Before anybody accuses me of some ethical failing on the grounds of disagreeing with my opinion, I want to come clean about my biases. I dig Apocalyptica. I dug them when they were starting out as what amounted to a Metallica cello tribute band. I dug them when they started striking out, making their own stuff. I dug 2003’s “Reflections”. I dug 1996’s “Metallica by Four Cellos”. As far as I’m concerned, Apocalyptica is at their best when they’re finding new ways to make classical instruments sound like war drums, but they’re not exactly incapable of mixing with more contemporary styles.
So why don’t I like this?
It’s not like I don’t understand why they decided to change direction. Producing covers of other people’s songs, even the best, most inventive covers possible, isn’t exactly a recipe for mainstream success. It’s the direction they’ve chosen that baffles me, because, to me at least, they suddenly sound like a pretty bad Fall Out Boy cover. I’m pretty sure some of the songs don’t even have any cellos in them.
Not that Fall Out Boy is objectively bad, obviously. I’m vaguely aware some people like them, in the same way I’m vaguely aware some people like marmite and genital piercings. I don’t understand the reasoning but they exist in such numbers and seem otherwise so reasonable that I’m forced to just tick it off as weird quirk of nature and try not to worry about it.
The only reason I’m annoyed now is because I’ve found myself looking forward eagerly to more of Apocalyptica’s classic sound, and that totally isn’t what’s been delivered. I’d hoped for something with the sensibilities of 2000’s “Cult” and what I got couldn’t be further from it. Back in the very old days these guy played the cello like it had come to life and decided to make dirty love to their fingers, and the result was downright pandemonic. Now, with a singer who’d sound more at home belting out 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite” and an opening as light and forgettable as “Cold blood” I could tell immediately that this wasn’t the album I was looking for.
It’s not a gentle change, is what I’m saying. In terms of direction and subtlety, it’s akin to chopping off your horses head mid-gallop and shoving the protruding spine up its arse before kicking it in the ribs. Not only have they butchered something beautiful, I can’t help but suspect it’s not going to get them very far.
It does get a little better, I’m glad to say. “Reign of fear” and the titular “Shadowmaker” particularly are a good reminder of why I was looking forward to this album in the first place, with Apocalyptica’s trademark soul finally allowed to push through. This is where the album really comes alive, serving up the kinds of sounds that I imagine Celtic berserkers heard before the rage overtook them and they started hacking at their own nipples.
Shadowmaker is their attempt to bring something new to the table, a re-invention of sorts. But as somebody who really enjoyed them for what they were (a weird group of cellists that made beautiful, baleful music out of Metallica’s brashest songs) I can’t help but feel a little betrayed.
Released: April 17th 2015
Label: Better Noise/Eleven Seven Records
Score: 4/9 Hammers