Apocalyptica became a sort of a sideshow curiosity
when they released an album of Metallica covers entirely played by four
cellos. While it was unusual and displayed the excellent musical skills
of the quartet, the album's appeal lay in its novelty value. Kind of like
that album of elephants playing music, you just had to hear it for the
sake of doing so. However, while the notes were dead on, the lack of percussion
and vocals, plus the total acoustic nature of the music (not to mention
that most of the songs were from the Black Album) displayed the limitations
on doing a classical style cover of Metallica songs, and the album was
really only interesting once. Perhaps it was Apocalyptica's plan all along
to garner some recognition this way before releasing something original.
After a second album of Metallica and other metal
band covers, Apocalyptica has released Cult, their first album
of original compositions. Now, finally, the four classically trained Finns
are really exploring what their style of heavy, metal inspired classical
can offer. To their benefit, Apocalyptica has finally figured out that
adding percussion would be a great boon to their sound. However, the percussion
on Cult is not the standard snare/bass/toms/cymbals kit, but rather
the kind of percussion used in an orchestra. This means that most of the
percussive sounds are the kind of noises you'd get by hitting a triangle
or banging on a tambourine, and the bom-bom of kettledrums replace the
usual thumpy kick drums.
While the first track does perhaps have the most memorable
theme on the album, and track 2 is mostly an exercise in heavy metal riffing,
Cult really starts to pick up on track 3, where the feeling takes
on a somber and gloomy air, and the piece displays more interesting dynamics,
arrangements, and transitions.
Track 4 starts off with a very Metallica inspired
riff, but then alternates the driving metal-style chugs with emotional
and meaningful interludes.
The album reaches its high point around tracks 7 and
8, which feature exquisite and thoughtful compositions that really showcase
the quartet's phenomenal chops and touch. Incidentally, these two particular
compositions are the ones on which Apocalyptica abandon their Metallica
leanings the most and concentrate on a more traditional classical style
of their own.
The album does end up with three metal covers, two
of which are of course Metallica ("Fight Fire with Fire" and "Until It
Sleeps"). On these tracks, Apocalyptica again remind why their first two
albums really were just novelties. Hopefully they will abandon any such
covers in the future.
So many metal bands have employed classical scales
or have written beautiful music not only in a metal sense, but this music
largely goes unappreciated as it is almost invariably played on downtuned
or distorted, electric instruments. While this album has its own share
of metal feel and heaviness, the beautiful and non-abrasive nature of
the cellos will be accessible to those who are a bit frightened by metal,
but at the same time will also greatly appeal to more sophisticated metal
fans due to its aggressive riffing and dark moods. Moving, somber, beautiful,
and thought provoking. The year is young, but Cult is already a
pick of mine for best of 2001.