Apocalyptica - Birth Hour of Cello Rock!

Original German text: Holger Strathmann - RockHard magazine #6 2003

Sold out houses wherever they go: In the homeland of Beethoven and Bach Apocalyptica are among the biggest live attractions. But are these young cellists merely hard-drinking Rock'n Roll Finns or culturally interested sophisticates? Rock Hard entered the cello rockers everyday life on tour.

Rather young ladies dressed in black are shivering in front of the Alte Schlachthof in Dresden, where a rather grim-looking security guard makes sure nobody gets too close to the musicians. Desperate fans are still looking for tickets. Should somebody suspect that the backstage area is equally hectic, they are in the wrong.

The crew set up everything in a very relaxed manner; there is no opening band whose nerves are wearing thin. Band boss Eicca is just returning from his daily walk. His hunting trip in downtown Dresden was rewarded with only one single package of 'Playmobil'. "For my son," the sometimes rather quiet - typical for his countrymen - Finn says. "It was much cheaper than it is at home."

When it comes to preparing the show, Antero Manninen, who, as a former band member, is the trio's ideal supplement on tour, is always first. He gets dressed in his black outfit, tunes his cello and starts to warm up long before the others do. Of all of them, the quietest in the band throws a couple of salt sticks into Paavo's f-hole while producing a fat grin (the pig - ed.). For Paavo a game of skills which lasts a couple of minutes begins. Weird ritual.

At the same time the fans are entering and are treated to an excellent, culminating show. Apocalyptica start slowly with "Cortege" from their new album before they present a total of six Metallica-hits, starting with "Master of Puppets". Especially "One" or "Nothing Else Matters" makes clear how much of a unique style the songs represent these days. They play shorter versions and interpret the cover songs extremely sensitively. This is a must if one wants to play without a singer, and this is why Eicca and Perttu every now and then pick up the microphone to make a couple of announcements. "It is important for us to communicate with the audience. We do not wish to present a cold instrumental show which has the band does their part in a disciplined manner".

Apocalyptica do speak English, but they are still struggling with a harsh accent, which is why Eicca for fun makes a couple of announcements in Finnish. Nobody except for a few Finns in exile among the audience understands this, but it creates a good mood. "Our language sounds funny to foreign ears, so why not?"

Perttu has his first big solo with the Sepultura title "Refuse/Resist". He shouts something about "Thrash fuckin' metal" and runs like mad around with his cello while cheering people on, drumming on the hollow body of his instruments in a tribal manner. Now even the last person has noticed that this is not a serene classical music concert, but an authentic Rock' n Roll show. A playback drum-recording of the groovy "Toreador II" completes the first part of a three-part set and gives the audience a taste of things to come.

The band leaves the stage, and first images are projected onto the video screen while an intro-tape is playing. The "Cult" skull accompanies the dark "For Whom the Bell Tolls" whereas "Faraway" is laced with a video and audio piano recording. In addition, the band has placed mini-cameras in front of their chairs which will broadcast live footage that will be mixed with excerpts from video clips. A lot of technical gimmicks have thus been incorporated and improved the show that mainly consists of dry ice and vari-spotlights that illuminate the band from behind. During "Nothing Else Matters" even artificial snow falls from the lighting scaffold. The biggest surprise lies in wait until the middle of the set: for "Resurrection" two roadies remove a blanket from a drum kit set behind the musicians that has a blond Finn playing at full speed for the last nine songs. There is no need to prove that a song like "Creeping Death" sounds much juicier with the support of percussion and Sepultura's chopping of "Inquisition Symphony" turns into deadly cello-shredding. In the meantime Perttu is rolling around on stage with a bare upper body just like the late Jimi Hendrix. Killer!

The audience is besides themselves, they have never seen anything like this before! As a consequence, all hell breaks loose during the three encores. "Enter Sandman", "Path", and Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" conclude an evening on which Apocalyptica have set new standards. Cello Rock - as far as it did not exist before - has been created on this tour! Dresden is totally excited. In the concert hall all arms fly up, even in the very last row, and the musicians are faced with an ocean [sic!] of excited fans just before they are bowing to their fans like classical musicians.

The fact that a few fans were hardly able to follow the gig because they got stuck at the crowded entrances is the only stain of this felicitous evening. Tour coordinator Fisseler explains: "Unfortunately some ticket outlets occasionally sell more tickets in spite of a selling stop. This is not the presenter's wish at all. Prior to the tour Apocalyptica insisted that the sound should not be too loud because of younger and elderly visitors and they wanted to make sure that everybody could comfortably stand in the concert hall."

I am assigned a sleeping place on the tour bus that was previously occupied by Antero's cello. Usually the whole band play contemporary Chinese models while the precious instruments that the guys play in their respective orchestras stay at home. Antero's cello, which was built in 1750, and which he estimates to be worth about 30,000.00 Euros has just come back from a violin repair shop in Copenhagen. After a transport on a plane while Antero toured Vienna with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra a giant hole gaped in the cello's back.

