Celebrating 25 years of metal with cellos

It was 25 years ago when a bunch of Finnish orchestra players bonded over their love of Metallica and created a neoclassical metal rock band without the use of conventional guitars, opting instead to play everything on cellos.

Though Apocalyptica started as just a Metallica tribute band, it transformed into something even greater, bringing heavy metal to places it never went before.

Comprised of classically trained cellists Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, and Perttu Kivilaakso, as well as drummer Mikko Sirén and vocalist Franky Perez, the band has released six albums and sold more than four million records worldwide.

On the heels of its latest release, 7th Symphony, Toppinen spoke with Keith Loria about Apocalyptica’s upcoming show at the Ridgefield Playhouse on May 29.

Keith Loria: The band has been active for 25 years, and touring for decades. What can those heading out to Ridgefield expect at this show?

Eicca Toppinen: It’s going to be an anniversary show so we’re planning something much different than what we usually do on tour and have an intermission. The first half of the show, we will play our first album from beginning to end. This is the first time ever we are doing that and it’s just the four cellos. In the second half, our drummer Mikko will join us and we’ll play more tunes we are known for.

KL: What’s unique about one of your concerts for the audience?

ET: We’re all instrumentals and the people in the crowd are our singers. They enjoy that and we enjoy hearing them.

KL: Take me back to the beginning. How did the band first form?

ET: We were all practicing classical cello and got to know each other as teenagers. We were all big metal fans and started to play our favorite music together. For many years, we weren’t really a band but a group of friends who shared a passion for this music and enjoyed playing it. We never had a plan to form a band or make an album.

KL: So, what changed? How did that happen?

ET: Someone heard about what we were doing and we had an offer from an independent record label, so we decided to make the album and see what happens. But we really thought it would be a one-time thing.

KL: Did you ever imagine that you would have the longevity that you have?

ET: We were very skeptical after the first album that anyone would listen, but we loved the music so we went on and did a second album and then a third album and we’ve kept going. We’ve done something right. We’ve been touring and finding new ways of challenging ourselves and it’s been fun.

KL: How did your love for metal music come about and did you ever hear metal played on cellos before?

ET: I was a member of a cello group when I was younger that played all different things — rock, Jimi Hendrix and stuff like that. I knew that if we could play Purple Haze, we should be able to play For Whom the Bell Tolls. But I had never heard anyone do it before, but I was so passionate about the music I wanted to try.

KL: What does playing metal music on a cello add to the songs?

ET: It brings a lot of colors to the compositions. Many people listening to metal don’t hear the music because of the distortions, but they can with cellos. Plus, I think it’s one of the only instruments where you can have four playing and it still works.

KL: What do you enjoy about playing this music live on stage?

ET: I love the sound, the music and connecting with the people. When I can see people smile and the joy from their faces and eyes, that’s the biggest prize for me as a musician.

KL: Fans of heavy metal are obviously going to be interested in seeing you, but does one need to be a “metal head” to enjoy the show?

ET: No, definitely not. I see a lot of classical fans, I see a lot of old Metallica fans, and some shows, 90 percent of the audience don’t know any of the lyrics. It’s theatrical and I think people enjoy that. You don’t need to have a clue about Metallica and I promise you will be entertained.

KL: When can we expect new music from Apocalyptica?

ET: We are planning to get into the studio this winter for a new album, but the concept is open. We think it will be original-composition driven and very possibly an instrumental album. I think it’s going to be very interesting.