Apocalyptica : 1 + 1 = 3

Logically, Apocalyptica’s seventh album is called The 7th Symphony. Logical, but still strange for a band that has been trying for years to detach themselves from the « symphonic metal » tag stuck to their name. This easy description, which arises simply from the presence of cellos, would have deeply the band at one time. Speaking of which, these cellos did not get unanimous support when the band released their first albums: people listened more out of curiosity than out of actual musical interest. Then, in 2005, the Finns revised their sound so they could interest people for what they do, and not for what they are. Like the previous one, this new album is full to the brim with guests (Dave Lombardo from Slayer, Joe Duplantier from Gojira…), which, for their fiercest detractors, can be seen as a marketing stunt, or a way to make mediocre songs sound better. For more moderate people, there’s still the question of the writing process. We wanted to know more and opened the debate. Mikko, the band’s drummer, is an honest and very agreeable character, who doesn’t hesitate to become full of praise when it comes to the work he’s proud of.

«The cellos are obviously the main instruments in the band, but we tried to distance ourselves from that a little. Kind of:“OK, we have cellos, but try to focus on the music we’re doing ».»

Radio Metal: What have been the consequences of the “intermission » show you gave during the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007?

Mikko Siren (drums): I don’t know if there have been any consequences. It was great fun to do the show. We didn’t take part in the competition, but we had the possibility to do a little act with all these circus artists. It was great fun to explore that, but I don’t know if there were any consequences.

The reason I’m asking this is because you played for an audience that isn’t necessarily used to metal. Maybe you gained fans that night!

Maybe, yeah. And it was fun to play for people who wouldn’t have listened to our music otherwise. It was a great opportunity. I don’t know how many fans we gained with that show, but the audience and the organization were very open about our music. They let us do something much more metal than what is normally allowed in this sort of circumstances.

The visual was almost as important as the music. Was it important for you to work on this aspect to sweeten the pill and make an aggressive song like “Worlds Collide » more recreational for the audience?

That was exactly one of the reasons why we got to fool around with the visuals. These people normally do the Cirque du Soleil thing, I loved them. The ballet dancers were just great. Combining these different elements that had nothing to do with one another was a really cool thing.

With your self-titled album in 2005, you managed to give your cellos a heavier sound, while never sounding like a guitar. Was it important for you to equal the power of a metal guitar without losing your identity?

The cellos are obviously the main instruments in the band, but we tried to distance ourselves from that a little. Kind of: “OK, we have cellos, but try to focus on the music we’re doing ». We went for really heavy distortions, but we didn’t try to make the cellos sound like guitars. We tried to be natural and organic. The thing with the cello is that it’s a very organic instrument, if you compare it to a guitar. If just wanted to maximize the power of the music.

From this perspective, what’s your opinion on the sound of the first albums?

I wasn’t part of the first albums, but I’m always telling the guys that I think the first albums are charming, because they’re honest and innocent. Of course sometimes it’s a little weak, but for many bands, the first album has some qualities that you can never get back afterwards. When people record a first album, they’re always so pure and innocent. When you listen back to The Police, that kind of bands, you can hear some unique things in their first albums. In Apocalyptica, for example, the solos were not always well-thought, and the musicians were just not as skilled, but it’s quite fun.

What do you think of very original bands, like Van Canto, who play a capella metal? It’s a very weird kind of music…

I like the words “original » and “weird »! I’m always happy when people are willing to explore and try out new things. Maybe it won’t turn out to be something super special, but people still try. And every now and again, something really cool comes out. Personally, I’m all for that kind of experience. I think folk music has tried a few weird things. When they did it, people might have thought it was not so cool; but then time passes by, and people realize that the band was so much ahead of their time.

Do you think it’s the fate of every “unusual » band to have to find compromises between originality and accessibility?

I wouldn’t make a rule. Of course, if you want to reach out to a larger audience, you have to make the music more accessible. Still, some bands managed to be extremely successful while being super original, like Radiohead or Börk. You have to respect that kind of things. Therefore, I encourage people to try out different things.

