The Hang of Music: The Hang of the Mountain King

Wow, last place again! Well, this is an interesting review at least. I hope you guys enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed trying to untangle my feelings about cover bands having a life of their own and branching out.

This is Apocalyptica, with their third album, “Cult”.

Get ready for a jarring 

OK, a bit of background information. Well, brace yourselves fo a huge revelation, but Apocalyptica are a cover band.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Well, used to be. Right, more facts. I want to say “covers with a difference”, and that’s because it’s true. For one, they cover mostly Metallica songs. For many people that’d be enough for people to tune out from the weirdness, but not you, my loyal followers. No, you get the truly strange nature of the band – Metallica songs played by classically trained musicians on cellos and nothing but. Google a cello.

Yeah. That.

So after a few albums, they discovered that they both had a cult following, and were losing their taste for Metallica songs (I imagine). And so, harnessing the almighty power of their classical training, they began to write their own songs. This album, cult, is the first of those efforts: it’s where they stopped being a covers band –  a really, really interesting covers band – and starting being something on their own merits. And what considerable merits they are.

Enough backstory – the songs themselves! If I were to pick a single word to describe them, it would be “extravagant”. It’s all huge, sweeping notes and dramatic stings. I want to remind you guys that the band, though they are clearly metalheads, are all classically trained musicians. So for one reason or another, the songs they write all sound much more like classical pieces (with bite!) than they do like any other piece of metal I’ve ever listened to.

This is where Edvard Grieg comes in, and why I consider their cover of Edvard Grieg’s “The Hall of The Mountain King” to be the centrepiece and climax of the album.*

[Album version no have drums, but this seemed is a great video.]

I am convinced that when they were writing this album, somewhere inside their heads this process went on:

“Aah, it feels so good to not be confined to covering other people’s songs from here. Yeah, we can finally… Oh god, what if no-one likes our new stuff?

“Oh god, now that I’m up here, on this podium, the way down looks so long and far… Oh crap, our ideas are too avante garde to ever work well, no-one will like them!

“CRAP, I’M GOING TO FALL! MUST. GRAB. SAFETY. ROPE! GRIEG, WHERE ARE YOU IN MY HOUR OF NEED?!!!”

Yes, I am implying that the band just moved from doing straight metallica covers to doing style covers of classical music in metal style. That is exactly how I feel.

And I am not saying that this is a bad thing at all.** The operatic feel Apocalyptica generate went well when they were covering Metallica songs – Metallica being one of the largest “larger than life” metal bands around, and metal itself being a genre known for its pomp and circumstance.

But here… just the very way they construct their songs gives them away as classical musicians. Not even just in the skill and technique with which they play, but also in the melancholy and threat all of their songs contain. The songs flow and ebb. If they had any leitmotifs or even lyrics, I’d be tempted to call this a concept album. As it is, I choose to think of it as soundtrack to a film that was never made. (And yes, Peer Gynt was composed for the stage, as part of a [then] very progressive musical piece of theatre. In b4 internet pedantry.)

Here is an actually-relevant picture of the broadway show, from what I can only imagine is at least 50 years ago.

This doesn’t totally work in the album’s favour though. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to the incidental music for a film or play, but not all of it’s that gripping. It’s fantastic in the background, if you’re doing something, but even the soundtrack to epic space opera action games such as Mass Effect grate if you’re not keeping yourself busy.

The songs also become a bit indistinct. This is obviously partly due to the fact that all of the instruments are the same instrument. And partly due to a style choice to have no vocals, rendering the songs even more operatic. But it steals away from us a crucial facet of the album that we need to latch onto and identify with individual songs. It just feels like one huge song with short breaks

OK, we’re obviously not talking Clutch levels of amorphity (ED: is that a word?). They are a lot more than that. And I can guarantee, this is the sort of music that will make anything sound epic. I’m kinda not sure that that was what they were going for, but whatever.

This album is epic in the modern usage of the term, with a little of the classical meaning thrown in: it’s cool, it sounds good, and IT. IS. HUGE. I just kinda wish it also had more grab. Ah well; it’s not the end of the world.

***

Also, is Kaamos supposed to end like that? I thought it was just a corruption of my mp3 version. Bizarre.

* For the record, on the album it is followed by a couple of new Metallica covers, “Until It Sleeps” and “Fight Fire With Fire”, but while I appreciate the covers themselves, I choose to ignore them. They are not a part of the album itself in the way that Grieg is. To explain in movie terms, they feel like the ending credits.

** And Rule of Three, for good measure.

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Posted on October 4, 2012, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hey dude, just wondering. Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

    • Hey,

      yeah, I am. I’m gonna do a post on it soon, once I have the latest “late” review done :/ Meanwhile, I’m lurking the forums like a troll.

      I was going to ask if you were, actually – I’d’ve thought it’d be right up your street.

      (EDIT – “lurking the NaNoWriMo forums”: redrafting like a boss!)

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