited to San Francisco last year to attend the recording of Metallica�s live �S&M� album, they�re understandably keen to bring the US into the picture too, especially as the departure of Antero Manninen and the arrival in the ranks of 22-year-old metalhead Perttu (a member of the Helsinki Philharmonic) has both increased the �sweat & sinew� factor onstage, and helped to make the point that there are few things more exciting than a vintage cello and a pair of leathered thighs�
�Oh, a man with a guitar is nothing compared to a man with a cello!� laughs Eicca. �Girls really like the way that we handle our instruments�we�re very sensitive and very hard!�
Apocalyptica, eh? More power to their (ever-rigid) bows