- Eicca Toppinen – Apocalyptica (cellist and founding member)
Apocalyptica are true explorers, always seeking new frontiers and uncharted territories in which to express themselves. With Cell-0, their ninth studio album, the ambitious and electric quartet have not simply returned to their non-vocal roots, they have traveled deeper and further into the universe of instrumental music than ever before. That first love and passion which fueled Apocalyptica to form during 1993 in Helsinki now carries richer layers of knowledge and experience, which in turn have led to the band to a fundamental realization and creative path.
“We wanted to challenge ourselves to find further flavors in the cello itself,” says cellist Perttu Kivilaakso. “Had we found them all? Had we explored every corner to find them?”
“We went about creating Cell-0 as a full piece of art and not thinking about singles or the timing of singles or anything like that. It’s challenging to get all the details and colors right and still have the energy of being a real metal cello band,” continues Eicca, who like Perttu and fellow cellist Paavo Lötjönen graduated from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
“So that was the main goal for us when doing this album, to have those two very different worlds connecting to each other in a stronger, more explorative way than ever before.”
The genesis for Cell-0’s creation arrived as Apocalyptica were busy revisiting their initial breakthrough turf on tour. During 2018’s 20th anniversary tour celebrating their genre-breaking debut album Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos, the importance and potential of their roots started to take on deeper proportions.
“We found that these concentrated instrumental events helped us to find ourselves better than on other albums,” explains Perttu. “This ‘real’ connection between the cello and the audience was renewed, and made us want to both self-produce and lure ourselves to find the real core of why we began and why we started. I think it is braver and more progressive in terms of the writing."
As the band began their journey at Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki, it was clear that such discoveries were not going to come easily. Yet it afforded the freedom to explore and create without the constraints of format or schedule, and Apocalyptica were invigorated by the process.
“On Cell-0 you can clearly hear that we did not take the easiest path,” chuckles Eicca. “When we might’ve thought something was good, we’d then say it wasn’t great, kick it out and work at it again. And that’s been the tool for us to develop the songwriting, the arrangement, the production, every aspect of making this album. It’s a hard process to be in the studio for a couple of months and keep on challenging yourselves every day for twelve hours a day, but that stamina is something you learn in your career. Some bands get lazy and just release albums that don’t bring anything new to the table, that’s not our way of working.”
In pushing themselves to find other places and levels in their music, Apocalyptica opened up to some seemingly unorthodox methods and emotions to travel through the creative process. The result is an album which engages the listener in a myriad of feelings and emotions ranging from the raging thrash of ‘En Route To Mayhem’ to the ethereal shroud of ‘Ashes Of The Modern World’ and the cinematic scope of ‘Call My Name’, something the band were hoping would happen.
“It is tough to express without lyrics, but in Cell-0 we found particles of our universe previously unknown to us.” explains Perttu. “Millions of notes combine to create music just as millions of cells combine to create life, and when you visualize the whole thing, similar patterns appear. When you look at symphonic sheet music, it looks similar to starry skies, and when I look up at the sky and see the stars, I also see them as potential notes. There are people suffering, and people not treating our planet properly, so there is anxiety at the state of the world. Many of the songs on Cell-0 refer to the blindness and greed of humanity and what we should be doing. We discussed during the writing that this was a very important series of emotions and observations to express, especially with regards to ignorance. I started to believe that human ignorance should be treated as a deadly sin, as it is behind so much of the bad stuff currently around us.”
“Writing music, at least for me, is about filtering experiences through your personality,” furthers Eicca, who found himself listening to old favorites like Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Gojira in and around the time of co-creating Cell-0. “I start to play something, develop it and then just transfer my own emotions into the music. It varies a lot depending on the mood. These songs have so many layers, and are so complex, it’s not always easy to point out exactly what they are about. But I think that’s also the beauty of instrumental music, that the listener always can feel free to experience the same songs in very, very different ways. It’s also one reason why we don’t want to explain the songs before they’re experienced.”
Apocalyptica worked with renowned producer and engineer Andrew Scheps, who has worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey, Metallica and Black Sabbath among others. He mixed the album at Monnow Valley Studios in South Wales, UK, and the band couldn’t be happier with the results.
“We’ve admired Andrew’s work for a long time, and he brought essential clarity to the mix.” says Perttu. “Mixing cellos creates more problems than any other instrument with any other band. We all play the same instrument, all in the same register and this time with Andrew, we found perfect balance and clarity between us all. It has left us more than excited to experiment with these songs live.”
Apocalyptica’s Cell-0 live renditions will commence on January 17, 2020 when they head out as special guests to Sabaton for a European tour, before the band develop more comprehensive headlining plans. At once a smorgasbord, symphony and crushing metallic masterpiece, Cell-0 shows a band at the very peak of its unique and magical compositional powers.
“We will be planning the full Cell-0 tour to be at the next level in terms of how we frame our performances,” promises Eicca. “Because as you can probably guess, we don’t know any other way.”