It is nearly two decades since Apocalyptica first muscled their way into our collective consciousness as “that band that plays Metallica songs on cellos”. What at first appeared merely a neat gimmick has seen them become a fully fledged, credible and long-term band – one who have proved that metal doesn’t need to be played on electric guitar, and a tale of two cities, with big vocal singles such as ‘I’m Not Jesus’ and ‘I Don’t Care’ sat alongside stimulating dark instrumentals. It is this successful formula they look to replicate on eighth album Shadowmaker (Eleven Seven).
Having previously relied on a (frankly impressive) guest list of vocals (including Corey Taylor, Cristina Scabbia, Max Cavalera and Till Lindemann amongst many others), this time around the Finnish cellists have enlisted Franky Perez (Scars on Broadway/Slash) on 7 of the 11 full tracks, the first time they have used the same vocalist across an album.
However, consistency is an issue in the vocal led tracks; first track proper ‘Cold Blood’ is confident, competent and possessing of a strong chorus, and ‘Hole In My Soul’, a simple balladic shuffle, tugs on the cello strings of the heart; not a million miles from the more lachrymose moments of HIM, but ‘Dead Man’s Eyes’ fucking drags on and on becoming a song that fails to evoke any emotion other than annoyance, ‘House of Chains’ could be a Shinedown outtake, and ‘Sea Song’ sees interest wade out amongst the waves.
Meanwhile, the title track gets stronger and more interesting for the lengthy mid-to-late instrumental section, ripping through a Kirk Hammett style lead that segues into a Mercyful Fate darkened ambiance; ‘Reign of Fear’ intrigues and ensnares with mournful cello leads dancing languidly over riffs of varying tempos; and the aural voyage of ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, with its lengthy emotive passages dovetailing with stabs and lurches, is the album highlight.
Ultimately, Shadowmaker shows that the true essence of Apocalyptica lies in the instrumental. Unfettered by the constraints and adamantine chains of a traditional rock song structure they are, as they always have been, at their best, most dynamic and most interesting. Flitting between that and standard rock fare leaves them with a patchwork quilt of an album – the stitching may be great, but the overall aesthetic is muddled.