The semi-classical, semi-metal Finnish band are set to return to the musical forefront with the release of their eighth studio album, Shadowmaker, in April. This album comes five years after the release of the hit-and-miss, 7th Symphony, making Shadowmaker feel more like a comeback record than a continuation of their career that peaked with the release of Worlds Collide in 2007.
Over the years the band have progressed from a group of four cellists covering Metallica, to a proper band setup that performs instrumental originals that weave classical sounds into metal compositions. With this eighth record Apocalyptica have once again evolved, opting to include vocalist Franky Perez into the band.
Of the three tracks so far released from the upcoming record, two of them feature vocal contributions from Perez. Cold Blood is a straight forward radio rock track, earmarked as a single from the second it was completed, whereas the title track Shadowmaker is a complex and twisting composition that requires multiple listens to unravel.
Traditionally Shadowmaker would have been left an instrumental track because of its engaging structure, but with Perez now in the band, vocals were added to the track. The question is whether this is a justified move from a band that has built its career and fanbase from an instrumental ethos. Certainly vocal tracks have become an important aspect of their sound; both I’m Not Jesus (featuring Corey Taylor) and Bitter Sweet (featuring Finnish duo Ville Valo and Lauri Ylonen), amongst others, helped increase popularity within a musical scene that often overlooks instrumental music.
Cold Blood, with its catchy chorus and hard-hitting riffs, would have always been one of Apocalyptica’s single-friendly vocal tracks, with or without Perez, so its appearance on the record is no surprise. Whilst it’s not quite up there with the aforementioned vocal efforts, Cold Blood is a solid track to market an album around and Perez does a great job fitting his voice to the rich textures of the three cellos.
However, Perez’s vocals are not special enough to warrant them overlaying Shadowmaker‘s intricate composition. The musical foundation has too much to offer to be sidelined behind a vocal line and therefore the track is weaker for his inclusion. Sometimes music doesn’t demand vocals and this is certainly the case here – I’d expect a band like Apocalyptica with such a strong instrumental heritage to understand this.
The final of three tracks released from Shadowmaker is an instrumental piece called Till Death Do Us Part, which starts with a mellow section that grows in ferocity as its eight minute length ticks by. The song focuses on the heavy side of the band’s influences and is dominated by a powerful melody line, complemented with plucked strings, deep bass rasps and a heavy drum attack.
Out of three tracks previewed so far, Till Death Do Us Part is by far the strongest, which might just be evidence enough to suggest the inclusion of Perez was a mistake. Choosing to stick with one vocalist is a big risk for a band that have established themselves as frontrunners of metal instrumental music. Let’s just hope Apocalyptica have got it right, because musically they seem faultless.
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