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Since they formed in 1993, Finnish orchestral rock band Apocalyptica has released six studio albums featuring numerous cello-based instrumentals along with some vocal-based songs. Whatever styles they’ve explored – from atmospheric interludes to fast, battering rhythms -- their music has been gripping, dynamic and full of melody. But with their seventh album, 7th Symphony the band has composed an album that not just symphonic, it’s practically a symphony.
“The instrumental stuff is more instrumental than anything we’ve done before,” says lead songwriter and cellist Eicca Toppinen. “For the previous albums, we sometimes had songs which had the potential for vocal tracks, but turned out to be instrumentals. This time, the instrumental tracks are pure instrumentals with long, progressive passages. We wanted to write instrumentals where nobody’s feeling ‘Oh, it’s great, but where are the vocals?’”
At the same time, 7th Symphony contains songs that rock harder than anything they’ve done since 2001 when they released the epic, transfixing albumCult, their first album to contain mostly originals. In the same way that Cult caused fans to view Apocalyptica from a different perspective, 7th Symphony is the next forward step in the group’s creative evolution. Most of the songs on the disc were produced by Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool) and two of the four vocal numbers were produced by Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Papa Roach).
“Joe told us, ‘You know guys, this album will bring your metal fans back’” Toppinen says. “It’s heavier and more exciting. It has a very dramatic classical-metal mixture. And the hard stuff is really hard.”
In addition to the six symphonic tracks, 7th Symphony features four songs with vocals that were co-written with other established artists. The first single, “End of Me” was co-written with Johnny Andrews and Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, who sings on the tune. “It’s definitely a cool rock song,”Toppinen says. “Gavin definitely had his own ideas and wanted to change some of the music and lyrics, but working with him was pretty easy. He’s a nice guy and he’s very professional.”
The other guest vocal performances are equally impressive. Brent Smith from Shinedown sings on “Not Strong Enough,” which was written by award-winning pop songstress Diane Warren (Aerosmith, Toni Braxton, LeAnn Rimes, Trisha Yearwood) and produced by Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Papa Roach). Benson also worked with Lacey from Flyleaf on the song “Broken Pieces.”
One of the heaviest songs on the album is “Bring Them to Light,” a collaboration with Joe Duplantier, of the French extreme experimental/progressive metal band Gojira. Toppinen was introduced to Duplantier by his music publisher in France, who also works for Gojira. “He had a feeling that we would get along well and he was right,” the cellist says. “The combination is great. It doesn’t sound like Gojira, it doesn’t sound too much like Apocalyptica. It’s symphonic thrash metal and Joe makes vocal patterns in a way that he’s never done with Gojira, which is very exciting.”
Working with Barresi as the main producer, was rewarding for Apocalyptica for a couple reasons. First, after years of flying around the world to record, they were able to work home in Helsinki. More importantly, they appreciated Barresi’s ear for detail and creative ideas. “We used much more effects than we usually do and got a different kind of sound experience than ever before, but still I think the album is very organic,” Toppinen says. “The drums area more natural and there’s not so much sampling or editing. When we were tracking, we just found great sounds and recorded them right there. We didn’t fix them in the mix with punch ins like people do nowadays.”
One of Toppinen’s favorite songs on 7th Symphony is “Beautiful.” The all-orchestral number was recorded with three cellos and drummer Mikko Sirénon bass. “It was the first time Mikko played bass in his life,” Toppinen says. “It’s a beautiful acoustic song recorded in one take in the studio.”
If “Beautiful” sounds bare and vulnerable, it might have something to do with the way in which it was recorded. “We decided to play it naked,”Toppinen says. “It was a moment where there were four guys naked in the room just playing acoustic music. Being naked always brings good feelings. We tried with clothes on, and we were like, ‘Oh, something is missing.’ Mikko wanted to celebrate his bass playing by being naked, so he was already naked so we thought, ‘Okay, everybody e