As punters queue along both sides of the street outside Max Watts in Brisbane, we prepare ourselves for the classical experience that are the metal cello sensation, Apocalyptica. There’s plenty of long-hairs in attendance this evening, alongside a smattering of Opeth and Katatonia t-shirts (tonight’s equivalent of the proto-typical Slayer/Slipknot uniform). One fan has even got so worked up, that she draped herself with the Finnish national flag, like some kind of nationalistic superhero. Bravo.
Things look set to get sufficiently wild, as we head inside and survey the area for poor substitutes to mead.
First up was Brisbane’s answer to Nightwish: symphonic metallers Awaken Solace. Coming out one by one, and striking some bold power stances, the metal five-piece rip into a short set which promises to introduce tracks from their upcoming second album, ‘Mythandriel’. Having previously supported Apocalyptica years ago, and set to support progressive icons Queensrÿche in the months to come, Awaken Solace are the perfect band for this bill. The crowd is bathed in flashes of strobe and slowly warms to their patented blend of sweeping orchestral, melodic guitar rhythms and soaring vocals. It’s the type of music you’d expect from an obscure anime soundtrack or the type of shit you’d want to blare behind you as you stand astride a longboat, barrelling down some distant mountain fjord. The great thing about metal as a community is how welcoming and proud it is to having women amongst its ranks. Which makes it all the more encouraging to see vocalist Maree Nipperess and guitarist Elspeth Johnson standing confidently on stage, hitting some impressive high notes with their respective instruments.
Bassist Matt James does his best to power the venue on his windmilling efforts alone, but his attempts in backing vocals sadly get lost in the mix’s maelstrom of sound. Percussionist Rodrigo Prazeres is clearly enjoying himself, blazing across his kit with flair and determination, however, his snare punches above everything else and his bass drum kicks hit the back of the room with a dull thrum. Thankfully, the band is saved by the performance of subdued keyboardist Robert Russell, who takes some time to find his footing but once found, calmly reveals his secret weapon: a motherfucking keytar! His mid-set sojourns across the stage from behind the keyboards see him solo away with the pizazz of a professional minstrel, replete with a dark cloak and wistful stare. Excellent stuff!
As Sydney’s post-everything, instrumental crew We Lost The Sea are sound checking, it’s evident that they’re having trouble seeing the sound tech and communicating across a sea of blaring red lights. A few minutes are spent with forearms on foreheads, as everyone tries to get their shit together. With all members of the sextet on stage, the lights finally dim and they’re ready to roll with guitarist Brendon Warner’s plaintive guitar leads. There have been conflicting reports on the Internet describing We Lost The Sea as an odd choice for this tour: some saying the band’s “music is quite simply to [sic] complex” for Apocalyptica’s audience; others praising the band as “undoubtedly talented and diverse musicians, but this didn’t feel the right place for them.”
Well, friends, if you can’t appreciate the joy of a mixed bill and the grand, powerful scale that We Lost The Sea operate on, then you’re probably beyond saving, as they were undoubtedly the loudest band on the planet this evening. During the epic build-up from opener ‘A Gallant Gentlemen’, the room’s PA starts to peak out from the sonic stress of the band’s dense, three-pronged distortion attack, as guitarists Matt Harvey and Mark Owen revel in striking the perfect balance between depth and dissonance. In the song’s final moments, the shimmering crescendo and crash of drums made it feel as if the fucking roof would cave in, begging the sky to fall and smother the crowd right where they stood. It was some serious, ‘hair-on-the-back-of-neck’, goose bumps kind of shit. With a roughly forty-minute set, the group pulls largely from their recent full-length ‘Departure Songs’, as drummer Nathaniel D’Ugo and bassist Kieran Elliott incorporate tribal rhythms on the expansive ‘Bogatyri’, while keyboardist/pianist Mathew Kelly helps to lend a solemn atmosphere to the band’s cathartic soundscapes.
Closing with the crushing ‘A Day and Night of Misfortune I – Day’ from 2012’s ‘The Quietest Place On Earth’, the void felt by the absence of former vocalist Chris Torpy (who sadly took his own life in 2013) is palpable, yet the band soldier on in his memory, delivering a passionate performance to a captivated and respectful crowd.
Which brings us to the main event, Finnish cello champions Apocalyptica. Now admittedly, this reviewer was not terribly familiar with the band’s sound prior to attending this particular gig, however, there are three words which seem apt descriptors of their efforts this evening: tight, tight and tight. God fucking dammit. Apocalyptica came out guns blazing to deliver one of the tightest metal performances we’ve ever witnessed, and near bordering on the virtuosic.
Cellists Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen and Perttu Kivilaakso bounce around the stage with gleeful expressions, soaking up waves of appreciation from the Brisbane crowd and making sounds that you’d swear could not possibly emanate from a classical instrument. Their intense cover of Sepultura’s civil unrest anthem ‘Refuse, Resist’ puts horns in the air, before the band bring out vocalist Franky Perez to shake things up. With a confident stage presence and a croon that sits somewhere on the David Draiman and Scott Weiland spectrum, Perez lends a more mainstream appeal to tracks like ‘I’m Not Jesus’ and ‘House of Chains’.
In a display of almost inhuman technical precision, Mikko Sirén shows why he’s arguably one of the best drummers in metal today, working up the crowd in between furious fills, with repeated calls for clapping, chants and general exultation. It may be a full 20 years since Apocalyptica’s seminal release, ‘Plays Metallica With Four Cellos’, yet their rendition of Metallica’s magnum opus ‘Master of Puppets’ still amps up the crowd, with Sirén standing atop his drum stool at one point in the song’s mid-section, with his arms raised like some figurative conductor, before jumping down in time to the demented strokes of his cellist brethren.
Engaging the crowd further, while a stage tech brings out three stools, Toppinen asks if they want to hear some ‘real heavy metal’ before the band breaks into a rousing, neo-classical take on ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.
Successfully bridging both old and new sounds, with a level of gusto that most bands would struggle to match, Apocalyptica bring out Perez once again to help bring down the house, ripping into the title track from their recent ‘Shadowmaker’ record (and this tour’s namesake), while showing Perez’s impressive vocal chops on the held screams in ‘Not Strong Enough’. It’s not every day you get to witness three cellists on a big stage — let alone friendly Europeans with a penchant for all things metal — and for a Sunday night, you couldn’t really ask for much more.
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