Back in 1993, four cellists in Helsinki, Finland got together and started doing something different from what others were doing at the time. A few years later, they released an album – “Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos” and blasted their sensibilities out into the world.
This Friday (January 10th), the ninth studio album from the Finnish classical metalists releases. Titled “Cell-Ο,” this is a new album of all original music, and the first instrumental album in nearly two decades. While I wouldn't normally do a full track-by-track breakdown of an album, this album isn't quite like anything else I've reviewed, and when you read this, I think you'll see why I went into as much depth here. Please remember, though, that these are my thoughts and impressions as I've lived with this album for a while now. Your experience may be completely different, and my take may even be different from what the four artists labored to produce. But one thing that I stand by is that this whole album is stunning, and I recommend getting your hands on it as quickly as you can.
On with the show!
In a world of singles and tracks dropped one by one, "Cell-Ο" is composed as a complete work, telling a musical story from the opening phrases through the final coda. The story is open to the listener to decide - there are no lyrics to lead you down a given path - but as I listen, I can hear the traditional structure of Campbell's Hero's Journey.
Ashes of the Modern World - The establishing piece that sets the tone, dark and aggressive, painting a picture of a world in distress, and in need of help. Arguably a traditional classical piece with different movements, but told through the lens of Apocalyptica's metal sensibilities.
Cell-Ο - If there were lyrics, this track would likely be a power ballad, with driving drums by Mikko Sirén and the mournful cellos carrying the tune. A duet between a "hero" and a "darker voice" comes through in this piece, building on what was started in the first track. This track rings out with the battle between a malevolent force on the verge of victory and the last gasp of hope for a better tomorrow.
Rise - Following the Campbell formula, this track is absolutely the "call to adventure," with grand, sweeping phrases and a climax that soars before softening to remind us that this is still a tale of danger and risk, and that wherever the story takes us, it's not going to be an easy time.
En Route to Mayhem - It's so hard to listen to these tracks and remember that these songs are not being played on guitar and bass. The work of Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, and Paavo Lötjönen on their cellos is so masterful, it's mindboggling. In this number, you can feel the pulse quicken as the journey begins in earnest, only to be set upon by some force trying to put an end to the path prematurely.
Call My Name - In my preset narrative of the tale, this would be the real introduction of the story's antagonist. The menace is alive in this number, the brooding, you can feel the imposition of the dark halls as this figure moves through his stronghold, planning the fall of the hero and the culmination of their plan.
Fire & Ice - The first full battle between our hero and his opponent, with the clash of ideologies erupting in the ring of steel on the field of combat. Again, you can feel the urgency in the climax of the number, before the fall-off, the end of the battle, and the retreat to the respective sides, unclear in the outcome.
Scream For The Silent - A respite, a gathering of strength and friends after the battle, and a remembrance of those who didn't return. This track balance that same urgency of a battle still to be fought with the need to remember why the fight is going on in the first place. The focus then shifts back to the final charge into battle.
Catharsis - A quiet, somber reflection, happier tones in this number. With the story drawing to a close, the hero victorious takes stock of the cost but looks ahead to the future. The cellos again soar with promise instead of growling with menace, and you can feel that the tide has turned.
Beyond The Stars - The closing number of our story, wrapping up the tale with hints of the previous tracks, tastes of the story-beats that had come before, and that optimism that the future is going to be brighter than the recent past. This track is truly the culmination of the album, a summary, but at the same time a number that could stand alone and tell the synopsis all on its own, building crescendos and falling back to the core that makes Apocalyptica what they are: masterful storytellers using their strings and bows to pull emotion and story out of thin air.
Listening to this album, I can feel the story. I can hear the pages turn, see the flicker of the screen, hear the sounds of the battles and the cheers of victory. In the lineage of Homer and Dante to Tolkien and Lewis through Lucas and Spielberg, Apocalyptica has taken the finest of these traditions and translated them to the aural. It might seem that the comparison should be Wagner or Strauss, but this isn't operatic. This is the modern incarnation of the Hero's Journey told musically, and done so artfully that you forget you're listening to a metal album. The picture is painted so vividly, if you're open to the story being told, you can't help but hear it unfolding.
On January 10th, Cell-Ο will be available in a variety of formats and pre-orders can be placed at www.apocalyptica.com
• CD Mediabook
• Heavy-weight double vinyl with etching artwork housed in a 6-panel gatefold with 12” 20-page booklet
• Deluxe D2C bundles
• Digital Download and Streaming