Finland’s cello-based Hard Rock outfit known as Apocalyptica has been blazing their own path for over two decades now. Initially begun as a fun project between friends, performing cover songs, it soon became evident that Apocalytica were much more as they soon began writing original tunes. While the band’s success grew across the European region early on, it was not until 2007’s Worlds Collide album where the band broke into the North American market. A much overdue recognition, much has happened for the talented band comprised of classically trained cellists Paavo Lötjönen, Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaasko, and drummer Mikko Siren since.
Turning on listeners with their unique style, matched with a load of guest vocalists on their albums from Lacey Sturm to Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, among others, some may say the band still lacked an identity without a full-time lead vocalist. Having the same mutual feeling, Apocalyptica ended the in-between world of guest vocalists and, in 2014, brought on former Scars on Broadway member Franky Perez as lead vocalist. It was the right move and fans responded exceptionally well as they dropped their album Shadowmaker in 2015. Their first record to date to feature all non-instrumental tracks with the same vocalist, Shadowmaker was celebrated in grand fashion as Apocalyptica returned to the USA in 2015 as support for SIXX:A.M.
Now, less than a year later, the Finns are back with a much anticipated return to the United States as they embark on their Shadowmaker Tour 2016. Their first extended headlining run in The States in some time, it all kicked off on April 23rd as they brought along Hard Rock veterans 10 Years and up-and-coming openers Failure Anthem. A trek that found them visiting a list of cities they missed on their abbreviated 2015 headlining tour, one familiar landing spot was of course New York City. An anticpiated return, it would be in fact the first time the band headlined The Big Apple since 2010. That show took place on May 26, 2010 and fittingly, almost six years to the date, Apocalpytica looked to make history once again on Friday, May 20, 2016. This time around at Irving Plaza, anticipation was running high before the doors even opened.
Irving Plaza is as infamous as any trending music scene, and the venue was filled to the seams from the moment doors open for the night’s special event. Led off by the aforementioned Failure Anthem, a buzz certainly was in the air. Composed of founding members Vocalist JD Eubanks and Guitarist Kile Odell, along with Second Guitarist Wil Andrews, Bassist Ryan Nimmo, and Drummer Zane Frye, Failure Anthem all began as a collaboration project back in 2013 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Accumulating a plethora of material over two years, they recorded their album First World Problems and landed a record contract with Razor & Tie. Making a mark, the record ranked on Billboard’s # 12 on the Top Hard Rock Charts, # 39 on the Top Rock Album Charts, and # 12 on the Top Heatseekers Chart.
By showtime, the stage was suddenly drowned in purple light as Failure Anthem made their way onto the stage. Fairly new to the scene, but well loved by this crowd, Failure Anthem greeted New York City with pulsing bass notes. Then, with a simply “How are we doing, New York?,” Failure Anthem was greeted with a mass of energy from the crowd. The band had a surprise fill-in for Eubanks, who was absent for the night spending time with his wife and newborn child. In his place was Alexa Kabazie, vocalist from Letters From the Fire, with only twelve hours notice to learn her parts. Taking it in stride, the band opened up with “Straitjacket,” a song completely fast-paced, hard-hitting, and recommended for anyone with a psychotic ex they think should be brought to the funny farm. Though the lyrics are simple, the hardcore rhythm and energy carried this song and was immediately a favorite of the crowd assembled in Irving Plaza, who on both the balcony and ground level danced with it.
Next was “Ghost Inside,” which began with gentle strumming that bled into a powerful Hard Rock crescendo with lyrics “You’re never gonna kill me,” met with roaring conviction. Soaking in the applause with gratitude, they led into the third song, “Just a Wasteland,” and it was emotionally erratic as well as intense, stirring up the feelings of the crowd. Provoking many to cheer and even sing along, Kabazie’s strong vocal rendition of the song was quite exceptional. By the time the band played “First World Problems,” Kabazie called out, “Come on New York City, I know you can do better than that!,” and the fans cheered, clapped, yelled, and danced harder than before. Then, their single “Paralyzed” had the audience in an ecstatic frenzy as Kabazie wasting no time showcasing her amazing vocal range and surprising ability to master the song.
Expressing gratitude for the reception, Failure Anthem played their last song, “I Won’t Say Goodbye,” which featured a bizarrely fitting funk guitar that transitioned into a dirtier Grunge sound. Failure Anthem, fill-in singer and all, was strongly coordinated, working in tandem. With that said, Failure Anthem has a promising future in this genre.
Through the brief intermission, the crowd grew impossibly larger, all mingling, as the next opener took stage behind the projector to set up. The unmistakably Grunge-esque chords seeped off the stage as 10 Years was revealed in low lighting, lead singer posed menacingly, face adorned by a plague doctor’s mask for added effect. The well-known Alternative Hard Rock band that began in Knoxville, Tennessee back in 1999 has traveled a long road to success. While many bands would circum to pressure of major labels to change to fit a more commercial sound, 10 Years battled on to stick with their artistic visions.
