As my age progresses I find myself experimenting with different music and becoming much more open-minded. There was once a time I detested metal, there was even a time I could just about handle the sound of a real guitar. And even that was Dire Straits – Money For Nothing! But here I am many years later in the pit of a rock gig at Wulfrun Hall, and loving every second of it. Only this one has a twist. For those that know Finnish Metal Band Apocalyptica, will be aware that guitars do not feature in any of their stage shows. Instead their chosen instrument is the humble Classical Cello. Cello and Metal how can that possibly work?

Kick starting events this evening is Progressive Rock Metal seven-piece Awake By Design.

Awake By Design

Usually a six-piece, only tonight they’ve been joined by an unknown female vocalist wearing a very tightly strung corset hiding an incredibly small waist. The on-stage presence of the rest of the band resembles a classic metal band. All hair and tight denim with a classic rock sound to match. Their music sounds epic, dispersing heavy guitar riffs with an emotional softness from the keyboard. By far the best song from their set was ‘Surface’. Personally there was nothing for me to complain about, although I did hear a few comments regarding the length of their songs: Maybe a touch too epic for some.

Awake By Design Awake By Design

I like this, it’s about five minutes after Awake By Design have left the stage. I’m midway through a conversation when the lights dim, a pre-recorded sound emits from the PA and Pain Of Salvation enters the stage and promise to “Touch our guts tonight”.

Pain Of Salvation

Pain Of Salvation provides a second dose of Progressive metal. This time hailing from Sweden, it’s seems apparent they’re not overly impressed with their nations fans, critiquing them for not dancing during the support acts.
Pain Of Salvation start with ‘Ending theme’. Screaming guitar riffs and a full orchestral metal sound are a major highlight of their opener. The vocal has Gildenlöw telling what sounds like a story before spitting incomprehensible venom into the microphone “I don’t know, I fear I just don’t know”. Me neither…

Pain Of Salvation

‘Diffidentia’ leaves me feeling awkward. Musically, it sounds excellent but personally I prefer my music without endearing messages of meaning. Yes we can change, but in all seriousness tonight I’m not in the changing mood. Although the old fashioned lighter in the air moment was a nice touch. Particularly when one guys Zippo ran out of fuel.

Pain Of Salvation Pain Of Salvation

Were Pain Of Salvation a huge internationally recognised band I’m sure Daniel Gildenl”w would now be adorning the walls of 1000’s of teenage girls bedrooms by now. As a front man he has almost everything a rock band needs. Confidence, a good voice, good looks and as a band they play amazingly well. In the Progressive Rock circle Pain Of Salvation are held in very high regard. For me the single element that lets them down is the vocals. At times sounding similar to Tenacious D (without the humour), and other times the lyrics were a social commentary on modern American living. Imagine a rock version of ‘Lazy Boys – Underwear Goes Outside the Pants’. Hitting out at fast-food restaurants and seeing a shrink to splice everything together before being sold god, fear… Maybe sold to those without minds to questions their own lives. But in my opinion, it was just too much.

Until this point I’d not really taken the opportunity to look around and observe the assembled crowd. First thing, the mix is very girl heavy. Secondly, there’s an awful lot of eyeliner on display, although in fairness that does seem to be more equally split. There’s metal band t-shirts and rock festival t-shirts a plenty. For a band that plays cello it’s very apparent that this is definitely a metal crowd at a metal gig.

Apocalyptica Apocalyptica

The black, white and grey backdrop image resembles a gothic tower of Mordor. Formed entirely from cellos. Constructed and realised in the mind of an artist influenced heavily by M. C. Escher.

As the music starts I feel as though I’ve descended into a version of Lost Boys sound track. The sound is warm, rich, haunting. And at the same time difficult to describe. Opening track ‘On the Rooftop With Quasimodo’ starts with a plucked bass line that hits you hard, the highs sweep over you like a weeping sadness. Clearly the percussion is also a major driving force. They play similar to a traditional live band too; Perttu Kivilaakso effectively plays the part of Rhythm and definitely brings the metal influence. Paavo L”tj”nen takes Bass leaving Eicca Toppinen to take lead.

