Since its inception, heavy metal has borrowed liberally from the work of classical composers – what is Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath,” after all, if not a reworking ofGustav Holst’s “Mars”? Since 1993, the cello-based Finnish group Apocalyptica has been working to reverse engineer that formula, first reimagining Metallica’s compositions before branching out to include their own work, drafting in vocalists from the likes of Slipknot and Bush to round out their sound. For their eighth studio album, Shadowmaker, the group (which now includes full-time vocalist Franky Perez) hunkered down in a Tennessee studio to produce their most cohesive release to date. Lead cellist Eicca Toppinen and drummer Mikko Sirén recently spoke with the Post’s Jonathan Dekel about refining their sound, the stale metal scene and finally becoming a band two decades after forming.
Q Your last release was a live album with a full orchestra celebrating the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner. How did that evolve to Shadowmaker’s relatively minimalist arrangements?
Sirén: As we flirted with all these large bands we had an urge to go small, back to the essence of the band.
Toppinen: After we finished the last orchestra tour we wanted to focus on ourselves — to put our musical interests in focus. And when it came time to record the vocals we decided to only have one singer because that helped us not depend on anything outside the band, so the band could deliver everything. Metal music has the inclination to try to make everything sound bigger and [the result is] nothing sounds personal. Nothing touches you anymore; it’s just a wall of sound.
Q: As instrumentalists, how do you find that personality?
Toppinen: When we started writing this album we were listening to bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and System of a Down– all the bands who have a really strong character. That was something we really wanted to approach.
Q Do you see yourselves as outsiders in the metal community?
Toppinen: There has always been difficulties defining Apocalyptica because we’ve always been moving and changing and that’s something we wanted to eliminate: make the whole package more tight. We wanted to be treated like a real band.
I think we are very much in between [worlds]. We combine a lot of elements from pop music and aesthetics from electronic music with the metal elements. Old school metal is old school metal and there are some cool metal bands today which are trying to refresh the scene but I think there’s too much metal without the metal attitude. There’s no feeling of anarchy or challenging authority.
Sirén: Now-a-days it’s enough if you have distortion and a double bass drum. In the beginning it was punk, it was rebellious; it was dangerous. You could smell the music. Now it’s super clinical. All of a sudden the music which began as a way to go against rules and storm barriers is suddenly the most protective and most conservative.
Q Do you think your name’s connection with Metallica has helped or hindered your success?
Toppinen: That’s part of our history and we wouldn’t exist without Metallica so we have no problem with that. Of course, it’s funny to see in reviews that the intro is always about the Metallica covers and stuff like that and it’s f–king almost 20 years ago that we made the Metallica record. But it’s still a way for journalists to explain the band and we’re totally fine with it.
Shadowmaker is available now. Apocalyptica play Vancouver May 30, Edmonton June 1 and Calgary June 2.