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One of the leader of the classical melodic metal scene, Apocalyptica is back to its first love with a purely instrumental album presented by Perttu Kivilaakso for Music Waves.
DARIALYS - 03.01.2020 - 4 picture(s) - (0) comment(s)
Apocalyptica may have single-handedly created a new genre: classic melodic metal, if one validates the use of this term. In any case, the Finns were the forerunners of the introduction of classical music instruments when they released their first album, "Plays Metallica By Four Cellos", an album of covers of Metallica by four cellos, in 1996. Almost 25 years later, the musicians made a comeback with a new, purely instrumental album, "Cell-0". Perttu Kivilaakso, one of the three cellists in the group, agreed to meet with Music Waves to discuss the release of this new album.

The last time we saw each other was in 2013! It's been 4 years since your last album "Shadowmaker" was released (2015). Why such a wait when the music industry imposes short deadlines so that the public doesn't go elsewhere?

Perttu Kivilaakso: During these 4 years, we played about 500 concerts. With "Shadowmaker", we toured for 2 years all over the world. We wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of our first album, but there was a small incident. We were supposed to do a tour of this album, "Plays Metallica By Four Cellos" (an album where all the tracks are covers of Metallica, as its name indicates, editor's note). We were supposed to play about thirty concerts in Europe, mostly in the capitals. But people went mad when we announced it. They wanted us to come and play in the States and all over the world. Our fans were very excited. We ended up playing 230 shows! We just finished two weeks ago! Those were the last shows. Basically, since the release of "Shadowmaker", we've been touring constantly. It's only in the spring that we had 5 months of rest where we took the opportunity to compose this new album ("Cell-0", editor's note). We stopped longer than we'd planned. It was also very exciting to come back to fully instrumental concerts. We realised that this band was really good just in instrumental version.

So it's this last tour that made you go back to your roots and release a new fully instrumental album?

Perttu: Absolutely, yes. Even if we were just playing Metallica songs, we realized on stage that that's how we started. That's the core of our music, the cello. We always wanted to challenge ourselves and develop new things. We started with four cellos, and then we started adding rhythmic elements. We added drums and vocals and more vocals. Each of these new steps was very exciting for us. We tried to find new ways to compose. We became allergic to repeating ourselves. Today, the next evolution seemed to take us back to what we were doing before. We chose to refocus on the cello. That led us to make certain decisions. For example, we produced the album ourselves. We didn't want anyone to give us any feedback on the album. Without a label to release this album, the four of us were able to get together and regain a certain freedom. We didn't have to think about doing songs in radio format, or worry about the length of the songs, or respect a certain structure. We played the music we wanted to play. So I think there are more elements of progressive music in this album compared to the previous albums.

The cover represents a cello that's falling apart. Does this album close a chapter or does it open another one for Apocalyptica?

Perttu: I hope it opens many new chapters! Anyway, since we're going back to our roots, it seemed obvious to us to put the cello in front on the cover. The zero is quite hypothetical and hard to imagine, a bit like God. A lot of people are worried about the state of the world right now. So do we, and we wanted to create this music to create a cinematic side and an atmosphere in which the listener can immerse himself. When you listen to 'Ashes Of The Modern World', you feel like you are in a dark atmosphere. I hope it will create movies in people's minds.

And that's one of our questions. There's a very cinematic side to it, especially on 'Fire & Ice' which is a bipolar track, with a very bright beginning with Celtic sounds, and a schizophrenic second part that can remind you of Dream Theater. You said it was your most progressive album, and it is. Is there a struggle between man and nature on this album?

Perttu: Yes, we feel it. I started to realise that I was very worried about certain things, but what were my actions concretely to make this world a more beautiful place? It all started from my anxiety, and we wanted that to show on this album. Humanity is incredible when it comes to building something, but we are capable of destroying even more easily. Like that, the songs burst into pieces at times. We wanted to take a philosophical look at what man builds and what he destroys.

Musically speaking, you kept digging your approach. It sounds like classic progressive metal.

