Q&A: Apocalyptica Remain Classically Heavy


To witness a cello-wielding metal band is a sight to behold. Until I did, I was just another person Apo_c_Ville_Juurikkala-7279-2hireswho identified metal as something reliant on blaring electric guitars and thumping, sometimes intentionally out-of-tune bass – of course, potent vocals and crashing drums also play a huge role.

But for more than 20 years, Finland’s Apocalyptica – Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lötjönen, and Mikko Sirén – has been creatively shifting that narrative. Yes, drums and vocals are there and in your grill, but the rest of the heavy music lifting is done through ferocious cello performance.

In April, Apocalyptica released its eighth studio album, Shadowmaker, a project that – for the first time in the band’s history – features only one lead vocalist, as opposed to a number of guest stars.

Ahead of the band’s recent Toronto performance, Riffyou.com chatted by a men’s room’s line of urinals with cellist Kivilaakso about turning to one singer; maintaining a special spot in the metal scene; and how gaining respect from the metal and classic music communities is harder than one might think.

RY: The big story with this album is that you have one singer (Franky Perez), as opposed to multiple vocalists, appearing throughout. What made you go that route?

Perttu: “We felt pretty clear about it once we started to move our thoughts toward Shadowmaker. We wanted to change the concept, at least for ourselves. The concept was unclear with the previous records. We were a band that invited a lot of amazing guests, but sometimes that made certain tracks more isolated – also, it was difficult to find a connection between the material because every second song would feature a new voice. We also wanted to only focus on Apocalyptica and the music we wanted to make, and not name dropping – where all the promo was [previously] about Corey Taylor (Slipknot), or Rammstein. We wanted to clarify the identity of our group and the most obvious way to do that was invite one guy that was able to do the album and tour with us. We were able to find guy who could make the commitment.”

RY: From a talent perspective, what makes Franky the right guy?

Perttu: “He had this soul in his sound that we were searching for. We had closed auditions and in the final round we sent “Hole in My Soul” – which is the most moody ballad from the album – [to the vocalists] and Frankie’s demo showed that he has something really deep to tell. The sensitive side of his voice, I think that was [what got us.] He’s amazingly versatile…and that was important for us.”

RY: Apocalyptica holds a very unique place in the metal community. As much as you try to come up with new concepts for each album, how important is it to maintain the classical feeling to the music? 

Perttu: “We must be proud [of our sound.] Of course, the influence of Metallica is why we started to play like this – we love their music. I started to play cello at five-years-old and my whole childhood was playing classical music. So of course, I feel that there’s an urge in spreading the message that a cello is a very capable instrument that can be used in many different ways. Therefore, it is an important part of Apocalyptica.”

RY: When did you personally realize that you wanted blend metal and classical?

Perttu: “I was probably 12 when I met Eicca and we became friends as teenagers – and Apocalyptica started with that friendship. We started to like rock music. I listened to Skid Row, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest…soon we found Metallica and that was the coolest thing ever. I remember getting the …And Justice for All album and I got hooked on Metallica because of that album. It was a crazy idea [to say], ‘Yo friends, let’s go drink some beer and play some Metallica!’ But, we did it for ourselves. Then we played at a student house for our friends…it was all a crazy accident. We didn’t plan to do this and it’s still fun after 20 years to still be here.”

RY: Are you beyond people viewing you as a novelty band, considering that you play metal with cellos?

Perttu: “We have faced a lot of people who have been suspicious about this thing. I probably would’ve been one of those skeptical ones if someone else were doing this. In Finland amongst the classiapocalyptica-2cal community, there were people saying ‘What the hell are these guys doing?’ I think after all of these albums and years of work, they now have no say in this. We do this with great passion and we love the shit that we are doing. Even my father has started to love metal, because he sees how passionate his son was about the music. Nowadays, he’s buying metal albums – which is crazy!”

RY: Does the classical community equally accept you, in the same way that the metal community does?

Perttu: “I would say that we are equally unaccepted by both worlds – they disrespect us equally!” {laughs}

RY: As you’ve mentioned, Apocalyptica has had quite a long run. What do you hope the future holds for you band?

Perttu: “By far our biggest achievement is that we have been able to stick together for so long. We have been able to bring our ship this far and I’m just curious to see how far we can go. One of the biggest things for us to achieve with every album and all of the tours, is to maintain the flame of making music. As long as we’re able to keep this fresh and keep ourselves excited as musicians, that’s all I could wish for.”

-Adam Grant

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