"They've gone beyond novelty value to become their own unique entity." Apocalyptica have made another stirring album of orchestral Metallica covers - and they've even made St Anger sound epic

Almost thirty years on from their first Metallica covers record, Apocalyptica have come full circle

(Image: © Riki Murto)

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Apocalyptica had to be talked into recording their debut album, Plays Metallica By Four Cellos. Having formed the band for a bit of fun, they didn’t really think anyone would want to hear four classically trained metalheads recreate their favourite band’s music beyond the odd club show. As it turned out, they would go
on to sell six million albums, tour the world, write their own songs and have rock and metal luminaries from Dave Lombardo and Corey Taylor to Cristina Scabbia and Ville Valo lining up to guest on tracks.

Now, thought, it all comes full circle. It’s strange to think that the first Plays Metallica... was released in June 1996, just days after Metallica themselves released Load. It’s an epoch away and, consequently, Plays Metallica Vol. 2 is a very different beast to its predecessor. The first album was packed with hits and iconic tracks from Metallica’s ‘classic’ era. They were the obvious choices at the time perhaps, but transposing monsters like Enter Sandman and Master Of Puppets to cello was certainly not an obvious or even a very sensible thing to do. This was, after all, still three years before Metallica teamed up with the San Francisco Symphony for S&M – and who knows how much influence Apocalyptica’s success had on that little diversion?

This time out Apocalyptica take a deeper dive into Metallica’s back catalogue, particularly the albums released since ...Four Cellos. They also play a little looser with their versions, reinterpreting the musical message where it makes more sense, rather than offering a literal translation. So Ride The Lightning kicks things off with an eerily extended intro that also brings elements of For Whom The Bell Tolls - previously covered on Apocalyptica’s second album, Inquisition Symphony - into its folds. From there it’s straight into the much-maligned St. Anger, reworked with brighter melodies and a less annoying snare sound. The Unforgiven II is lighter and airier than the already balladic original, but perfectly suited to the band’s classical treatment. Blackened retains its thrashing groove, which, it turns out, the cello was always perfectly suited for, but it’s the reinterpreted solos and melodic break that really stand out.

The two instrumentals they tackle – The Call Of Ktulu and To Live Is To Die – are played fairly straight, as they don’t have to recreate vocal melody lines alongside the instrumentation. Elsewhere, Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo makes a guest appearance on a frantic version of The Four Horsemen, and relative Black Album deep cut Holier Than Thou is played faster than the original. That leaves an epic version of One, with the lyrics delivered by James Hetfield as spoken-word poetry, and a second version (‘Two’, if you will) delivered as an orchestral instrumental, to finish off the album. Both versions sound incredible, with beautiful melodies and atonal stabs of strings bringing Apocalyptica’s own musical vision to anguished life. And that’s what this album is about. Apocalyptica have gone beyond mere novelty value to become their own unique entity, breathing fresh life and a new perspective into these songs. It’s not something they could have envisaged all those years ago.

Plays Metallica Vol. 2 is out Friday June 7 via Throwdown Entertainment

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer