Plays Metallica Vol. 2

rating icon 7.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Ride The Lightning
02. St. Anger
03. The Unforgiven II
04. Blackened
05. The Call Of Ktulu
06. The Four Horsemen
07. Holier Than Thou
08. To Live Is To Die
09. One
10. One (Instrumental)

Everything comes back around eventually. When APOCALYPTICA first caught the metal world's ears, it was in their earliest incarnation as a METALLICA covers band. Released in 1996, "Plays Metallica by Four Cellos" was so convincing, and so much fun, that it almost seemed a shame that the Finnish virtuosos didn't then embark on a career as metal's resident, cello-based tribute act. Instead, they swiftly established themselves as something greater than that: a band that could certainly pull a majestic cover of "Master Of Puppets" out of the bag, but that also had a huge imagination best served through original material.

Over eight albums of largely cover-free exploration, APOCALYPTICA have been one of the most ingenious bands around. Nonetheless, even the most dedicated fan should admit that "Plays Metallica Vol. 2" is exactly what most non-diehards would most like to hear from them. At this rate, of course, the third volume of this endeavor will arrive in 2052, so we might have to wait for cello'd versions of "72 Seasons" and, Satan help us, "Suicide & Redemption". For now, this undeniably lavish and meticulous throwback to founding bow-wielder Eicca Toppinen and his crew's opening statement should be more than sufficient.

As familiar as their sound is after nearly 30 years, APOCALYPTICA still produce an overpowering barrage of sound that has lost none of its impact. Few bands could cover a song like "Ride The Lightning" and rival the original's epic bombast, but the Finns have this stuff in their veins, and they play every riff, solo and jolting tempo switch with utmost conviction. The result is a zingy, fresh take on a revered classic, with the obsidian squall of amassed cellos drawing new textures from some of metal's most cherished riffs. On a genuinely wild "Blackened", APOCALYPTICA stir up a storm of controlled chaos that is as lithe and vital as thrash was always intended to be. Heavy when they feel the urge, but primarily concerned with the elegant reimagining of these songs, Toppinen and fellow cellists Paavo Lötjönen and Perttu Kivilaakso swoop and skim across each other with balletic grace. On "The Call Of Ktulu", they pull off the rare feat of making one of METALLICA's greatest instrumental moments sound even more grandiose. Both "The Four Horseman" (featuring Rob Trujillo himself on blister-battering bass) and a well-chosen and ruthlessly executed "Holier Than Thou" confirm that APOCALYPTICA are a lethally adept metal band who just happen to play cellos. As if to hammer the point home, a monumental, cinematic rendering of "One" does crazy things with the original's structure and dynamics, but still fulfils the respectful tribute brief. More than anything, "Plays Metallica Vol. 2" is a robust reminder that METALLICA wrote some truly extraordinary, world-altering music back in the '80s. A wonderfully delicate but absurdly powerful abridgement of "To Live Is To Die" is the best thing here by some distance. If it isn't used on the closing credits to some horribly dark movie in the next two years, I would be astonished.

As with its now ancient predecessor, "Plays Metallica Vol. 2" focuses primarily on METALLICA's flawless first decade, but APOCALYPTICA have taken a punt on a couple of worthy outliers too. Their version of "St. Anger" is notable for two things: for being much easier to listen to than the original, or indeed anything from the album of the same name, and for doing what its composers have singularly failed to do in recent times, by editing METALLICA's seven-minute version down to a more serviceable and punchier four minutes. It is a much better song as a result. Meanwhile, APOCALYPTICA have done the decent thing by following up their version of "The Unforgiven" from their 1996 project with a gorgeous take on "The Unforgiven II", a rare highlight on the fatally flabby "Reload".

Generally speaking, a covers album is just a covers album. But just as they did 28 years ago, APOCALYPTICA wring every last drop of artistry and verve from the simple act of bashing out some of their favorite 'tallica tunes.

Author: Dom Lawson
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