Finnish fans of classical music and heavy cellos have recently been enjoying Apocalyptica’s local tour featuring the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra. The show on March 11th, 2014, at Tampere-talo, Tampere, brought in crowds of all sorts, from the heavy metallers to classy older folks looking to hear some unique orchestral music. This was a great opportunity for new and old listeners alike to experience something different from an already one-of-a-kind band!
Before the show got underway, the stage was dark and uncovered, with echoing noises playing. The orchestra’s seating was arranged in a semi-circle around the back of the stage, with percussion in the center behind Mikko Sirén’s drum kit. When the orchestra came on stage, the strings and woodwinds made their way to stage right, and the brass instruments took stage left. The orchestra made their way to the stage two minutes before showtime, and the strings took a brief moment to tune before everything went silent. After a bit of time, some red laser beam-style lights began flashing on and off to some ominous sounds for a time before simmering down. When the strings began to play, the lights switched to a softer blue, and they were soon joined by some woodwinds. Each part of the orchestra was given a turn, with the flutes and percussion following, the strings rejoining, and then the French horns as well. The piano made an appearance and then the brass followed suit. Everything reverted back to the strings and flutes before the band made their appearance to some dramatic lighting, with Paavo Lötjönen plucking and Perttu Kivilaakso radically sawing at his cello on the ground. It was a phenomenally bombastic start to a show, with just as much drama and theatrics as you would hope to see from Apocalyptica backed by an orchestra.
The song selection was almost entirely Apocalyptica songs (with a few exceptions that I’ll get to later), rearranged to allow for the orchestra to have a backing or leading part in the performance. Peace had a single violinist playing solo in the beginning before the rest joined in, and the orchestra added a very gentle start before kicking off into the heaviness. Perttu played “lead cello” while Paavo plucked and Eicca Toppinen did what I suppose is the rhythm. Many of the songs showcased just how heavy and powerful an orchestra can sound when given the opportunity. However, there were a few songs, such as “Birth Pain” (a song that came from their Wagner Reloaded album from late 2013) that were very soft and gentle. The band provided the intro to this song, and was joined by strings and woodwinds after a minute or so. The cellos offered a dark, deep contrast to the higher sound of the strings, and the percussion was incredibly delicate (the drums were absent). This song was a great contrast to “Worlds Collide,” which came after the intermission, and had a rather face-melting orchestral backing that made this version considerably more powerful than the album’s.
Each song really was, in its own way, a re-imagining of the original. There was something new and exciting in each piece they performed, and one of the best examples of this was “Path.” During the second verse, Perttu played a different version of the music which sounded perhaps a bit closer to the vocal line of “Path II” rather than the album version. It’s really nice to see a band unafraid to stray from the recordings during a live performance, and “Path” in particular was easily one of the best songs of the night, with some of the most powerful orchestration and general intensity mixed into a song that was already amazing in its original incarnation.
The whole show was, in general, an interesting mix of sounds. The second song performed, for example, was less orchestra-centric than the first and sounded more like Apocalyptica with Avanti! as their accompaniment rather than two separate bands performing on equal standing. However, some songs focused more heavily on the orchestra, and there was even some classical music thrown into the mix. I recognized one song intro that was performed by Avanti! to be “Boccherini’s Minuet.” The orchestra’s sound quality was top-notch as well. The violins were sharp as knives, the percussion was grand, and the woodwinds were soft and subtle. The brass was not nearly noticeable as the strings throughout the show, but had a deeper sound; they didn’t stand out on their own, but if you sat back and listened to everything as a whole rather than focusing on specific sounds, you could hear exactly how nicely they were emphasizing everything else.
I had seen Apocalyptica three times prior to this show and I’ll make note here that whoever does their lighting is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Even indoor festival shows haven’t held back. On this occasion, however, saying that the lighting was good doesn’t cut it. Whoever did the lights for this show put as much effort into it as the musicians did in combining metal and classical music. It was nothing short of art.
Eicca did the majority of the talking from time to time between songs, greeting the crowd, thanking them for coming to the show, announcing the availability of coffee and pulla (sweet buns) during the intermission, and occasionally announcing which song would come next. However, toward the end, Perttu came out to announce that, “Tonight we are the Apocavanti heavy chamber metal orchestra!” and introduced the rest of the band before throwing the mic across the stage and encouraging the crowd to make some noise. He was also the only one of the three to take his shirt off during the show. He often seems either on or off during Apocalyptica’s shows, and on this occasion he was definitely on. He and Paavo are both a bit goofy from time to time, though in different ways.
The whole performance was very tight, right up to the encore. For the first song after the call-back, Apocalyptica played their version of “Nothing Else Matters” (a Metallica song) without the orchestra’s accompaniment. However, following that, Avanti! played “I Don’t Care,” a song that usually features a guest singer, for the most part by themselves – Apocalyptica only joined in for the last minute or so. And naturally, to finish off, Eicca announced a little song by Edvard Grieg, a fan-favorite, the high-energy and loud-shredding “Hall of the Mountain King” (with a longer intro than normal, which I assume was from other Peer Gynt songs).
For fans that have seen Apocalyptica countless times, this was definitely a must-see show. While these guys always make sure to change things up (such as bringing in new guest vocalists to perform on their vocal tracks), this was another big jump forward. Every single song on their set was new and exciting and the arranging and performance was crystal clean. The sound quality in the venue was wonderful as well (although it was too loud to go without earplugs, but just a bit too soft to keep them in). While some may consider that it’s not as fun to see a metal show in a seated venue, I’d argue that this was worth it without question. Everything about the show felt new and fresh, from the look and sound right up to the performance itself. This was a show you did not want to miss!
Be sure to check out the fan-filmed footage from RainbowDemon (more on the YouTube page):
Text: Amy Wiseman