Touring in support of their 8th album, Shadowmaker, Finnish band Apocalyptica are nearly at the end of their first North American headlining tour. As one of their last U.S. dates on this run, they made a stop at The Rave in Milwaukee, WI. Art of Dying, who will be releasing their next album, Rise Up, this summer were also along for the ride.
Two local bands, Comfort Scarcity and Rabidus, got the crowd warmed up with their 30-minute sets before the night really kicked into gear. Canadian natives, Art of Dying started their 45-minute set with Best Won’t Do (Best I Can) before playing new song Eat You Alive. Singer Jonny Hetherington was very energetic, covering the entire stage while singing to the crowd. Often times, he would lean back, arms outstretched and just soak in the moment. Other times he would lean into the monitor, crouched down during more intense parts of the songs. Bassist Cale Gontier, who also provided backing vocals, was into it all night. Whether he was rocking back and forth mimicking the momentum of the song or hanging back for a couple of the more mellow tunes, he clearly was having a great time on stage. New song, Some Things Never Change started off slow but then the driving rock groove kicked in to match the fast paced singing by Jonny. They played Get Through This, which was known by many in the crowd who participated in clapping along during the song. If ever there was a song for someone going through a rough time, this was it.
Guitarist Tavis Stanley mostly kept to his side of the stage due to needing to be near his pedals plus he also provided backing vocals, but there was a time or two he and Cale would perform side by side center stage. With its anthem like chorus, and emphasis with a megaphone during part of the song, Tear Down the Wall was heavy and a bit angry. Actually, a lot of these new songs have that vibe to them, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Jonny thanked the crowd for letting them play all their new songs they weren’t familiar with, but said, “You may know this one,” before going into Raining. One of the slower songs of the night came with new song Everything. Jonny asked for everyone to put up their lighters and cell phones. While there were more phones in the air, it was still cool to see a few lighters. With less people smoking these days, that’s one visual I miss seeing during a show.
Jonny talked a bit about writing the new album and mentioned that sometimes it was fun and should be a good experience, but for them, writing their forthcoming album was brutal. While it won’t be available until this summer, he said they were sorry they didn’t have their EP for sale. He said they had a few items, but the rest of their merch was confiscated at the border. He joked, saying if you could get your hands on their EP, do it. They played the title track from the new album, Rise Up and some people in the crowd showed their approval by jumping up and down with excitement to the heavy pummeling beat accentuated by drummer Jeff Brown. Before their last song Jonny said they were going to hang out by the merch area and wanted to meet everyone. “We’re Canadian, so we’re very approachable.” They ended the night with their most popular song, Die Trying. Many fans could be seen singing along. Jonny closed with saying, “You’re beautiful, thank you so much,” as Tavis jumped in the air on the very last note.
After a fairly quick change over, the lights went down. Du Hast by Rammstein started playing loudly through the speakers but it didn’t take long before the band took the stage. Drummer Mikko Sirén walked to his clear drum kit, beautifully lit up and took his seat, ready to play. Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lötjönen and Eicca Toppinen all walked on stage, cellos and bows proudly in hand and walked to their designated spots near the edge of the stage. They started with, I-III-V, the first song on their new album Shadowmaker, an instrumental piece that starts off with deep low tones with the compliment of drums. While listening you got the feeling that your time was running out. This lead straight into their first single Cold Blood and lead singer Franky Perez walked on stage, grabbed the mic and held nothing back all the way through to the very dark ending. The next two songs were from their World’s Collide album. Now, while Apocalyptica may have started out playing Metallica covers all those many years ago, they’ve really grown into their own with their original pieces. Whether it was the beautifully ominous sounding fast paced Burn or Grace, that left you with the feeling of peacefully floating even though pummeling drums were layered beneath it.
Sea Song (You Waded Out), another new song with Franky on vocals, had a steady marching beat running throughout the song. This deep, epic sounding music paired with a soft vocal chorus back into that marching sound left me with the feeling of soldiers marching off to their death. All music is up for interpretation, right? Franky continued with lead vocals on another new song, House of Chains. This song is super catchy and I can’t help but hear influences from two other bands, Papa Roach and System of a Down. Both the musical aspect and the vocal stylings. While this is probably not intentional, it makes for a really great song. Franky spoke to the crowd, “How the f*ck are we doing Wisconsin?” Perttu looked at him in a weird way and Franky said, “I’ve always wanted to say that.” Perttu gave it a shot, “How the f*ck are we doing Wisconsin?” Given that Franky is not from Finland and doesn’t have an accent or the same tone of voice, Perttu followed with, “It doesn’t sound as cool when I do it.” Franky yelled again, “Hello Wisconsin,” and told Perttu to try again. After he did, Franky told Perttu his way of saying it was much cuter. The crowd laughed. I think Perttu had planned to say something else, but then replied, “But of course.” They continued with I’m Not Jesus, originally with lead vocals by Corey Taylor, another from World’s Collide, again with Franky on lead vocals although both Pertuu and Eicca helped with backing vocals. Having seen the band as far back as 2005 when they didn’t have a drummer, let alone, they left the singing to a guest vocalist, it’s still weird for me to see Perttu and Eicca singing. However, they do add a more rounded sound to the vocals.
Franky left the stage and Eicca asked, “Do we have any metal people in the house?” After some cheers from the crowd, he asked again while yelling, “Are you ready for metal? Are you ready for metal?” A little over a minute into Inquisition Symphony (Sepultura cover), with its low rumblings and vibrations, the song kicked in and I noticed Mikko tilt his head back to spit liquid above his head while at the same time hitting the beat on his drums. With the way the lights were on him, it made for a really cool visual. Not only was this song heavy and intense, there was a lot of head banging. How often do you see classically trained cellists, who also happen to like heavy metal, head bang while playing? They also played very fast. So much so, that I don’t know how they were not destroying their bows. Towards the end of the song, Perttu laid down his cello, got down on his knees and aggressively played with both his bow and his other hand. Eventually he got up on one knee and bit down on his strings, instead of using his hand to hold them down, and continued to play using his bow. By the end of the song, he was laughing over his antics.
Mikko left the stage and crew brought out chairs for Perttu, Eicca and Paavo although Perttu chose to stand. Eicca mentioned that next year was the 20th anniversary of their Plays Metalllica by Four Cello album prior to playing Unforgiven. This is such a beautiful song to hear on cello and the crowd sang along to the chorus. Before the next song, Eicca briefly stood up to speak to the crowd. He talked about that first album and the first two shows they played back in the beginning with Metallica and how they’ve done some other stuff with them since. He even mentioned the Metallica 30th anniversary shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco, CA [December 2011] and commented on playing the next song with the band. Now, as someone who was there to witness that, I can tell you it was a very moving and emotional song, especially to have James singing alone with only Apocalyptica on stage up until the last verses when the song kicked into overdrive and the rest of Metallica joined in. That night in Milwaukee, Perttu, Eicca and Paavo started off the song alone on stage. Perttu started plucking his strings, which gives off an entirely different sound vs just using the bow, before Eicca was gliding his bow across the strings of his cello to further accent the Metallica song most people can easily recognize as Paavo came in playing the lower notes in unison. The song was One. Prior to the fast heavy part before the last verses, Mikko came out and played drums to add to the intensity of the song. Eventually, Eicca also stood up, the crowd started clapping and Perttu started mouthing the lyrics, “Darkness, imprisoning me, all that I see, absolute horror,” and continued singing along off mic through to the end of the song as those in the crowd sang along with them. With Mikko still on stage, they played another new song, Till Death Do Us Part, and Paavo’s deep bass intro was chilling. As they continued to play, there was a light happy moment during the song, and it felt like someone should be ballroom dancing, but Paavo pretended to skip and twirl around as if he was dancing with his cello, laughing of course. These guys are a lot of fun to watch. Their expressions and antics go from serious, to funny, back to serious, to intense head banging, to joking around, back to to intense.
Everyone left the stage and Perttu came out to talk to the crowd. He commented on the venue and how it had a great spirit about it. He talked about how much he liked Art of Dying and wanted to bring them along to share with everyone. He talked about the meaning of the last song they played, Till Death Do Us Part, and that it was a song swearing to each other that they were going to do this until the end. He said, “You will have to drag us off the stage.” He then started to introduce the band members. First was Paavo who did a cartwheel across the stage, then Mikki who he introduced as the man in white and referred to him as being a swan. He walked onto the stage and did a summersault. When talking about himself, he said, “I make nasty and beautiful noises,” and lastly he introduced Eicca and Franky. They played the title track of their new album, Shadowmaker, with Franky on lead vocals and Eicca helping with backing vocals. This song floats between mid-tempo and chaotic. During an instrumental part in the song, Perttu, Eicca and Paavo were all center stage facing the crowd while playing before they turned around and played close to and facing Mikko’s drum kit. The song, with its very ominous ending included screaming vocals from Franky. The interaction these guys have on stage is pretty cool. They all moved around, whether it was to interact with each other or the crowd. Paavo is also very animated when he plays. While he doesn’t sing backing vocals, he does sing along, and reacts to the crowd. He also appeared to have the job of getting the crowd amped up at the right times druring the show by motioning for them to clap along or cheer loudly.
Eicca spoke to the crowd with his deep heavy accent saying the best part of day was to see a full house of smiling people. He asked if everyone wanted one more. Of course they did. The crowd clapped along without being prompted to Seek and Destroy. At one point, Eicca faced Mikko, grabbed a stick and while holding on to his cello with one hand, began to head bang while basically beating the crap out of Mikko’s cymbals along to the beat with the other hand. He eventually tossed it into the crowd mid-song and continued to play. At one point Eicca and Paavo were center stage with a small gap between then when all of a sudden, Perttu ran over to the open spot, crouched down and with a sly smile played his solo parts. I’m telling you, these guys have a great time on stage. As the band continued to play, Perttu pointed to the crowd, put his bow in his mouth and showed his appreciation by forming his hands in the shape of a heart. As the crowd started to sing, “searching, seek and destroy,” Eicca got on the mic and sang along too. He even got the crowd to sing the music parts like James Hetfield does, “whoa-whoa-whoa,” and they helped out. Even though the cellos are larger than most instruments in the rock world, the were pretty beat up. No doubt from the aggressive playing style not to mention, there were times they dragged their cellos around the stage or lifted them over their heads. The band took a bow and left the stage. But, the show wasn’t over yet. The crowd started chanting, “One more song!” and almost immediately they all came back out. The encore consisted of songs with Franky singing. I Don’t Care, originally with lead vocals by Adam Gontier, and another new song, the haunting Dead Man’s Eyes. If you don’t already own Shadowmaker, run out and buy it or download it. You won’t be disappointed. The band gathered on the stage, and exchanged hugs before saying good night to the crowd, ending with a final bow. Once they left the stage, Perttu came back out and took a video pan of the crowd.
No matter how many times I’ve seen Apocalyptica, I’m still amazed by their performance. Watching them play cellos in a sometimes unconventional way, producing amazing sounds and tones from string instruments not commonly seen in hard rock and heavy metal, well, you just need to check it out for yourself. Trust me, you won’t regret it and I guarantee you have not seen any other band like them. Classically trained cellists who like heavy metal music? I mean, come on. This is a no brainer. I really hope they do something special for the 20th anniversary of their first album next year or at least, make another trip to the United States. Oh and on my way home I saw a personalized license plate. Whoever is driving around with APO FAN, you rock!