It’s cello-metal time!
Yes, the world has collided and those of you who are die-hard classical music fans may wish to look away. Similarly, the metal heads may also have a difficult time coming to terms with just how perfect metal and classical overtures and instrumentation work together. Certainly, Metallica proved just how well the mix could be applied when they performed their exceptional live concert, S&M, with the San Francisco Symphony, in 1999. It’s a classic performance and one of the best recordings Metallica has ever released. It’s certainly better than their latest live effort, Helping Hands...Live & Acoustic At The Masonic. I love Metallica, but this album is only slightly better than their Lou Reed collaboration, LuLu. Regardless, Metallica has been an inspiration for the Finnish cello-metal band Apocalyptica and you should really check out their 1996 release, Plays Metallica By Four Cellos. It’s exceptional and one can only wonder if upon hearing this album, Metallica decided to test the waters with their own classical interpretation three years later. Whether or not this was the case, S&M is one of the greatest live albums and performances of all time and Apocalyptica has grown beyond covering their idols, becoming a band that has not only stood the test of time but commands the respect of the classical music lover and metal head alike.
Released in 2010, 7th Symphony is Apocalyptica’s seventh studio release and fast became one of my all-time favourite albums. This review is based on the iTunes/Apple Music standard edition as that is the one that I’ve been enjoying for years. Interestingly, however, as much as I adore this album I’ve yet to add it to my physical collection. Given it was released on various formats, it amazes me that I’ve never taken it to the next level. My only reasoning is that I thoroughly enjoy the digital edition that I purchased so many years ago and as such it makes me wonder if obtaining the vinyl release, amongst other possibilities, is really that important. The music collector within says it most certainly is, but the music lover says if you like the way it sounds, don’t buy another copy. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have countless examples of different formats sounding at odds with each other, as if you’re listening to an entirely different album. Sometimes it is subjectively better, other times it is just different. Yes, I’m aware of how different masterings can sound and that each format has its own unique sonic elements, but that doesn’t always mean that vinyl is better than digital or vice versa. Subsequently, I say, enjoy the music you have and if you’re not grooving with the sound, then perhaps you should look for an alternative format/mastering to see if a subjectively better release is available. Of course, as I say that, I’m looking at the cello-shaped USB edition of the album...I want it! Yes, I know I contradicted myself. It isn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. It is the bane of the music collector and as much as one can enjoy the process, it is an addiction just like any other hobby.
Addicted is certainly one way to describe my love of 7th Symphony. By and large, the album as a coherent piece of musical art is superbly crafted and I welcome you to join me as I take a look at the songs that make up Apocalyptica’s 7th Symphony.
At The Gates Of Manala is a sonic wonderland and is the perfect song to open the album with as you know exactly what to expect from the rest of the album when you listen to this song. That isn’t to say that Apocalyptica repeats themselves, for they are certainly diverse, but what is immediately apparent is that this record, in particular, is going to be a little more on the symphonic heavy side than some may assume. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing and there are more mellow tunes throughout 7th Symphony, but At The Gates Of Manala, and the entire album, is one that takes no prisoners and if you’ve never heard anything by Apocalyptica, up until now, I’ve no doubt you’ll be hooked listening to this instrumental song. I certainly was!
End Of Me (feat. Gavin Rossdale) has incredible rhythm and while I’m not overly familiar with Bush, Rossdale performs this song beautifully. However, as good as he sounds, I’d love to hear Corey Taylor on vocals here. Yes, I may well have a man crush on Taylor, but the guy epitomises the lifestyle and genres he performs in. Nevertheless, Rossdale should be congratulated on a stellar performance and the backing musicality is off-the-charts. A great song and a wise choice for the first single from 7th Symphony.
However, Not Strong Enough (feat. Brent Smith), is the best song on the album. Smith has an incredible vocal range that is perfectly suited to the album. Interestingly, however, due to frivolous music industry practices, the Brent Smith original was unable to be released stateside and subsequently another version of the song was recorded with Doug Robb of Hoobastank. To be completely honest, both versions are spectacular but if I had to pick one, it would be the rendition with Brent Smith as I feel his vocal is more suited to the style of the song and backing musicality. Either way, Not Strong Enough is one of the greatest songs in Apocalyptica’s catalogue and I can only recommend you turn the volume up and enjoy. It has an attitude that will make you feel invincible; a positive confidence building element that is exclusive to the listening and appreciation of music.