« I wasn’t part of the first albums, but I’m always telling the guys that I think the first albums are charming, because they’re honest and innocent. Of course sometimes it’s a little weak, but for many bands, the first album has some qualities that you can never get back afterwards. When people record a first album, they’re always so pure and innocent. When you listen back to The Police, that kind of bands, you can hear some unique things in their first albums.»
Let’s talk about the new album now. 7th Symphony is pretty much organized like Worlds Collide. “At The Gates Of Manala » seems to echo “Worlds Collide », “End Of Me »is a reminder of “I’m Not Jesus », “Not Strong Enough » sounds like “I Don’t Care ». The same goes for “Broken Pieces », which is the “SOS » of this album. Is this a coincidence, or is there a premeditate link between these two albums?

It’s a coincidence, I never even thought about it! But now that you mention it, there are some similarities. It’s not intentional, but the source of the music comes from within a band, and a band sometimes repeats itself. Maybe that’s the reason. It’s just the music we like to do. Some songs might sound like others, but for me, the opening track for this new album is way more connected to the Cult era, in 2000. Our feelings and inspiration came more from there. We tried to achieve the same brutal, unquestionable approach we had back then. Of course, “Worlds Collide » was one of the most progressive songs from the last album, but I don’t think it had half of the musicality we reached with “At The Gates Of Manala ».

So you have your gimmicks, like Rhapsody, who always open an album with a symphonic intro and always include a folk ballad?

Yeah, I think we like to open our albums in a certain way. But we don’t think about it, it’s totally unconscious. But I think that 7th Symphony has some songs that we have never done before. “Beautiful », for example, is a very classic piece. I don’t think we have ever recorded anything like that before. It’s a beautiful, simple acoustic song, which is the complete opposite of the opening track, for instance. We also have a song leaning towards the hip-hop scene. To me, these songs are totally new things.

The composition seems to depend on the guests present. It’s most notably the case with “Bring Them To Light », which sounds a lot like Gojira. Do you adapt to the guests who appear on your albums?

The persons we like have a strong originality and a strong impact on music. Joe from Gojira is a good example: we extended our own musical limit, as well as his, to try and do something new. In this way, he uses his voice in a way that’s different from Gojira. It’s great when two different types of music meet and you start to create music. The final result is something you couldn’t have achieved by yourself. 1 + 1 = 3, in the sense that you create something totally new. I’m really proud of that song, I think we succeeded in doing something we couldn’t have done by ourselves. He brings these raw, strong vocals, and yet you have the beautiful harmonies from the cellos. It’s a great combination, and this old school, thrash vibe is a tribute to that style of metal. Dave Lombardo is also a great example. He’s not only singing on the album, he also plays on one track, and his way of playing is so inspirational. The sound is so strong, and his input on a song is always huge. He was one of the songwriters this time. He’s always keen on tweaking the lyrics, sometimes he prefers to sing something in his own way. Most of the time we like to work with people who bring a strong input. I feel we make our most interesting music that way.

You were talking about Joe’s voice. Did you push him to develop a different way of singing? In one part of the song, he sings the way he does in Gojira, but there are also clean vocal lines that we’re not used to…

We didn’t push him, we encouraged him! Since he’s singing in a way he doesn’t do in Gojira, he’s extending his own limits. I think it’s great he did this, because it fits the cellos so well, but he also does his trademark stuff. The combination of these two elements is what makes this song so special. We encouraged him to explore and let it go.

What’s the limit between adapting to a guest and losing one’s identity in favor of the guest?

Musically, when you work with somebody, there’s always a chance that it will go terribly wrong, and you shouldn’t be afraid of it. If you start thinking: “If I don’t do this, it will be wrong », or: “If I don’t stick to the things I’m used to doing, I’ll lose something », then it’s not worth collaborating with someone. You have to take chances, go with the flow, be brave and explore, even if sometimes it feels you’re going in a strange direction. Depending on the journey you undertake, the song can turn out to be spectacular. The process of making that kind of song is great, and you learn a lot of things on the way. That’s the whole thing about making music, at least for me: you have to explore, allow yourself to go to places you’ve never been before. If you take chances and it goes terribly wrong, then you simply have to live with it. If that happened, we wouldn’t release the song. If you play safe, it’s really boring. At least that’s something I’m not looking forward to when making music.