Perttu: I don't know. Anyway, it's an incredible chance to write songs with twists and turns, like the song 'Fire & Ice' that you rightly mentioned. The song actually starts with a medieval and celtic side. That's why we asked Troy Donockley from Nightwish to come and play the Irish bagpipes so that this authentic Celtic side really shows through. It promises something very beautiful, and then it ends on something chaotic. I like that very much, this schizophrenic, or lunatic side. That's also where you get the most complex riffs we've ever played. It's going to be very hard to play on stage.

On the other hand, your songs, like 'Catharsis', are very beautiful, and carry a message of hope. Do you think music is a catharsis that heals pain?

Perttu: At best, yes. Instrumental music is exciting because the listener sees the message of his or her choice inside. That's why we don't really want to reveal the exact story behind our songs. For me, the album is a journey from a starting point, 'Ashes Of The Modern World', where everything has been burned by man. There are a lot of twists and turns in the album, like on 'Rise' which gives a first glimpse of hope. There's a balance. One of the most important moments for me comes from the melody and the message of 'Beyond The Stars', the last song. It brings a conclusion to this album. This song is a kind of farewell for humanity, as if we were sending this message out into the universe. Even when we're long gone, there will be a trace of us showing who mankind was, and that we screwed up! (Laughs).

You told us that you toured for the 20 years of your first album, and that it made you want to make an instrumental album again. Do you feel you were under some kind of pressure from people who didn't approve of your formula with vocals?

Perttu: It's hard to say! I know we've got fans who've never liked the fact that we put vocals on our songs. But on the other hand, there are some fans who only like those songs - and I understand that too! (Laughs). It's impossible to find a compromise that satisfies everyone. So we focus on ourselves and on who we are when it comes to releasing an album. "Shadowmaker" was an album where the vocals were very important. We wrote the album in that sense because before this album, we only had one singer. We wanted to introduce several voices on the same album. But with this new tour, it really gave us the confidence to have only cello on this album. Of course, we will do other songs with vocals and there will be a singer with us on the next tour. I think it's good to make separate albums nowadays in the music world. It allows us to concentrate fully.

Are you aware that you're taking a risk with this album? Since the beginning of Apocalyptica, you have evolved. From an instrumental group, you incorporated vocals with several singers, then you evolved with only one singer. Nowadays, some fans might say you lack inspiration, which explains this return to your roots and your original recipe. Not to mention the fact that this album is harder to access without vocals. You really have to immerse yourself in listening to it to appreciate it, which isn't really the way music is conceived or listened to these days.

Perttu: Of course. Of course a lot of people will think that. But on the other hand, there are people who will think "well, they're back!". I've heard a lot of encouraging comments following the publication of our first songs on the Internet. Some of our most loyal fans are going to be happy, but as I said, it's impossible to satisfy everybody... For us, this album has been the biggest challenge we've ever had to face. Writing an hour of music without words, without vocals... It's a real challenge. I like the fact that listening is not that easy. That's something we were aiming for. If you like this album from the first listening, it will be amazing because it's a music you have to come back to to appreciate it at its true value.


I really like what you're saying because the two albums I like the most are albums that I hated the first time I listened to them. They're Pain Of Salvation and Opeth albums, because they played music I didn't expect. But when you listen again and again, you discover things you didn't notice the previous times. So I understand that you were aiming for that! You don't want to give something too obvious to your fans. You want to give them something new. How do you manage to take up this challenge?

Perttu: You have to feel free to compose. You don't restrict yourself. We don't try to make 3'30 songs to get on the radio. We're free to do what we want. You can add synths, add completely weird effects... I've never felt as good as I do today when it comes to writing because I don't listen to other people's opinions!

And you're lucky enough to have been able to release this album without a label.

Perttu: Yes, totally. I hope it's an album that will get better with every listening.

Today, we're in a "Mc Donald's" conception of music with Deezer and Spotify where you listen to a song, then you zap and forget it. We make playlists... But you don't really fit into these criteria. Isn't it hard for Apocalyptica to live in a world that works like that?