Apocalyptica Apocalyptica

The set featured heavily with tracks taken from the album 7th Symphony. Of which we’re reminded several times to go out and buy a copy “It’s Music for Mothers and others”. As well as their own songs there’s covers of ‘Metallica’s – Master of Puppets’. (Sounds incredible, replacing Hatfield’s word with a note for note matching cello riff) ‘Sepultura’s – Refuse / Resist’. “Are we ready for some Head Banging?”

They’re part way through their set and I’m still trying to figure out the sound. I look away and hear what sound like distorted guitar riffs and wah-wah effects. It’s all there and yet I look back to the stage and see just three cellists playing in a manner I’ve never seen before. Strutting around, head banging, even playing with cellos held aloft. The three of them have literally invented a new ways of playing the cello. Visually, it’s spectacular!

Apocalyptica Apocalyptica

Paavo talks of a dream he had recently. A wet dream where a drummer puts down the sticks and picks up a cello. This signals the arrival of drummer Miko Sir‚n. Whilst Miko remains standing and plucks a soft bass line, the other three are seated playing ‘Beautiful’. The crowd are in awe and are lapping it up, quite odd when you consider that ‘Beautiful’ is essentially conservatory music and the crowd are predominantly die-hard metal heads. Even more surreal was seeing Perttu topless, sweaty and tattooed. Not what you would usually expect to see from a classical cellist playing conservatory music. It’s fantastic that these four open minded metal heads are bringing an entirely different genre to the previously focussed ears of a musical generation.
The final song before a short encore break is ‘Inquisition Symphony’. It starts with Eicca roaring repeatedly “Do you want metal”. The track starts slowly but it’s as Miko throws his sticks into the air, catching them with well-rehearsed practise that the mayhem begins. It’s fast, frantic and oh so tight. At the start of night I’d never have thought that I’d be using these words. But seriously ‘Inquisition Symphony’ was fucking nuts!

The main focal point is obviously Eicca, Paavo or Perttu. I’ve barely mentioned Miko or guest singer Tipe Johnson. Miko on drums is exceptional. It’s apparent that many songs focus heavily on the beats, but at no time are you distracted from the cellos. Miko plays fast, tight and holds a constant rhythm throughout. It’s also worth mentioning that Miko regularly jams with Dave Lombardo of Slayer. Hopefully that reference gives some idea of Miko’s calibre. Singer Tipe is OK, good even. What makes Tipe’s job so hard is the guest vocalists used on the original recordings. Does he really stand much chance of matching the voices of Corey Taylor, Gavin Rossdale or the guttural roar of Joseph Duplantier?

The encore and sadly the night finish with Apocalyptica’s take on ‘Edvard Grieg’s – In The Hall Of The Mountain King’. We’re welcomed to sing along to this classical piece that has no words. It’s easily recognisable only this version I’m hearing is even faster than the original and is dripping with mercury.

It’d be so easy to write many more words giving greater detail of tonight’s gig. There were many humorous elements; some of the banter did bring genuine laughter. I could describe in greater detail the versatility of Perttu and the damage he must inflict upon his fingers. But no matter which words I use, nothing will ever enable me to convey just how genuinely blown away I was by the performance seen in Wolverhampton tonight. If you have a list of 100 things to do before you die, seeing Apocalyptica live should be on that list. If you’re a fat lazy couch potato and you only have a list of 10. Seeing Apocalyptica live should still be on that list.

Set List
On The Rooftop With Quasimodo
Master of Puppets
End Of Me
I’m Not Jesus
Refuse / Resist
Last Hope
Bring Them To Light
Seek N Destroy
Inquisition Symphony

At The Gates Of Manala
I Don’t Care
In The Hall Of The Mountain King

Words by Lee Hathaway, email Lee.
Photos by Wayne Fox, email Wayne.

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