Combining cellos with heavy metal proved an inspired concept for Finnish band Apocalyptica, and they head to Perth to play Capitol on Wednesday, 21st September to show us what they are made of. SHANE PINNEGAR got founding member Eicca (pronounced Ay-Ka) Toppinen on the phone from Moscow, where they were touring, to discuss the formation and evolution of the band.
The obvious question is, ‘what made you think, ‘let’s play heavy metal with the cello?’’
“I was in another cello band called Total Cello Ensemble – you can find it on internet,” Toppinen explains. “It was a six cello group and with that group we did all kind of different stuff. We played even Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. We played Argentinian tangos, all kind of stuff, very great sound installations. We knew the cello band is very suitable for different music styles. As a big heavy metal fan, I started to think that, ‘okay, if you can play Purple Haze, we should be able to play For Whom The Bell Tolls.’
“That was the starting point. We didn’t have any plans to make any albums or any kind of career out of this – it was just because we loved the metal music. We thought, ‘okay, why not to play that with the instruments we can play the best?’
“For us, it was very natural,” Toppinen continues, “when we got asked to do the first album, after our first performance for a metal audience, we thought the guy is out of his mind. We were like, ‘are you really serious, you want to get us in studio to make a record out of this?’ We didn’t have any expectations.”
From humble beginnings not expecting any kind of career out of this, it must be surprising to still be touring the world more than twenty years later.
“It was, definitely,” exclaims Toppinen. “When the first album was done, we thought if we sell a thousand copies and if we get a couple of gigs, that’s fantastic. That was our expectations. Now, that first album, we’ve sold the almost two million copies. Comparing to expectation of thousand, I think that’s something pretty much different!”
It must have been a very big step to go from doing fun, classically inspired Metallica covers to suddenly writing and recording original songs in a metal style.
“Yeah, it was – [but] it was a very necessary step,” Toppinen admits. “We did a Christmas single in the end of ’96, we did a version of the Little Drummer Boy song, but the arrangement was very free from the original. That was the point that I got the idea, ‘maybe I should try to write something original for the band.’ After doing two albums of covers, we have a couple of originals already on the second album, but we found it’s the only way to go, the only interesting way to continue the band, is to go into original songs.
“It was a big step, but we had no choice. The record company tried to force us to make one more cover album, but we had no chance. We felt it, ‘this is our direction to go, whatever happens.’ Whether it’s successful or not, we don’t care. Musically, it’s the only way to continue.”
With eight studio albums now, Toppinen says that Apocalyptica’s set list for Australia will feature a bit of everything for their fans.
“Of course, because we are on the Shadowmaker tour, that’s a big portion of the new songs. It’s more like a retrospective – we’re going to have songs from, basically, all times of this twenty years [career], from every album there’s something in the show. It’s going to be great fun. It’s going to be a very diverse show. The show’s going to show all the sides of Apocalyptica because there are plenty of different sides of this band and the music we make.
“It’s going to be everything from ballads, Bittersweet, to something like that, to Inquisition Symphony, something really crazy, In The Hall of The Mountain King, a couple of Metallica tunes. It’s a combination of all these years. Of course, we have got a lot of new songs and, of course, Franky [Perez] is touring with us so it’s a balance between instrumental music and some vocal songs. It’s great fun.”