Two years ago Max Lilja proved that the cello could find a place among electronica with Plays Electronica By One Cello. Twenty years ago he proved that the cello had a place in the world of metal as one of the founding members of Apocalyptica. Lilja isn’t content with just showing how well the cello fits alongside other styles of music, though.
His second solo album Morphosis is here to show just how versatile the classical instrument is. The title of the album says it all.
Morphosis is defined as the manner in which an organism or any of its parts changes form or undergoes development. And that is what Lilja has done with the cello. Lilja wrote all the music on the cello, and experimented with a range of tunings to get the most out of the instrument. While some tracks maintain a classical approach, Lilja states that other times he “would completely reform the original cello sound.”
The experimentation can be heard throughout the entire record. Album opener “Revelation” eases the listener in with familiar territory as a cello laden with distortion takes control over softer classic cello tones and haunting samples to complete that metal feel that most associate with Lilja. The album may have started relatively safe and easy, but Lilja isn’t here to just do more of the same. “Silent Highway” shows the lighter side of the cello with a more classical, softer sound on a base of slow electronic pulses. The two tracks play off each other like two sides of a coin. One dark, heavy and brooding, the other light, beautiful and calming.
That is how Morphosis plays out. Each song shows a new way the cello can be played and the wide spectrum of sounds that can be achieved with this one instrument. “Flux” has an almost trip hop beat to it, as it highlights that the cello has a fun side, before delving into “Morphosis” where Lilja makes a return to that metal sound and really shows just how much a cello can rock.
“Black Lava” and “Unstoppable” pave the way for the lighter dance track “Machinery” only to then have “Lonely Blue” sneak up behind you with a knife and put a stop to the frivolity. The eerie track plays out like a soundtrack to a horror movie and turns the album’s mood on its head. The track itself is almost split into two parts: haunting build up to the chilling conclusion. Album closer, “Trench”, continues in this vein with over 8 minutes of mesmerising, atmospheric cello. Try as you might to do something else while listening to the track, it forces you to stop and listen. While it continues on the darker side, it remains rather light and not aggressive, allowing you to truly enjoy the music as it slowly fades out and you snap back into reality.
Lilja created something beautiful with his first solo record, and as the title of his second suggests, he has achieved evolution and growth of the cello that others wouldn’t dare try. Lilja is on a mission to get the absolute most out of the cello, and as he does so he is redefining the way many view the classical instrument.