Do you have any example of a collaboration that went wrong and didn’t sound at all like Apocalyptica ?

If it didn’t sound like Apocalyptica, that’s would be the worst of it. But sometimes the result is just not interesting, that happened a few times. The thing is, we write songs together: I work with Eicca, Eicca works with Perttu… I did several songs with Perttu last year, we wrote the soundtrack for a computer game called MAG. We did something like 50 songs for that game. We simply gave each other ideas, went for the music, and sometimes it just sounded horrible! First of all, it didn’t sound like Apocalyptica, and secondly, it was crap! But if you take chances, sometimes you might come up with something really cool.

Can you name any artists that had a huge ego and wanted to do their own version of a song, to make it sound like their own band, and not like an Apocalyptica song?

We are quite picky in the first place: we work with people whose music we like and respect, so these kind of guys are basically taken out. For example, we did a cover of Rammstein’s “Seemann » with Nina Hagen. Her rendition of the song is so strong, and she was just being herself. She’s so original, and she did what she always does, so it was the best part of the project. It was great to see her power and energy, while keeping room for the cellos at the same time.

During your career, you’ve tried to erase the “symphonic metal » tag that sticks to the band’s name. You consider yourselves mainly as a metal band. That being said, the title of the new album, 7th Symphony, is not going to make things any better! Why did you make that choice?

First of all, I don’t think any of us considers Apocalyptica to be mainly a metal band. Our own music has changed, and the overall metal scene has become more mainstream. The bands you used to call metal bands years ago are regular rock bands now. The rock world has so many feelings to it that so-called “metal music » could almost be a part of the rock scene. Everyone seems to see us as a rock band: we do harder songs, we do softer songs, and we do songs that no other rock band would do! We like the eerie, emotional, ambient kind of stuff that no metal band would do. As for the album title, we didn’t feel it was an issue. Songs like “Rage Of Poseidon » or “At The Gates Of Manala » are so symphonic, and they’re over seven-minute-long. Quite often these times, you find albums that seem to be a collection of songs. We wanted to have a wide range of different styles, but we also wanted the album to feel like a complete unit, like a story. The album starts, the story begins; then you’re taken to different stages, and the story ends with the last song. That’s the symphonic element to it.

I read in an interview of the band that you were kind of bored of being called a symphonic metal band, that’s why I was asking!

Yes, you’re right. Bands like Within Temptation or Nightwish are also considered to be symphonic metal bands, and we feel that our music is different. Opeth is also called symphonic metal, and it’s not the same style.

« If you compare it to movies, we’re a bunch of Tim Burtons in our heads! »
This is your seventh album, and it’s called “7th Symphony ». This title is likely to make you appear pretentious! Aren’t you afraid of that?


The album features the most aggressive songs of your career (death vocals, blasts…). Should we expect even more aggressiveness for its successor?

To be honest, we often surprise ourselves. When we make music, we try to find deep emotions, dark moods, and strong images. If you compare it to movies, we’re a bunch of Tim Burtons in our heads! The final result, the aggressiveness, the blasts and all that, it’s always more or less accidental. I really don’t know how it ends up like that! We don’t restrict ourselves, and we don’t decide whether a song should be aggressive. If a road leads to that direction, we just take it. But if you have a song that features Joe Duplantier, it’s obvious that it’s going to become aggressive at some point!

Can you tell us more about the video for “End Of Me », your first single?