Now, with more creative freedom than ever before, 10 Years has produced two exceptional albums in 2012’s Minus the Machine and, more recently, 2015’s From Birth to Burial, proving their own way was the right way. Featuring Jesse Hasek (lead vocals), Ryan “Tater” Johnson (guitar & screams), Matt Wantland (guitar), Chad Huff (bass), and Kyle Mayer (drums), 10 Years have built a family-like atmosphere between themselves and fans. Certainly evident, the audience was revved up to once again catch the energy of 10 Years in the live setting where the unexpected creates memories that last a life time.
Opening with “From Birth to Burial,” the band maintained their haunting picturesque vision on stage, adding to the eerie instrumental and vocals that enchanted the audience. “Are you alive? Are you alive!” shouted Hasek, and the crowd roared back an affirmation that they indeed were. The animated Hasek ripped off his mask, quickly descending into the second song, “Miscellanea,” then fan-favorite “Waking Up.” It was apparent this crowd was teeming with longtime fans as they sang with 10 Years through the latter well into the emotional hit “Fix Me.”
Hasek went on to converse with the audience, stating, “We can’t thank you guys enough for giving us a career for over ten years now,” and pun aside, the band talked in-depth about how relevant and meaningful the human experience is. They spoke about how potent music can be in having all people reach an understanding of each other without judgment. With that in mind, they then went into “Beautiful,” and another favorite, “Wasteland,” which had Hasek and Johnson headed into the crowd. They were met with wild approval as they followed up with gloomy and moody “Autumn Effect” before spiraling into their last two songs, “Knives” and the aggressive “Shoot it Out.”
At the end of their set Hasek stage-dived into the pit, at first hesitant, but then amped up the crowd who caught him as he fell into their awaiting embrace. Exhilarated, Hasek said, ‘Thanks for catching me,” as the band posed with the crowd for a large exuberant concert selfie. In enough words, 10 Years has not lost an ounce of their intensity and powerful, emotional display of musicality over the years.
There was an understandably long pause in between 10 Years exiting the stage and headliner Apocalyptica entering, as they play primarily wooden instruments that require fine tuning with considerations to weather and other variables. This in between moment was filled with pulses of anticipation as the crowd alternated between hooting and chanting. It was completely within comprehension that by the time the projector raised once more, the stage suddenly doused in blue light, and the sounds of cello resonating had the packed venue completely about to lose it.
With that, Apocalyptica was front, and center and their first offering of the evening was “Reign of Fear.” Only one song in, their live show had already exceeded expectations as not only were they able to capture the genre and sound of Metal with classical instrumentation, but their cellos almost seemed to sing even as they themselves did not. Allowing the audience to take a breath, they asked, “Are you guys ready to hear some Metal?” Answering the question with applause that reached new levels, Apocalyptica’s incredible cellists silenced it with the stroke of their bows on strings as they spearheaded through songs such as “Burn,” ”Grace,” I’m Not Jesus,” “House of Chains,”and “Pettu Doodle.” Musicially astounding, the addition of the energetic shomwan Perez on vocals brought each track to life with color and passion.
In a show of loyalty to their roots, Apocalyptica followed through with a cover of Metallica’s famous “Master of Puppets” next. The lights flashed overhead as the bandmates played harsh and intense notes on the cello, the crowd forming a mosh pit in its very core. As Apocalyptica trickled down their set list, it seemed as though the audience was privy to one astounding and vivacious cello concerto, in Metal style. Songs such as “Inquisition Symphony” and “Bittersweet” melded into each other, and once “Unforgiven” was heard, the audience sang their way through it, complementing the band’s haunting and almost Medieval cover.
Moving on, their very own “Shadowmaker” featured emotionally charged and extreme singing from Perez, and hit song “Strong Enough” was mirrored word for word by adoring fans. Then their thrilling cover of “Seek and Destroy” was cause for head-banging, from the balcony to ground level, as Apocalyptica captured the undeniable sound of Metallica with their own soul worked into it. After that, they took leave from the stage to a huge cheer of “Encore! Encore!” Allowing for everyone to hang in anticipation, after a few tense moments, the band reemerged and began “One,” leading to their hit “I Don’t Care,” with everyone screaming out the chorus line. Taken back by the overwhelming reactions, the band took the time to thank their fans for their support and outpour of love before concluding with “Dead Man’s Eyes.”
All in all, the night was a huge success. From the rise of fresh meat Failure Anthem, to the well known return of 10 Years, and lastly the unique, soulful, and absolute Metal that is Apocalyptica, it was an event to be remembered by all who attended. One of the final concerts on the tour, it was an overwhelmingly good time and an unforgettable live performance.