Apocalyptica – Cell-O (2020)

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This Finnish quartet are noted for their collaborations with the likes of Metallica and Rammstein, boldly welding classical music to metal.

This is their 9th album and first fully instrumental album in 17 years. It is their first in 5 years and is self-produced. It would stand to reason then that their time away from their work has energised and reinvigorated them. Spoiler alert – it has indeed – this is an opus of exceptional musicality and inspirational story telling. This album is not one of singles, but rather, an ebbing and flowing experience that calls out to be enjoyed from start to finish.

“Ashes of the Modern World” rose low and slow, an appropriate start to this musical journey. It had a moody and ominous tone, with percussion woven in to enhance and enrich the sound. There was an unhurried slowness, with scream-like sounds in the background, accompanied by the tones of sirens and backed by military percussion. All through the track there was a blending of melody and melodrama. The pace then became more urgent, tight with dramatic intensity. The track ebbed and flowed, lending an ethereal tone across this gothic journey.

“Cell-O” weighed in at 10 minutes in duration. It opened in a staccato, machine-like manner and was unhurried as it established the landscape of this work. It then scurried forward with a deepening complexity of sound, with the cellos much more obvious. With that title: funny that… It shifted gears between paces and depths effortlessly. There was a deeper tone that reminded me of the presence of a protagonist. Pizzicato (the plucking of strings) was used very obviously and this added another richness to the offering. The track then abruptly morphed into a much more muscular form – I flinched at the sudden sound! This was track of light and dark, of highs and lows, of many different moods and emotions. The ending then reminded me of echoing UFOs…

“Rise” came to the surface with an achingly beautiful and discreet opening. It had a heartfelt longing and it was as if the instruments were speaking. I really enjoyed the way that the percussion was used, a subtle element to which the others were anchored. It built slowly, with the percussion becoming more obvious, before becoming intricately complex.

“En Route to Mayhem” was a roadmap for building tension. It opened with a subtle siren in the background, a counterpoint to the sound that was simplicity itself, albeit a slightly dischordant one. This was a herald for the madness that was to follow. Technically brilliant playing morphed into a metal inspired bombardment of head-banging encouraging sound. This then evolved further into thrash metal, but this was a cultured cacophony. It then transformed into an anthemic sound, before fading into organic auditory textures. Holy moly…

“Call My Name” made use of some keyboard elements and the percussion was again more obvious. It was sanguine in feeling, but there was also an element of positivity. The strings were less apparent, present to enrich without being front and centre. This shift in sound was appreciated. It was oddly resonant and followed the pattern used in some of the previous tacks, rising in complexity before stepping back into poignancy.

“Fire & Ice” had me expecting a dichotomy of sound, given its title and it didn’t disappoint. It began slowly and soulfully with pipes that gave it another character. A monk-like murmuring loitered in the background and I was struck by the layers in this track. It’s initial melody remained, but it stepped up another notch, with staccato percussion added. It then thrust forward, becoming magnificently complex, before slowing and signing off with a subtle sweetness.

“Scream for the Silent” opened slowly and poignantly, but that didn’t last long, before becoming more robust and powerful. The track shifted gears effortlessly and as it progressed, it stripped back into core elements, before it utilised a more intense, wah-driven sound, before the track slid back into the ether. This track was characterised by many beguiling contradictions.

“Catharsis” soothed my soul with a slow and calm opening, a cleansing of my musical palate, apropos of the title. It was moving and a little bit more restrained, whilst keeping the kaleidoscopic character of this work.

“Beyond the Stars” opened with more pizzicato and a pared back sound. It quickly developed into something more intense, including organic themes and insect-like sounds, before rollicking even further forward. There were many facets to this track, from melodic and simple to complex and metal inspired. It’s many elements and phases left me in awe of the flexibility and complexity of this music. I’m coining a new phrase: comflexity. Some narration towards the end came as a shock, before the track rang out.

This album is a masterpiece. When the bold innovate, they create the previously unimaginable and this is an example. It’s a fusion, a melting pot of elements, drawing the best together in intriguing ways.

The addition of keyboards and bass guitar added respectfully and deeply to the sound that we have come to expect. It was short on words, but heavy on intense emotions. Every track was of high quality and they provided a discreetly enjoyable experience that combined to give the total work a rare synergy of sound that transcended conventional classical music styles and techniques. It flowed from start to finish with a single minded, sentient need to explore and create. On more than one occasion, the instruments seemed to speak.

Listening to work such as this requires a different mindset, a suspension or preconceptions and discriminations.

Which leaves me with the unenviable task of trying to describe it…

Imagine that you are in your preferred viewing room, there are no distractions, you have turned the lights down, poured a beverage and gotten comfortable. You’ve put the the TV on and have mashed up the movies “Flash Gordon”, “The Muppets”, “Love Actually”, “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “Joker” and “Labyrinth” in a way that WORKS.

Not feeling it?

I had the fortune of driving a Bentley sports something or other once. It was at once bold and understated. I didn’t know if I liked it’s appearance, but understood that beauty would be in the eyes of the beholder. It fused sport and and luxury, all at once feeling fast, bold, comfortable and refined. At times it purred and at others it roared and it shifted gears between these guises effortlessly. It was a juxtaposition of old and new, the traditional and the innovative.

All too soon the ride was over.

But, it left me breathless and somehow changed.

Like this album.

9/10

Greg Noble.

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