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Unearthing the Metal Underground: Violin and Cello Metal

In 1996, Apocalyptica released their debut studio album, "Plays Metallica by Four Cellos," and the metal world would never again view cellos the same way. Apocalptica was no one-trick pony, however. They upped the ante and quality massively on "Inquisition Symphony" and branched out to cover other metal bands plus three original compositions. By their third album, the band was producing primarily original material, still heavy and still on four cellos.

While Apocalyptica has since broken out of the underground, it took them years to do so even while piggybacking on the success of metal gods like Metallica, finally securing a decent North American record deal and touring the U.S. after they had four albums under their belt. Yet, their success has opened doors to more classically trained musicians to explore the heavier side of their instruments and contribute to the heavy metal community in their own ways. If Apocalyptica did not start by covering Metallica, one might wonder how heavy a band of celloists could possibly sound. Not only do they pull it off in the studio, but they put on a live performance that rivals that of their idols.

Today I will introduce you to three underground bands that employ extensive use of bowed instruments, primarily the cello and violin. Not only does the inclusion of these instruments give the music a unique feel, but the musicians themselves being more classically trained has its own impact on the compositions as well. Let's get started:

Hevein

What better place to start than with a band whose inclusion is owed to Apocalyptica. In 2002, Max Lilja left Apocalyptica and joined the Finnish band Hevein, again as a celloist. Hevein was actually founded in 1992 by guitarist Leif Hedström and drummer Alpo Oksaharju, however, adding bassist Tomi Koivunen and violinist Aino Piipari in 1998.

Hevein mixes things up pretty well, going from mellow with clean vocals to heavy with a great harsh vocal delivery, and many variations in between. The band does employ both guitar and bass guitar, but the cello and violins are often used to excellent effect despite not being the featured instruments.

You can check out some of their music on the band's MySpace player as well as a live video of "Worth Fighting For" from Masters of Rock 2007 below. Some of their heavier songs on their MySpace player are "Bleed the Day," "Beg To Differ," "Hold Fast."

Grayceon

While signed to Vendlus Records and having toured with a number of moderately well known bands (in metal/experimental circles), Grayceon is still far from a household name. The San Francisco, California-based band consists of Jackie Perez Gratz (Amber Asylum/Giant Squid) on electric cello and vocals, Max Doyle (Walken) on guitar and vocals, and Zack Farwell (Walken) on drums.

Sporting female vocals and cello, one might expect the band to take an operatic approach to metal. Instead the band succeeds in creating their own brand of interestingly textured progressive rock and metal. Stressing the long-jam aspect of their progressive tendencies, the band breaks the ten and even twenty minute mark with songs on their sophomore album, "This Grand Show." The band tends to mix up instrumental tracks with those utilizing both male and female vocals to good effect.

Grayceon has released two albums of their own as well as a split CD with Giant Squid. The band is currently working on their third album.

Check out a live video below and a more songs on their MySpace player or Bandcamp page. The video below is one of their slower jams, but rest assured they can rock out too - just check out "This Grand Show Is Eternal" here.

Judgement Day

To readers of Metalunderground.com, Judgement Day should be a familiar name, as we cover them frequently. But this violin, cello, and drums trio has earned their mention here by remaining unsigned over the course of self-releasing several EPs and a full-length album. Formed by brothers Anton and Lewis Patzner, the band started off playing metal violin and cello duets on the streets in Berkeley, California in 2002. Anton would later go on to play violin for notable indie-rock band Bright Eyes while Judgement Day was on a temporary hiatus and both Anton and Lewis were recently invited to record on Slash's solo album.

Their debut full-length album, "Dark Opus," is a high-energy journey in string metal that conjures up the same feelings as Apocalyptica's better material (with drums) and comes highly recommended from me. The band even released an acoustic EP, which is available on "name your own price" terms.

Judgement Day will be releasing their new record, entitled "Peacocks / Pink Monsters," on Tuesday, April 13th on itunes, Rhapsody, and every other digital music service they can. It will also be coming out as a special Collectors Book and CD, which will be available at the band's shows or pre-ordered here. Check out their "Violin Hero" spoof video for "Cobra Strike" off their upcoming new album below.

A side effect of utilizing cellos and violins is that the music, even if fast and heavy, becomes a little more accessible and may be tolerable to those who do not have the taste for pure metal distorted guitars (e.g. spouses or friends on long road trips). If they still don't like these bands, well then they can easily be ridiculed into submission: "What, was that violin too heavy for you?" Then follow up with a threat to play some Slayer or Deicide and you'll quickly get your way!