This was a shock for Antero, because just like old-time cars items in sound condition are simply priceless. "Older instruments have a much better sound-character. This is not only due to the exotic woods that were used back then and that don't exist anymore in this form, but also because a cello needs to broken in. Antero paid a whopping 6,000 Euros for the perfect repair. Of course this instrument will not be used for an Apocalyptica performance, but Eicca's Chinese box too cracked simply due to humidity and was provisionally fixed with gaffa tape."

Uli's verdict on the band: "They are low maintenance, I have never been angry with them. No escapades, no tour bus excesses, no drugs, no porn, no fights." (Hey, great - the ed.). The crew members are also pretty mellow. Eicca is among the first ones to go to bed, for good reasons: "I am on vacation, recovering from having my kids around and I am using the opportunity to sleep in." Good night!

February 28, Nuremberg Loewensaal

While the band members have gone for a walk in the nearby zoo, I am taking a closer look at the stage technology. Glued onto the cellos are microphones and a pre-amp unit; in front of the chairs digital effect devices have been placed, and in-ear monitoring enables listening among the band members. On drums is Mikko Siren, who is quite active in Helsinki's music scene. For example he tries to play House classics in Metal versions together with Waltaris Kaertsy ("Wax"). Mikko has self-confidence in abundance ("Admittedly Dave Lombardo is fast, but I simply interpret things my way") and left his drum kit dealer wide-eyed when he ordered broken cymbals. "They don't resonate so long!" Mikko's drum kit gets dampened as far as possible. The cymbals are covered with soft pads which transfer the dynamics of the impact to the mixing unit. The latter creates the sample which then can be heard in the hall. Cellos are acoustic instruments with sensitive bodies of resonance. Close to them no drums or amplifiers are allowed, which is why many Rock/Classic combos still take up with ugly plexiglass cabins for the drum kit.

Apocalyptica have managed to circumvent these acoustic and visual problems elegantly. These guys are entering uncharted waters! Not everywhere the responses are entirely positive: A music professor from Berlin once accused the band of only sounding that good because they are using amplification equipment. He said the guys were not able to play decently...

Actually the Finns are pleased about such comments, as they are aware that they are provoking such reactions. Tour organizer Uli can only shake his head at prejudices such as 'Apocalyptica are wimps.' "At some festivals these guys have performed in the pouring rain with their sensitive instruments, where these oh so tough rockers would have packed their stuff and left."

They also behave correctly towards their fans. In Nuremberg a lot of very young girls showed up, some of them with their parents. After the show these teenagers are standing around shyly with their autographs, a little bit away from the tour bus, while their mothers are discussing with the musicians for hours. Especially the small, pretty Perttu is very popular and often decides to spend some time partying with new acquaintances.

March 1, Zurich, Xtra-Limmathaus

2:00 pm. Perttu is rather exhausted. On his left hand a little heart-shape shows, on his right hand, a Nuremberg phone number. Band boss Eicca takes his "toxic twin" aside. An argument in Finnish begins, in which the word alcohol can be heard quite often. Perttu stays silent.

In the meantime, Paavo does his daily jogging exercise. At 4:00 pm the sound check takes place, dinner is at 6:00, the show begins at 8:00 pm. Physically, the concerts are quite demanding for the musicians. Quite often the first signs of epicondylitis show, as well as cramped up muscles in the musicians' right arms. The one and a half hours playtime are the utmost the guys can give; the breaks in between are absolutely necessary. The high tempo of the music, the focussing on difficult parts and cello maintenance (Antero's changing of a string took about 90 seconds at the concert in Dortmund!) is not for "normal cellists." After the Zurich show two of them are interviewing Perttu, saying that what he is doing is "just insane". "How many cellos have you already destroyed? How can you play for 90 minutes without a single sheet of music?" Perttu only yawns. He tries to remain friendly, but at this very moment he'd rather be left alone. And he has heard questions like these about a hundred times. He is the youngest cellist in the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra, has performed with star tenor Pavarotti and has - other than Antero - a lifelong contract with the Symphony! The twenty-one year old is without question a highly talented musician and the most extreme heavy metal fan of all Apocalyptica members, which is emphasized by his wild show. It will be interesting to see how long the Helsinki Symphony is willing to do without this boy...

It does not matter which city they play: Apocalyptica leave masses of excited fans in their wake wherever they go. Eicca points out that also the "small shows like the one in Malmo where we played in front of 170 paying visitors were fabulous". The band also made quite a lasting impression on audiences in metropolis like London and Paris, where people are spoiled with concerts all time. The band works extremely hard on its show and their members' performance. They have a good environment, they are disciplined as well as relaxed, and they are - important point! - able to take criticism. Something big is growing here...

English translation by Terrë ©2004
www.apocello.ru ©2004

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