Apocalyptica are an odd proposition. The outfit made their name covering Metallica and Sepultura songs on the cello, and by and large made an excellent fist of it. But where to from there if a band wants to be taken seriously?
While the albums of cover versions were gimmicky, they caught the attention of many a metal fan who had probably never considered classical instruments or chamber music. Since the beginnings of psychedelic rock, many musicians have tried, not always successfully, to combine rock with the classics.
What Apocalyptica did with album was assemble a backing band of highly capable metal musicians, including Dave Lombardo on drums, and replaced vocals and lead guitars with strings. The overall sound is something very similar to the melodic death coming out of Scandinavia. Fellow Finns Children Of Bodom come to mind immediately, but there are also shades of Soilwork, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity.
The tracks within are more compositions than songs, equal parts classical and metal. Many of the songs take on a similar structure, starting with a simple musical theme as much classical music does, builds on it, develops the theme, and revisits it several times before building to a conclusion and then an anticlimax. Most of the development is done through the cello, but on the odd track like "Cohkka", the guitar is given more room to develop, taking on a choppy riff, and a piano adds to the musical collage.
"Faraway" holds the listeners with tones of melodrama, building slowly from a single instrument, adding a movie soundtrack backbeat, and slowly the track fills with emotion and feeling. "Somewhere Around Nothing" harkens to Celtic Frost's oft-neglected album `Vanity/Nemesis' in the mid-tempo chunky riffing. It's not particularly heavy in a traditional death metal sense, but builds from such a gentle, soulful introduction, the crescendo seems like a crashing tidal wave. "Cortege" is the heavyweight on the album, unexpectedly injecting a huge riff akin to something from `...And Justice For All' into a solemn orchestral piece.
By no means is this a headbanging throw-up-your-horns-and-drink-beer metal album. It is far too subtle for that. It lives up to its title, with many tracks mellow and reflective in mood, and has a sombre, almost mourning tone. There are no leads or vocals, and is definitely not for those who like their metal straight forward- Deicide fans need not apply. However, those who enjoy the more atmospheric aspects of Opeth, Emperor and Amorphis would be well pleased with this sometimes challenging but ultimately satisfying album.