Plays Metallica by Four Cellos(Mercury - 1996)
And now for something completely different. A group of four cellists came up with this outrageous and highly original idea to play Metallica songs with four cellos only. I just had to get this for curiosity's sake alone. Well my curiosity was satisfied but my ears were insulted. Let me list my gripes:
1. The whole concept of playing speed/thrash metal on cellos is wrong. What they should have done is 'classicalize' the music instead of playing it note for note like they did. They didn't change it at all and that is silly.
2. Cellos are not meant to play fast stuff like this. The speedy parts are way too crunchy and don't sound right at all. The slow parts however are not so bad and some are actually quite enjoyable.
3. James doesn't sing on most of the original songs (he shouts) and to play his vocals on cello are a big mistake. They sound way too monotonous.
4. My biggest gripe on this album is that whoever plays the high 'guitar' solos is completely off tune many times when he goes to the higher notes and it severely hurts my classically tuned ears.
5. After all is said and done, they don't play with enough flair or emotion IMO.
A huge disappointment and basically gimmick music.
Inquisition Symphony(Mercury - 1998)
After the hugely disappointing and gimmicky debut of Metallica covers, I wasn't expecting much from this follow-up. There are some pleasant surprises here though. First of all they have thankfully stopped focusing only on Metallica and are now covering other bands as well as composing their own songs. Secondly, their talent has improved and they started using some distortion and atmospherics in some sections to enhance or cover the sound adequately. For those of you who don't know what this band is about, they are a cello quartet who cover/play 'metal' on their cellos only. This one is better reviewed song by song:
Harmageddon (Apocalyptica) - A dark, very interesting piece that works amazingly well when they aren't trying so hard to sound like metal rhythm guitars. It grows on you quite well and I like how they used a cello to play some percussive notes and atmospheric wails. In any case this is miles better than when they try to play thrash metal, simply because this was written with cellos in mind.
From Out of Nowhere (Faith No More) - A surprisingly enjoyable melodic piece with a simple, energetic rhythm.
For Whom the Bell Tolls (Metallica) - One of their better Metallica covers but I fail to see the point in working so hard to sound like the original when you have such deliciously different instruments in your hands. A shortened version with most of the vocal parts left out (which is probably what made it acceptable).
Nothing Else Matters (Metallica) - Their first good transposing idea for a cover: using pizzicato for the main guitar lines. This, layered with the warm and moody harmonic vocal lines and continuo, comes out sublime and beautiful.
Refuse/Resist (Sepultura) - A lot of hard work was put into making this sound like the original, even using some sort of percussion (cello as well?) and lots of brilliantly produced distortion and effects. Interesting technically.
M.B. (Apocalyptica) - Another original that starts slow and tries to sound too much like thrash, but it builds an interesting dark mood in sections. These songs make me wish they would write their own dark classical music for cellos and stop trying so hard to be classified as 'metal on cellos'.
Inquisition Symphony (Sepultura) - A superb choice: a dark, complex and amazing instrumental. Apocalyptica cover this one with talent and energy.
Fade to Black (Metallica) - More nice pizzicato at first but this one is a throwback to the early horrible Metallica covers, mainly because the solo cellist here is out of tune and limp. I think they have a bad apple in their midst. The later buildup is slightly awkward but at least they learned not to go on and on with the crunchy and annoying rhythm 'guitars' as on the debut.
Domination (Pantera) - Boring. Jumpy. Annoying. A bad idea.
Toreador (Apocalyptica) - A failed original with a Spanish air. Too much rhythm, crunch and noise, not enough music.
One (Metallica) - Sad and potentially good at first but majorly flawed by that horrible out of tune playing and weak performance. Then it gets annoying and noisy when it builds up. Stop covering and start transposing! Maybe it's the fact that I grew up with classical music and have a sensitive ear but this one is another horrible throwback and reminds me why I hated the debut.
Summary: A mixed bag. But I can understand if some people would love this album for the good stuff on it. Personally, I found it too mixed. Pick this one up carefully.
Cult(Mercury - 2001)
Apocalyptica made a good decision here to enlarge their ensemble to include some orchestral percussion and a double-bass. The distortion and electronic enhancements, both subtle and not so subtle, are featured here a lot more as well, to the point where the cellos often sound like roaring thrash/death metal guitars. They also wrote the majority of the tracks this time (which is good) and included 3 covers at the end of the album so as not to alienate their fans (which is understandable but bad). The result is a very exotic and dark instrumental metal album with a sound you've never heard before. The music shifts from metal style riffing mixed with Eastern European haunting melodies, dark 19th century classical romanticism, touches from the Middle East and some experiments with warp and dissonance. And yes, a couple of moody 'ballads' as well where things really get grand and beautiful. The playing is quite good, although they do go out of tune here and there. Most of the original tracks are very nice, only a couple are gimmicky. Standouts among the originals include the contagious Middle-Eastern 'Path', the sad and beautiful 'Beyond Time', the grand fury and beauty of 'In Memoriam', the speedy, show-off 'Hyperventilation', and the depressingly moody 'Coma'. All in all a captivating and unique, dark experience. After 10 tracks of serious, fascinating music, the album does an about face and goes back to gimmick covers I'm afraid, but you can always stop playing it there. The first is a furious, ludicrously noisy cover of Grieg's 'Hall of the Mountain King' played over the top. Then there's a messy and slightly schmaltzy cover of Metallica's Until it Sleeps that also gets too noisy surprisingly, when they could have easily made this into a haunting beauty. The last cover is of 'Fight Fire With Fire', that starts wittily as a scratchy old vinyl recording and then erupts into annoying, inappropriate crunch and speed with one cello scratching out James' vocal lines. Overall, I really like this album for its original-only dark music and I recommend it, but to me it whispers of something even better to come.