Apocalyptica: Worlds Collide

CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart

I'll get a confession out of the way so we can get down to business: I have played the cello since I was seven years old, and I'm damn proud of it. This wasn't always the case; when I was delving into extreme music genres and making horrendous electronic noise-rock in my misspent young adulthood, the cello didn't seem attuned (so to speak) to my sense of musical expression anymore. But I've come back around to the realization that the cello kicks ass. Therefore it didn't require a major reach of the imagination for me to grasp the concept of Cello Metal. Not as a mere novelty, but as a distinct musical subgenre in itself.

It's a small niche, really... very small. In fact, I'm betting there's only three guys in it, and they're all in this band. So I'm going to tell you a little bit about them... and you will show the proper respect. Seriously. These guys bring down Thor's mighty thunder in ways that would make would-be metal masters weep and shuffle back to their various garages and basements, never to see that heavenly light again... and there isn't a guitar anywhere to be seen. Or a bass, or a keyboard, for that matter.

Okay, so they do have a regular drummer (now), but that's beside the point. These men have taken a concept that couldn't possibly be anything but a joke ? a cello trio doing covers of Metallica and other metal icons with totally straight faces ? and managed to stamp their names deeply into the international metal scene, garnering respect and admiration from even the most judgmental metalheads... and damn, can those folks be picky. As their popularity grew, they mostly eschewed the covers and finally released a self-titled album of their own material, and there was no turning back (although they still perform the cover songs in concert). Each release was distinguished by impeccable timing and arrangements, subtle layering, delicate leads and lightning-speed tremolo riffs that could easily put an eye out if anyone's bow hand slipped. All of it is packaged in elegant and epic-sized production that made a handful of skinny Finns sound like Titans walking the earth wielding swords of granite.

For Worlds Collide ? the latest release in their eleven-year career ? the band opts for a leaner, more concentrated approach rather than the mammoth soundscape of its predecessors, resulting in a rough, aggressive edge which in turn feels more intimate and direct. As in past releases, many guests are invited to play in the boys' demonic sandbox: instrumentalists like Slayer skin-master Dave Lombardo and Japanese guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei; vocalists including Slipknot's Corey Taylor, Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia, Adam Gontier of Three Days' Grace, and even Rammstein vocalist Till Lindemann.

The eerie, panning strains that open the title track signal the creeping menace that awaits, and the tone is set perfectly, unassuming and pensive... until those sledgehammer riffs come crashing down. That's just how these dudes roll ? in waves of light and darkness. ?Grace? features Hotei's fine solo guitar, but not once does it call undue attention to the differences in instrumentation at work: in fact, it helps to reinstate just how perfectly metal a cello can be with the right artist in control, even with a brilliant guitarist in the room.

The album's first single ?I'm Not Jesus? features Taylor on vocals, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the result here. I'm so-so when it comes to Slipknot, but I've always appreciated the pained intensity of Taylor's voice, and it sits well among the warm, dark tones brought forth by the band. Very intense, with good harmonies and creepy lead lines, making it a standout on the album and one of the band's best.

The mid-tempo instrumental ?Ion? drives pure and hard, with some creepy harmonic effects, lowering the tone to lead into the next vocal track: a cover of David Bowie's ?Heroes? in German, rendered with bestial sincerity by Lindemann. It's a strange piece, but oddly enough its a rather good fit (not surprising, considering Rammstein chose Apocalyptica to open for them on tour), similar in spirit to some of Rammstein's moodier ballads... but in the end it's a bit too melancholy, making Bowie's breathlessly hopeful lyrics seem, well, depressing.

?Stroke? is another instrumental to incorporate truly creepy effects ? making you forget that you are listening to vintage bowed string instruments until the elegant lead lines come in. Not to mention the gut-punching bass, which again comes from the very same place. ?Last Hope? turns the beat over to Lombardo, who tears the place apart as only he can, but the band matches his ultra-tight, blistering rhythms beat for beat.

?I Don't Care,? with vocals by Gontier, is one of the few spots where the album stumbles a bit. It's not a poor song, but it's one of their least interesting; Gontier's vocal style just isn't an ideal fit for this unit, and feels like it's laying on top, instead of interwoven into the context of the instruments. The same could also be said of Scabbia's turn, ?S.O.S. (Anything But Love),? which is undeniably pretty, but lacks conviction and bite.

But soon we're back to the good stuff: ?Burn? is another standout instrumental ? this time liberated from most of the atmospheric effects, rendering it raw, rough and real, with a pure, crying lead that darkens and deepens into anger as the song progresses, only to restate the theme in a three-part harmony that is sure to raise goosebumps. Definitely the best track on this album, and one of their finest overall. ?Peace? ends the journey on a mellow, low-tempo coda with some surprising pitch-bends and a tense pizzicato finale.

Classic and modern, brutal yet tender and angelically evil, Apocalyptica earn their name by bringing theoretical opposites of music together with hell-raising results, and they continue to execute their diabolical magic with fresh energy and creativity through each new release. You owe it to yourself to enter their world; for the uninitiated this album would be an ideal starting point. And those of you who already know what this band is capable of, you should already own this one. If not, what the hell are you waiting for?