Once again, I'm here to bring you the music that you might have missed (in fact, almost certainly missed). It's the music that you would proudly describe as 'indie' or 'hip,' if those terms were still cool (sorry to say, they've been co-opted and so we have moved beyond them. Alas.)
In short, I'm here to bring you music that's just a little bit weird.
With that said, let's talk about a cello metal band from Finland called Apocalyptica and their album 7th Symphony.
It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: in 1993, four cellists (that's a fancy word for people who play the cello) walk into a concert hall and decide they want to be a Metallica cover band. Nobody in the group plays a guitar. They call themselves Apocalyptica. What's the punchline, you ask?
The punchline is four million albums of original music sold worldwide and a musical blend of styles that combines the elegance of classically trained strings and the thrashing energy of good metal. The punchline is a band whose music is alternatively described as "classical metal, neoclassical metal, speed metal, alternative metal, symphonic metal, progressive, thrash, and hard rock. There's also some folk, world, and middle eastern styles thrown in there, because why not?
Side note: this is why nobody gets to call themselves a "metal fan" any more. You have to be specific!
For my money, it's the symphonic metal that makes Apocalyptica a powerful draw. 7th Symphony is their most recent album, released in 2010. For a group that seems pathologically driven to buck traditional trends (like trying to pin them down in one musical genre), they have a tradition for their albums: you'll get four tracks with vocals, while the rest will be instrumental.
But what about the music, you ask? I'm glad you asked, hypothetical music blog reader!
"End of Me" features vocals from Gavin Rossdale and is probably my favorite of the vocal tracks. It sounds familiar (you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's a Three Days Grace or Trapt track) but there's a subtle distinction; it's energetic without being overwhelming, powerful without being too blatant. Most importantly, the transition from "End of Me" to "2010" isn't just a palate cleanser; it's a palate transformation. It's like you're listening to a different band. "2010" is pumping and sinister in the best metal tradition, but here's the key difference and what I think makes Apocalyptica stand out against a crowded metal market these days.
A purely instrumental song like 2010 allows you to appreciate the music itself. The notes carry the song and the energy; there isn't screaming or growling to distract. When it's employed, it's subtle and used only in service to the greater song. This might be heresy to admit, but for me, the growling male vocalist is the worst part of metal. 2010 gives you the power and energy of great metal without the screaming and for me, that's just divine.
And just in case you think I'm exaggerating when I listed Apocalyptica as playing in 47 different musical varieties, the album hits you with "Beautiful" and your earholes are injected with some amazing classical cello. The song is aptly named; it's beautiful and haunting. It will make you think of autumn days, love and loss, hope and regret; in short, it's a tribute to the beautiful melancholy of all life's vagaries.
That's when it'll hit you. This is all happening on the same album. You're going through a spectrum of sound and emotion on one disc. There's a lot more to love on 7th Symphony, especially "Broken Pieces" which features female vocalist by Lacey Sturm, you know, just in case you weren't convinced yet. There's even some growling for those fans in "Bring them to Light" for those that can't have metal without an angry male voice growling unintelligibly at them.
If I had to sum up 7th Symphony and Apocalyptica in general with one witty remark, it would be this:
For everybody that thinks music is all starting to sound the same, for anybody that worries about today's musicians sounding the same on the first track as they do on the last, Apocalyptica isn't the answer; it's the rebuttal. Apocalyptica is the retort, the refutation against the claim that there's nothing new happening out there.
You just need to know where to find it.