It has been almost 20 years since Apocalyptica released their debut album Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. It was, as the title so obviously states, covers of Metallica songs arranged and played on the cello. It was fun. It was different. It showed how the metal and classical worlds could join forces so easily. And despite the talent of these Finnish cellists, many people regarded them as nothing more than a gimmick. Sadly, I think many people still do see them as a gimmick. That doesn’t really make sense to me, though. Would nothing but a gimmicky band have lasted two decades? No.
When I spoke to drummer Mikko Sirén earlier this year, he explained that “[Apocalyptica] wanted to change things. If you have a passion in your heart to change things, you can’t just change for the first five years and then you freeze in a moment and you don’t do anything new any more”, and with their ninth studio album, Shadowmaker, there is definitely a change. The biggest of which, is that instead of having a handful of guest vocalists on the album, Franky Perez (former Scars on Broadway) has joined the band on a two year trial period, as the sole vocalist on the album.
Having a single vocalist feature on Shadowmaker creates a consistency and flow that seemed to be missing from their previous albums. They feel more like a single band unit now. The cello was, and is, the main focal point of any Apocalyptica record, but when a single album has upwards of three guest vocalists, that focus shifts and doesn’t have anywhere to hold on to. I’m not saying that vocal tracks on previous records were bad, or that previous Apocalyptica albums weren’t good, but having Perez as the only vocalist on the record provides a better flow, and doesn’t let the focal point waver.
Perez’s voice also just seems to be a perfect fit among the cellos. In previous albums the cello sound seemed to get overshadowed by the guest vocalists, and ended up sounding like a regular rock/metal song. Perez’s voice however is different. Much like the cello, he has the ability to be gentle and emotional (“Dead Man’s Eyes), but also rough and heavy (“House of Chains”). His voice compliments the cello, while neither overshadow each other. I feel it’s the first time we get vocal tracks where the cello still sounds like a cello and not mimicking a guitar sound.
Apocalyptica does seem to be moving slightly away from their metal sound, and instead adopting a hard rock feel with Shadowmaker. This has probably a lot to do with Perez, his vocals are more hard rock than metal, and it is just another new thing Apocalyptica are trying. As already stated, it’s important to do new things and change it up a bit. Apocalyptica haven’t completely abandoned their metal sound, though. The instrumental tracks all have a distinct dark metal feel, and vocal tracks “Shadowmaker” and “House of Chains” are closer to the metal side of the spectrum. But it doesn’t end there, Apocalyptica even managed to add a little taste of funk and groove in instrumental track “Riot Lights”.
As an album, Shadowmaker is probably the most accessible. I think it would definitely be the album that draws in new fans, and that has a lot to do with the shift to include a welcoming hard rock sound, from the harsh metal sound of previous albums. And as for long time fans, Shadowmaker just shows them more of what these guys and their cellos are capable of.