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‘There’s no feeling of anarchy': Apocalyptica talk sorry state of metal, embracing Metallica past.

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.

Q&A: Franky Perez of metal band Apocalyptica


Apocalyptica, Finland’s top musical export, performs on May 30 at the Commodore Ballroom.

May 30 at 9:30 p.m. | Commodore Ballroom

Tickets: $32.50 at ticketmaster.ca

What began as a Metallica tribute band with cellos has evolved into Finland’s top musical export. Since 1993 Apocalyptica has released eight studio albums, each staying true to its heavy metal/classical roots while relying increasingly on original material. Shadowmaker, the latest, follows this pattern, but with a difference — rather than welcoming a number of guest vocalists, as on previous albums, the new record features just one, Franky Perez. Now a full-fledged member of the band, Perez — whose previous gigs include playing with the band Scars on Broadway and with Guns N Roses guitarist Slash — talked about his future with Apocalyptica, staying true to metal roots and being a Yank in Finland.

Q: Have you noticed anything different about playing with a bunch of Finns compared to being in American bands?

A: There’s definitely a little bit of culture clash. They live on the other side of the world, and I’m from Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s polar opposites. But, without being cliché or cheesy, we speak one common language — music.

Q: Did you make the album in Finland?

A: We did some pre-production in Nashville. Once we got the songs where we wanted them, we went back to Finland and rehearsed them for a couple of weeks and got them really nice and tight and went back to Nashville. I’ve been to Finland three times now, and come July, I’ll be there for awhile. I’ll be hubbing out of there while we do festival appearances in Europe.

Q: It seems you’ve been kind of a floater, leading a nomadic musical life, playing in a bunch of different bands.

A: One steady thing I’ve had in my career is my own stuff. But I’ve been a singer and musician for hire for over 10 years. This is a bit of a change. You have to find ways to provide and make a living. I’m very fortunate to have been a professional musician all my life. In the same sense I’ve been looking for that project. I thought Scars on Broadway was it, then the plug was pulled on that. I went back to being a musician-for-hire. Then when this came up — I’ll be with these guys as long as I can, they’re a great band, the music’s amazing. I’ve been offered full-time positions with other bands but this one really hit home, and made me want to be a part of it full-time.

Q: What was your relationship to Apocalyptica before you got the call to sing with them?

A: About four or five years ago, Scars on Broadway was playing the Area 4 festival in Germany. We were on the same stage as Apocalyptica, a few bands before. There’s been a big buzz around the festival about them, so I made a point after our set to stick around. So I sat on the side of the stage and watched them play, and now five years later I’m in the band.

Q: Apocalyptica started out playing Metallica covers. Is that something you still do?

A: They’re very true to their roots. There’s a part of the show where they throw it back to Metallica. They let the crowd know this is where they started, and they do (Metallica song) Nothing Else Matters. They might do a couple. They know where they came from. These guys are standup guys. They know what fans want and they do it.

Q: And Apocalyptica is going to be on a stamp in Finland. What do you know about that?

A: It’s amazing. From what I was told, they’re doing a whole series on Finnish artists and music. Apocalyptica was the biggest musical export from Finland, so it was a no-brainer that the Finnish government would give them a stamp. I was there when they got the email. Paavo Lötjönen, the bass cellist, was reading it. He looks at me and goes, “Hey Frankie, do you have a stamp?” I said “No.” And he said, “I do.”


Apocalyptica: Heavy metal on heavy wood

We might like to imagine that it was us clever North Americans who came up with the awesome idea to play Metallica songs with cellos – or that we had the shameless determination to make it more than just novelty.

But no, Apocalyptica is another fine Scandinavian import.



Part of the rich legacy of music from the dark, cold region that brought us Bjork, ABBA, Ingmar Bergman, death metal and Vikings, the Finnish cello trio guarantees no guitars will be used during its show at the Union Hall on Monday, June 1. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Those cellos can really rip through a good Blackstar guitar amp – which also provides the best clean sound a real cello craves.

Apocalyptica first popped up in mid-1990s, armed with heavy metal covers played by a classically-trained string quartet – which attracted an unusual cross section of fans from both the metal and classical worlds. At first, the group members didn’t think it was much of a novelty. They were simply playing the music they liked with the instruments they knew how to play. Then a record company guy caught a show and saw dollar signs, or Euros, anyway, and tried to talk the guys into making a record.

“The record company needed to convince the dudes, hey, let’s do this anyway,” says drummer Mikko Sirén, who joined the group 13 years ago, well after Apocalyptica had ditched the cover band shtick. “They were concentrating on classical careers back then so it took them a long period of time to realize, that yes, there is a bigger interest in this kind of music. Maybe the guys were being naive or dumb not to realize it.”

Apocalyptica GigCity EdmontonThat didn’t last. With some members changes here and there, and cellist Paavo Lötjönen the only original left, the group has released seven albums since the 1996 debut Plays Metallica By Four Cellos. The latest, all original, is Shadowmaker, the band’s first with a permanent vocalist (Franky Perez; they’d previously worked with guests that include Corey Taylor from Slipknot and a host of other stars of the North American metal scene), and an album that certainly sounds as dark and heavy as anything from the modern Scandinavian metal scene. And as fans know, that’s pretty heavy. You can just hear it.

That’s because rock bands are a product of their environment, Sirén says. “Heavy metal,” he says, “especially in Northern countries, in Finland and Norway, it’s very strongly connected to our folk music, chord progressions, even the instruments used, and how we feel we are so close to nature. Nature over there is wild, untamed. However cliche that might sound, I feel that reflects in the music that people from the North do.”

He adds, “No matter what you do, only American bands sound like American bands, only British bands sound like British bands. Your culture, your heritage has a lot to do with how you sound.”