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author AP date 18/03/18 venue DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen, DEN

When it comes to uniqueness, few other artists within the realm of heavy music can stand up to cello metal act Apocalyptica, and as such, watching them live tends to feel pretty special. But this was to be taken to the next level when the Helsinki, Finland-born quintet announced a lengthy world tour celebrating the 20th Anniversary of their 1996 début album, “Plays Metallica by Four Cellos”, which, as its title suggests, comprises some of Metallica’s greatest hits transcribed for the cello — a tour, which has been underway for the past two years and which finally arrived on Danish soil on this cold March evening. And what better venue to host four cellists, metal-of-heart though they are, than DR Koncerthuset’s main symphony hall?

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen


The first thought that strikes me when the first part of the concert — an ‘acoustic’ set featuring only the four cellists — begins is how heavy those instruments can sound when applied to songs like the opening duo, “Enter Sandman” and “Master of Puppets”. It is also remarkable how faithful the band’s interpretations of them actually are; were it not for the absence of drummer Mikko Siren during this first set, one could be tempted to be so cheeky as to suggest that the tracks sound even better than when played by Metallica. There is even no need for the gruff vocals of James Hetfield, as one of the four musicians is always charged with miming his vocal melodies and, seated though it may be, the audience is extremely keen to lend its collective voice to most of the songs. But in spite of the awe that Apocalyptica’s penchant for regenerating the heavy riffs and shredded solos in classics such as “Sad But True” and “Creeping Death” inspires, it is without a doubt the likes of “The Unforgiven” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, with their more grandiose composition, that work best in the context of the band’s uniform arsenal. The delivery of the former in particular is so beautiful and emotive it night brings tears to my eyes.

But while the translation of Metallica’s music into Apocalyptica’s quasi-orchestral style alone has the audience in thrall, it would be an injustice not to talk about the other aspects that make the group’s performance so special. The visual setup, for instance, is quite elegant, in that each cellist is framed by his own rectangular backdrop animated with the shifting colour and luminosity of the lighting, so that he looks as though the subject of a moving Renaissance portrait. And ’moving’ is key here, as even though the four musicians remain seated for most of the first set, the way in which they handle their instruments is very expressive and the manner with which Eicca Toppinen & Perttu Kivilaakso interact with the audience is lively and present. One never gets the impression that Apocalyptica is simply going through the motions or following a choreography which they repeat on every evening of this tour. Not only are the two full of energy, they also have a situational awareness that many artists often lack, recalling past concerts in Denmark and seeming genuinely awestruck by both the crowd and the venue.

The reason that the aforementioned Siren is not involved in the ‘acoustic’ part of the concert is that Apocalyptica wanted to perform “Plays Metallica by Four Cellos” exactly as it was originally recorded. But as the familiar opening segment from “Fade to Black” (another piece perfectly suited for cello) gives way to its legendary crescendo to announce the beginning of the second act, he finally appears on stage to man the strange-looking drumkit that has been rolled out during the intermission, and instantly, the show takes on a different character. With the exception of the more reserved Antero Manninen (who, according to Toppinen, “smiles upside down”), the band no longer contents to remain seated — Toppinen, Kivilaakso and lead cellist Paavo Lötjönen instead explode into action, headbanging, running around and often wielding their cellos like electric guitars. And when the time comes for “Seek & Destroy” to conclude the ordinary set, Toppinen can no longer hold himself back from grabbing his microphone and roaring the words together with the audience in euphoria.

Before that, however, Apocalyptica delivers what Metallica rarely does anymore: a number of songs that are off the beaten path, so to speak. The quintet’s take on “Fight Fire with Fire” is pure seething rage — how Metallica must have sounded in the early stage of its career — while “Escape” — the first song by Metallica that Apocalyptica ever attempted — probably represents the first time that anyone in attendance tonight has heard a version of it played live. But just as it was during the first part of the concert, it is the more ambitious compositions like “Until It Sleeps” and “Orion” (now with extra oomph from Siren’s drumming) that produce those spine-tingling moments that separate the wolves from the sheep. Just imagine if Metallica and Apocalyptica elected to collaborate over these songs one day, so as to truly realise their orchestral potential — only that would be more epic than hearing the encore tracks “Nothing Else Matters” and “One” reproduced in full faith by Apocalyptica in the exquisite confines of this symphony hall. I am thus quite confident in asserting that I am not alone in leaving the venue feeling like I’ve just watched one of the best Metallica concerts of my life.



— Acoustic —

— With drums —

— Encore —

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