It has been 17 years since Finland’s Apocalyptica have released an instrumental album. Since 2003’s Reflections, the band has had vocal accompaniment on four records, so Cell-O, their ninth studio album overall, could be considered a sort of return to the band’s roots.
The band’s lineup remains as it was back on Reflections as well, featuring the trio of Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, and Paavo Lotjonen on cellos and Mikko Siren on drums. Having written for vocals for so many years, the band sought new songwriting territory on Cell-O, and in doing so have crafted a vital and varied album.
“Ashes of the Modern World” kicks things off in dynamic form, and is a strong summary of the album as a whole. Expansive in scope throughout the song’s six and a half minutes and varied in tone, it serves as a fine showcase of the band in both metallic and classical circumstances.
The group pulls out all the stops in a number of back-and-forth solos that must leave their bows smoking. That’s the theme of many of the nine songs here, which often feature a taut mix of classical, metal, and baroque stylings.
Another standout track is the epic-length title song, which again features many heavy metal moments (the tones these guys can get out of their instruments still amazes me) alongside baroque work both delicate and harrowing. It might be a ten-minute instrumental, but “Cell-O” grabs our attention and never lets go. The top-notch production doesn’t hurt, either, with the cellos sounding so pristine in their natural tones and the drums bringing the perfect amount of thunder.
Apocalyptica have amazing chops, and there are a number of compelling songs here, but there are also a few that tend to let our attention drift. “Rise,” “Call My Name,” and “Scream for the Silent” all feature moments both pensive and heavy, but are similar enough that we feel like we’ve heard them before. Taken as single songs, though, they do work.
Cell-O closes with “Beyond the Stars,” a song which is at times hypnotic, dynamic, and hard-hitting. It’s also the only song with vocals, in the form of a voiceover which comes in during the song’s final minute that seems to hearken mankind’s impending doom.
Overall, Apocalyptica have succeeded in creating a gripping instrumental album that fans will love. Cell-O does drag a bit through the middle with a sense of sameness, but the musicianship, production, and highlight cuts make up for this in spades.
(released January 10, 2020 on Silver Lining Music)
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Watch Apocalyptica – “Ashes Of The Modern World” Video