We shot it something like two weeks ago in L.A. We were there for a show, so we did the video at the same time. The director, Lisa Mann, also did the video for “I Don’t Care ». We really like her visuals and the way she feels our music, she brought a romantic and yet dark vibe to it. We were very happy to work with her again. We’re going to have three singles for this album, and the three videos will kind of follow each other. There’ll be a continuous story, a continuous, abstract feel in all three videos. Next month we’ll go to Mexico to shoot the second and third parts. The first video features Gavin Rossdale from the band Bush. We’ve known Gavin for ten years, we did a cover of “Letting The Cables Sleep », a Bush song, in 1999. For “End Of Me », we were considering different options for a singer. Since we were in L.A., and Gavin was there too, we asked him if he would consider doing it. I love his vocals on the track, I think he’s doing great. The video will be out pretty soon. I think it’s a beautiful video, we all love it.

Will “Not Strong Enough » be the second single for the album? In my opinion, this song is as good as “End Of Me » as a single…

Yes, I think that’s gonna be the second single. “Broken Pieces », with Lacey from Flyleaf, will probably be the third. And for the countries where people actually understand something about rock music, we’re hoping to release the song with Joe. It could be a fourth single for rock radios.

Since more and more of your songs feature vocals, has any of you thought of taking up singing?

Oh, my God! We sing when we’re drunk, which is practically every day, but we don’t sing on stage! Actually, on the new album, there’s quite a few vocal appearances from all of us, we all have a vocal line. It’s not basic singing, but it can be weird noises! In live situations, we have a very good Finnish singer. He toured with us last year, and he’s gonna tour with us again all this year with this album. He’ll do four to five songs in every show.

You made yourselves known with covers from Metallica, Pantera or Sepultura. Now you’re doing your own songs. Have you entirely given up on recording covers?

No, not at all. Actually, on the previous album, there’s a cover of David Bowie’s song “Heroes », which we recorded with Till Lindemann from Rammstein. For this new album, we were strongly planning on doing a new cover, but it didn’t fit the schedule.

What was that song?

I can’t tell you, or I would have to kill you! But we will do covers again. Nowadays we’re quite picky with the covers we want to do. At this stage, we only do covers if we have strong feelings for the song. We need to be able to do our very own version, to make the song stand out from the original. For now we really enjoy writing our own material, I think that’s one of the ways we can develop ourselves as musicians and as a band.

Was the idea of making Apocalyptica-style covers a way to make the band known for its originality, before offering your own songs to the audience?

I don’t think it was planned at all at the time! The band was just a bunch of monkeys who liked to play the cellos. At that stage, I don’t think anyone could write a song! When you start to play with other people, you play the stuff you like. It’s the same thing with a guitar: when you’re in the rehearsing room, you pick up a guitar and start to play the Rolling Stones, or whatever. It was the same thing with these Metallica songs. The band became big totally out of the blue. The guys gave a couple of gigs, and they were almost immediately offered a record deal. They almost refused it, because they thought nobody would ever give a crap. The success that came afterwards was a surprise for everybody. After two cover albums, this stuff was not so fun anymore, because there was no real musical content to it. They needed to explore new things. That’s one of the main things with Apocalyptica: we keep the doors open, we keep moving forward. We need to be able to change, take a step ahead. That’s really crucial. Taking a singer or a drummer wasn’t part of the original plan, it was an evolution. That’s why we enjoy what we do.

Since you started your career by covering metal songs with cellos, do you hope that one day, a band will start their own career by covering your songs on guitar?

That would be great! For example, one of our songs, “I Don’t Care » , features Adam Gontier from Three Days Grace. That’s our song, but now Three Days Grace is covering this song on stage with their guitars! It was great to see them do that. Eicca actually went on stage for one special show to perform it with them. I think it’s great when other people play your music, it’s something you feel very proud of.

You told me you’re drunk everyday; were you drunk last night?

We were drunk last night in Berlin, and we feel it now!

Interview conducted by phone in June 2010

APOCALYPTICA website: www.myspace.com/apocalyptica

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  • There actually already is a band that covers Apocalyptica’s songs, they’re based out of Washington DC (technically MD but they’re close enough to DC). Anywho, they’re called Primitivity.


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