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:
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."
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.
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.
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