Perttu: I think it's a shame that all this takes precedence over the quality of the music. Of course, you have to assess the risk of an album like that. Potentially, it's possible that no one will listen to our music, but people can also listen to this album. If that's the music we like right now, we have to stay true to ourselves. Hopefully that will please the listeners!

I guess you're right. This album is called "Cell-0", and it's a kind of play on words between "cello", the cello, but also "cell", prison, and the number zero. Should we see in this title the feeling and the message that you are somehow prisoners of the project you created?

Perttu: In this world, everyone is somehow a prisoner of the image he has to send back to others, that's for sure! That's what makes it difficult to do what you really want.

Is that your biggest challenge?

Perttu: It's one of our biggest challenges, that's for sure! In any case, we've released an album that's very much like us. We've already produced it ourselves, and we didn't want to hear people's opinions, even though we've worked with exceptional producers and incredible people. We learned a lot from them, but this time we wanted to be the only ones to have our say. "Cell-0", for us, is also the ingredient that man lacks to be better. We treat the planet, the animals, and ourselves so badly! I hope this will make the listener wonder what we've been trying to say through our music. As far as I'm concerned, a lot of the songs we write stem from the anxiety I feel.

You've toured a lot. It's not necessarily good for people. It's still good for the planet, because the planet will live on after us. Are you aware of that?

Perttu: Of course. Taking planes, driving constantly, it generates pollution. It's dramatic, but we can't do otherwise. We destroy everything anyway.

We're all concerned by this, but what's the solution?

Perttu: That's it. If we're fatalistic, we're going to tell ourselves that we can't stop it.

And the lobbies on their side want us to continue to consume gasoline and so on and so forth. There are other solutions, though. We could drive cars with hydrogen, for example!

Perttu: Of course, and I hope we'll be able to find solutions at that level. The album says that if we don't change the course of things, everything will be reduced to ashes sooner than we think. We'll probably end up destroying ourselves, but in the meantime, we have to live as best we can.

Tarja Turunen has been playing the cello in her band Nightwish for several albums. Do you consider this as a recognition from her towards you?

Perttu: Well... Tarja plays with Max (Lilja, editor's note), one of our former cellists of the time. Apocalyptica was one of the first groups to use the cello in this way, so there may be some influence.

And how do you experience the influence you may have had on the creation of formations such as 2Cellos or Symfomania? You changed a lot of things on the metal scene!

Perttu: It's hard to think like that yourself. Anyway, one of the best rewards you can have is to meet young people who say they started playing cello thanks to us! It's very pleasing. It's incredible if you can encourage people to play and practice! Different" instruments are more accepted in the music world today than ever before. That's great, because when I was a kid, it was almost a shame to bring a cello to school. It's one of the things I hated the most because kids who were older used to make fun of me because of it. I was considered to be uptight. As time went by, I saw those people again who had ended up thinking I was cool! (Laughs).

What do you expect from this new album? After 20 years of career, do you still have expectations when you release albums?

Perttu: Right now I'm very excited about playing these new songs live on stage! I can't wait to see what it's going to sound like and how people will welcome them. I don't have any expectations in terms of sales because it's too hard to know what to expect. It may not sell at all because we don't have a great single that's going to take it all! (Laughs). We make the music we like, we want to offer it to our audience. Next year, we're going to tour a lot again. I hope the next album will be released much earlier than this one.

Isn't it difficult to make touring and private life coincide?

Perttu: Sometimes it is.

Do you have children?

Perttu: I don't, but others do. But I'm married and I have a dog. I'm lucky to have a very understanding wife. Sometimes I don't feel like being away from home for long periods of time, but she encourages me! But at the moment we're on a good creative footing right now, so I hope we'll continue to write new songs as early as next year! We like to offer new songs to our audience on a regular basis. I think the spirit in the band has never been better than it is now, and that's a real achievement.

To stay on your tour, do you plan to play in Paris?

Perttu: Yes, I don't remember the date, but we're touring with Sabaton next year, the warrior metal band from Sweden! We've got a big tour through Europe in autumn, so we're planning to go to Paris, of course.

Thanks a lot!

Perttu: Thank you!

Thanks to Calgepo and Loloceltic for their contribution...

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