If you know of any other metal bands that make heavy use of cellos, violins, or especially other ethnic bowed instruments, please feel free to share them in the comments below. I'd love to hear about them and check them out.

Each week in "Unearthing the Metal Underground," we'll be putting a few quality underground bands in the spotlight in an attempt to get the word out about them. Come back next Monday to discover three more underground metal bands worth checking out.

deathbringer's avatar

A self-described "metal geek," Doug Gibson has been listening to heavy metal for more than twenty years and designed and coded Metal Underground.com from scratch over ten years ago.

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16 Comments on "Unearthing the Violin and Cello Metal Underground"

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zMETALlica's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

1. zMETALlica writes:

hehe Violin hero...

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum uses violin as a primary instrument.

I think my dying bride used violin as well..

great original idea for the column..

# Mar 8, 2010 @ 10:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Angry_Mob_Justice's avatar

Supporter

2. Angry_Mob_Justice writes:

If there's one thing in metal that i'd be interested in hearing more, it's definately more use of the violin and cello. I'm a fan of classical music as well so the combination of metal and violins is always something very welcomed. Two other remarkable bands that you should check out which make good use of such instruments are Dominia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w2y5ldS70U - with the song "Mountain's of God's Depression;" and Dark Lunacy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEq6HZTHu4g - with "Dolls."

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 1:13 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Rayze's avatar

Member

3. Rayze writes:

This is a great article. I love how the cello sounds.

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 4:37 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
PESTILENCE's avatar

Member

4. PESTILENCE writes:

Cool article for sure.

Got a band here in Tucson Az that uses Violin and Cello.

Ensphere is the name. Worth checking them out.

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 8:46 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
zMETALlica's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

5. zMETALlica writes:

oh and i can't forget the hsu-nami. they are an instrumental band who use an erhu aka a chinese violin. good stuff

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 8:55 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

6. deathbringer writes:

Cool, thanks for the comments and suggestions. I'll have to check those bands out.

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 9:08 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

Member

7. Blindgreed1 writes:

DB: We have a local band here that utilizes violin as a primary as well. They're called "Stands With Fists" and the violinist (Adrian) is a personal friend of mine whom we intend to use on our next Blind Greed album for our cover of the Who's Baba O'Reiley. Check out Stands With Fists when you get a chance. They're pretty kickin.

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 9:37 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Angry_Mob_Justice's avatar

Supporter

8. Angry_Mob_Justice writes:

Huh it appears like my previous comment didn't get posted, probably because it contained youtube urls. Well like i was saying in my other post, two other violin bands that are good to check out are Domina and Dark Lunacy. A good song by Dominia would be Mountain's of God's Depression and for Dark Lunacy, Dolls. These bands incorporate the instruments as a main part of their sound so its not simply something that was added in the background for extra effect. I would love to see more bands use these instruments in their music.

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 10:36 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

9. deathbringer writes:

Hey AMJ - no worries, was just a little slow on the comment moderation.

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 11:05 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
NW_MetalHead's avatar

Member

10. NW_MetalHead writes:

Violins and cellos are all well and good, but I would love to see timpanis in a band. I'm completely serious, timpanis would create a great breakdown imo

# Mar 9, 2010 @ 2:35 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Spaghetti_Motel's avatar

Member

11. Spaghetti_Motel writes:

I wanna hear some trumpets and organs, maybe a sax or trombone. Yes, I'm talking about ska metal.

# Mar 10, 2010 @ 1:59 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

12. deathbringer writes:

Does such a thing exist as ska metal? I hate ska, so that's a scary thought.

# Mar 10, 2010 @ 9:39 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
weasel321's avatar

Member

13. weasel321 writes:

Personally, I think any instrument should not be "off limits". That is part of the creative process that most of (if not all) styles of music is missing. The catch is, making it sound good not only in the studio but, more importantly, live.

# Mar 10, 2010 @ 12:24 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathfreak's avatar

Member

14. deathfreak writes:

Turn it to the side and Cello you have a bass.
Thx man the first and last band where pretty cool. Keep it up with the insane bands.

# Mar 10, 2010 @ 10:21 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
n0thinghead's avatar

Podcaster/Writer

15. n0thinghead writes:

nice article... violin hero ::chuckles at the idea::

# Mar 15, 2010 @ 5:34 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

Member

16. Blindgreed1 writes:

DB: Yep, it's out there and it sounds exactly the way you are hearing it in your head.

# Mar 15, 2010 @ 5:41 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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