When I was a teenager, my mother, a devout worshipper at the altar of the church of metal, introduced Apocalyptica to show me that my love for heavy and classical music could exist in one neat package.
On May 30th, many years after first listening to Apocalyptica Plays Metallica by Four Cellos in the navy-blue living room of my mother’s apartment, I climbed the staircase at the Commodore Ballroom and joined the large, eclectic crowd gathered in the vast but nearly full room to catch the Vancouver date of Apocalyptica’s Shadowmaker Tour, fully prepared for the emotional maelstrom that was sure to follow the internationally renowned band’s performance.
To start off the evening, the crowd welcomed Art of Dying, a rock band local to Vancouver that had been opening for Apocalyptica since the beginning of the tour. I was, and still am, impartial to the band, but the people in attendance were in complete disagreement with my nonchalance. Vancouverites welcomed the local heroes warmly, enjoying every second of the band’s set. I have to give credit where credit is due: while I didn’t rush to the merch table to buy their albums, I did find enjoyment in two of the songs that the quartet played that night.
“Die Trying” gave the crowd the occasion to sing along loudly and enthusiastically to the repetitive (but easy to remember and catchy) chorus. “Get Through This,” which the singer dedicated to his late father, resonated with me on another, much sadder level. Long after Art of Dying was done playing, the hook of the song echoed in my head; “If I can get through this, I can get through anything.”
As the technicians were on stage switching the gear over, the show goers chatted and laughed until the sound of Rammstein’s “Du Hast” boomed out of the speakers, drowning the dying conversations. Smiles were exchanged and the attendees were doing their best to sing the German song when the house lights were dimmed, red and purple spots lit up the stage, and Apocalyptica’s introduction music started. The crowd went wild as the silhouettes of the Finnish men appeared.
Mikko Sirén sat behind his clear drum kit dressed in white, illuminated by bright white lights, looking almost angelic as he regarded cello-playing bandmates from his pedestal. Even he, a member of the band for over a decade, seemed to know that the soloist Perttu Kivilaakso, the master of riffs Eicca Toppinen, and the incorrigibly flirtatious bass cellist Paavo Lötjönen are larger than life.
The three classically trained cellists and Sibelius Academy alumni that make Apocalyptica the phenomenon that it is have the power to cause the audience to feel a barrage of emotions at will. Every instrumental piece played that night was immaculate. Their Metallica medley comprised of “Unforgiven,” “Creeping Death,” and “One” had the people in attendance happily singing the well-known lyrics. The very metal “Inquisition Symphony” saw many hair tornadoes from the people in attendance and the performers, and I observed more than one spectator with tears rolling down their faces during both “Grace” and “Till Death Do Us Part.” Despite their prestigious classical training, the perfection and clarity of every note was a complete and utter surprise to me and the many in attendance, who seemed as taken aback by the quality of the performance as I was. However, Apocalyptica’s excellence is hardly news. The true surprise of the night came from the band’s recently acquired singer, Franky Perez.
Every song he sang sounded impeccable. There was no distinction between the moving songs that he recorded himself on Shadowmaker like “Cold Blood,” “Shadowmaker,” “House of Chains,” and “Sea Song (You Waded Out),” and the songs that were previously recorded with guest singers. The singer brought his own emotions to the pieces that fans have loved to sing at the top of their lungs for years. With his extraordinary vocal range, he was able to bring mesmerizing anger and hatred to “I’m Not Jesus,” and he displayed sheer heartbreak on the closing piece “I Don’t Care” like no one had before him.
Franky Perez is the perfect addition to the ensemble. Apocalyptica has always been a strange yet cohesive and pleasant mix of heavy music, high energy, class, and ardor, but the band never had a singer that could embody that.
Perez belted it out at the front of the stage, pretending to hang himself with the wire of his in-ear monitor, tearing his clothes off and violently clobbering his chest with his fist while maintaining an unparagoned vocal accuracy to match the sublime and sultry sound of the cellos and pounding heartbeat of the drums behind him. The new live Apocalyptica experience is not only impassioned and soulful, it is damn near sinful.
Written and Photographed by Kai Robidas Goblin Photography