2010 (feat. Dave Lombardo) is another killer instrumental and Lombardo delivers an exceptional drum track. Its speed metal meets rhythmic metal but performed with symphonic overtones. What’s not to like?
Beautiful is certainly more mellow but is absolutely stunning. I hope you haven’t turned the volume down for Beautiful needs to be heard as loud as you can play it without causing hearing damage or inducing audible distortion.
Broken Pieces (feat. Lacey Sturm) is a lovely song and Sturm delivers an exceptional vocal performance that in some ways reminds me of Avril Lavigne. Perhaps the only disappointment I have when listening to Broken Pieces is the crushed percussion elements as a result of brickwalling. This is quite a shame as all other songs sound dynamic with a broad soundstage, despite the album’s overall low dynamic range. That said, according to the Dynamic Range Database, Broken Pieces has the greater dynamic range in comparison to the rest of the album, almost double the other songs, yet when you listen to it, you wouldn’t agree with that finding
On The Rooftop With Quasimodo begins in a mellow tone, but that doesn’t last as this instrumental track grows in boldness before returning to its original mellow state mid-song, then returning to a heavier symphonic sound. The sonic shifts are done extraordinarily well and you won’t feel they’re disjointed as they blend masterfully together resulting in a song that tells a story through instrumentation alone.
Bring Them To Light (feat. Joseph Duplantier) picks up the pace and it’s a killer scream/speed metal track. The rhythm on Bring Them To Light really directs the song beautifully and Duplantier’s vocals are spot on. A sensational track!
Sacra is absolutely mind-blowing. The moodiness of the cello certainly comes out in this song and I couldn’t imagine a metal-infused cello track being more textbook accurate than this one. If you want to let someone here just what symphonic metal and the cello can sound like, this is most certainly the song to play for them. Perfect would be an understatement as Sacra really is beyond adequate description and has to be heard to be believed. Although, I’m not fond of how it transitions into Rage Of Poseidon.
Rage Of Poseidon has an opening that doesn’t compel me, but as the song progresses, the grinding rhythm takes hold and it becomes a valued addition to the album, ensuring that I’ll certainly play thestandard 10-track edition of 7th Symphony again and stay within Apocalyptica’s diverse and extensive catalogue.
Overall, 7th Symphony is an album that should be in everyone’s collection, be it digital or physical. It is compelling and while on the surface it may seem a little mismatched to the newcomer, it is absolutely perfect to those of us who believe the merging of musical genres is not only a good thing but is an essential element in the continuous evolution of music as a form of art.
As for the tracks not included on the standard edition, but present on varied releases in different regions, I have this to say:
Return Game is simply stunning and brings the cello right to the front of the mix, an element that I thoroughly appreciate. I really wish this song was included on the standard 10-track album.
Through Paris In A Sportscar is a solid tune. Nothing to write home about, but adequate nonetheless.
The Shadow Of Venus is a lovely song, but it does have the tendency to sound a little repetitive.
Spiral Architect is a Black Sabbath cover, first appearing on Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from 1973. Let me be completely honest, just listen to the original Sabbath version of the song.
These additional four tracks, along with a DVD featuring performances from the Sibelius Academy, are all included on the Deluxe Edition. Thankfully, this additional content has also been made available on iTunes, as well as Apple Music, for those who wish to download or stream the content. The additional performances included are for the songs Beautiful, Not Strong Enough, End Of Me (if you’d like to see the official music video (feat. Gavin Rossdale), click here), I Don’t Care (an incredible song originally released on Apocalyptica’s 2007 release, Worlds Collide), Sacra, and Bittersweet. Yes, these additional elements can often be seen as bonus material that you’re unlikely to consume more than once, but I would encourage you to check it out as the songs are performed in an acoustic manner, showcasing just how seriously talented these musicians are. Tipe Johnson of the Finnish rock band, Leningrad Cowboys, provides the vocals on these acoustic performances and does a simply incredible job.