Finland’s APOCALYPTICA were thrust into the global limelight when they re-worked an album’s worth of Metallica numbers and released it as 1996’s Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. With each release since, Apocalyptica have pushed the boundaries of what’s expected from a metal band comprised of cellists and transcended the novelty act status that has plagued cover artist contemporaries like Hellsongs, Hayseed Dixie and Richard Cheese by writing and performing original numbers with a string of high-profile rock and metal vocalists (and by selling over four million records worldwide).
Their latest studio offering, 7th Symphony, served as another example of Apocalyptica’s innovative abilities and originality. Produced by Joe Barresi, the album saw the band work with Gojira’s Joe Duplantier, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Bush’s Gavin Rossdale and a host more on an album’s worth of original compositions. Ahead of the band’s first ever Australian tour, Tom Hersey sat down with drummer Mikko Sirén to talk about the band’s plans for a follow-up to 7th Symphony, what turned the band on to playing metal with cellos, and what it’s like to bust out classical music to a room full of rowdy headbangers.
7th Symphony was released two years ago, are the band currently working on a follow-up?
The plan, when we were writing 7th Symphony was originally to record that album, do the tour and then take a year’s break. This band has been going constantly for 17 years in a row, so it was important for us to take a breath and freshen up. But the touring cycle for 7th Symphony kept getting extended right up until these shows in Australia. So after these shows we’ll take a one year break. But funnily enough, the closer we get to that break the more new material we start to have and the more new ideas we have for fresh things we’d like to do … because we’re having so much fun together at the moment, it feels like we’re in this really inspirational atmosphere.
Is the new material you’re working on covers or original material?
There’s been a lot of different stuff. A couple of cover songs which have already been recorded and mixed, there’s one totally new song which is going to be released with a computer game … we cannot announce that yet but it’s kind of a big thing. Then we’ve been working on some classical compositions for some special shows we’re planning for Finland which have ended up sounding very much like Apocalyptica … so there’s a whole lot of stuff we’re working on.
What was the first song that made the guys who would go on to form Apocalyptica decide to give metal songs the symphonic treatment?
I wasn’t with the band back then, but in ’92 they had a six cello band and at that time they were playing stuff like Jimi Hendrix and other cross-over rock and roll stuff. Then they were at this silly party where they decided to play a Metallica song, I think it was For Whom The Bell Tolls, and it was just like they were playing the music they liked on the instruments they knew how to play. But then for several weird reasons it took off and became something that it was bigger than it was ever supposed to be.
Almost 20 years on from that time, ahead of your first ever Australian tour, does the band still find themselves surprised by how successful and enduring this music has been?
Every night when we see that there are hundreds, at times thousands, of people coming out to see us play this kind of music we are really surprised. [laughs] It’s like, ‘Why the hell are they here?’ But we are really pleased and honoured when they do come to see us, and Australia has been a place where we have been trying to come over for the last six, eight years. Each year we try to play shows there and for the weirdest reasons it has never happened, and now we forced our manager to get us down there. So we’re really happy to be going down there before we take this break.
At a metal show it’s generally assumed you’ll be headbanging, but at a classical music recital you’re usually sitting down. What is the fan response then to Apocalyptica?
We have these metalheads coming out to the shows to headbang and go in the mosh pit, but then we have these older people who are coming from the classical world, and the coolest thing is watching these two groups kind of mingle in with one another. We play a vast variety of music in our shows, we go from playing chamber music to ultimate thrash metal, and when we’re playing the thrash metal you can see people who have probably never heard of the band Slayer going nuts. But then when we play some of the chamber music you can see metalheads who have probably never heard of Brahms crying when we play some of these melodies. So we really try to reach out to all of the different people coming to our show. We include a lot of different atmospheres and moods and variety in our set.
Because this will be your first ever Australian tour, most fans down here will have never had the chance to see Apocalyptica live before. For those fans, what can they expect seeing the band live in 2012?
It’s going to be a really, really high energy show. We want the audience to leave the hall with big smiles on their faces. So even though it’s a metal show, it’s pure positive energy with deep emotions in it.