Earlier today, news about the postponement of Metallica’s upcoming Australian tour – as James Hetfield re-enters rehab – shattered fans, so hearing Apocalyptica’s reimagined cello versions of songs from this band’s catalogue is bittersweet.
The backdrop reads, “Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos” – the title of this Finnish symphonic metal outfit’s 1996 album. A roar goes up as punters recognise the opening strains of Enter Sandman before an enthusiastic clap-along ensues. The way this song’s rhythms and melodies are interpreted by four cellos is fascinating and their bows conjure a dark and stormy atmosphere inside Hamer Hall.
This evening’s first half comprises Plays Metallica By Four Cellos in tracklisted order and, given that this is instrumental material, we’re encouraged to supply the vocals (but don’t, thank goodness). The Unforgiven is hauntingly beautiful and the all-string delivery infuses extra emotional fragility into the song’s arrangement. And you’d actually swear there was a guitarist hiding somewhere off in the wings during Creeping Death.
Apocalyptica usually roll with a drummer but in this four-cello incarnation the band’s three classically trained cellists – Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen and Perttu Kivilaakso (all graduates of Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy) – are joined by a fourth cello player, Lauri Kankkunen from the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Toppinen, Apocalyptica’s spokesman, tells us they’ve played over 200 shows all over the world to celebrate 20-plus years since the release of Plays Metallica By Four Cellos before recommending we also give their original albums a spin; it’s “cool shit”, he promises. He then tells us to expect a new Apocalyptica record to drop in our summer.
“…we’re encouraged to supply the vocals (but don’t, thank goodness).”
Wherever I May Roam is given a sinister twist as galloping rhythms intensify. Kankkunen takes lead cello on Welcome Home (Sanitarium), which showcases percussive plucking and leads us into interval.
The second half of Apocalyptica’s show completely unleashes, with the cellists often sawing at their instruments, upstanding in wide-stance positions and sometimes even helicoptering their long locks in unison. For Whom the Bell Tolls goes off with the addition of drummer Mikko Sirén supplying industrial clangs and Apocalyptica’s cellists roaming the stage, effortlessly wielding those weighty instruments and engaging the crowd. The light show gets more intricate and hectic in keeping with Apocalyptica’s energy surges and Orion, which Apocalyptica haven’t recorded but learnt specifically for this tour, sounds like a metal lament. The arrangement pares back to a single plucked riff before swelling into full demonic intensity once more. When Apocalyptica wedge a snippet of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck within their main set closer, Seek & Destroy, the audience understandably goes buck wild.
During Apocalyptica’s encore, the melodic beauty within Nothing Else Matters – as performed by four cellos – needs to be experienced to be believed. And One is a fittingly raucous punctuation mark to close this evening’s proceedings, with Sirén relentlessly pounding those skins.
We were definitely sulking about Metallica’s tour postponement a couple of times during Apocalyptica’s first set, but were totally immersed in set two. Now it’s time to go home and perfect that hair-helicoptering technique pronto!