support Swallow the Sun
author NB date 12/12/08 venue Astoria, London, UK

As frequent visitors to the London Astoria, myself and AP are normally frustrated by the lethargy with which the audience is allowed into the venue. If you arrive anywhere less than two hours before doors then you can expect to miss the first act or even the first two. Tonight's bill was Apocalyptica and Swallow the Sun and, even meeting our companions towards the back of the queue, we miraculously managed to see the whole gig. This occasion is proof, therefore, that the Astoria can be almost bearable provided you are there to see a band of such low regard as to only merit a single support act. Or so I thought, because this turned out to have been a pessimistic and inaccurate assumption.

Swallow the Sun

Swallow the Sun came on to a surprising level of enthusiasm from the assembled crowd. This was also a crowd which included a loftier average age than most metal gigs I have attended including the likes of middle-aged, gothic woman and biker husband or even eccentric classical music aficionado. However, I can't see how even this diverse group can be particularly moved by Swallow the Sun's set. As is common with doom metal, the band may as well have played one song for 45 minutes for all the variety there was in the performance. I suppose they were included on this tour because of a vague similarity in the atmosphere their music conjures but Swallow the Sun left me cold.



Contrariwise, Apocalyptica brought more warmth and energy to their set than I could ever have imagined from a band laden with such cumbersome instruments. From a brief clip on YouTube I foresaw their set as that of a seated, classical string quartet... in other words: boring. But suddenly the ethereal chairs - half cello, half skull - were revealed from underneath black cloths and stood majestically around a ghostly, transparent drum-kit. The band entered and went immediately into the haunting bow song of "Refuse / Resist" followed by "Grace" and "Burn" from the current album "Worlds Collide". At this point I was surprised to see the band get up from their seats and heft their cellos around the stage. In fact, there was more on-stage action from this heavily-armed, classical quartet than you get from many bands who are weighed down only by guitars. Frontman Eicca Toppinen and (Tuomas Holopanien look-alike) Pertu Kivilaakso spent most of their time headbanging and gyrating around their cellos at the front of the stage.

Although the sound was perfect, there was one disappointment. Apocalyptica's songs are riddled with performances from guest vocalists such as Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Till Lindemann (Rammstein), Matt Tuck (Bullet For My Valentine), Max Cavalera (Soulfly) and Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and the icing on the cake would have been a surprise appearance from one of these to provide some variety in a purely instrumental set. Having said that, Perttu informed Antero Manninen (a former member sitting in as the fourth cellist) that he had just performed his best rendition of "Bittersweet" to date, despite the melody of Lauri Ylönen and Ville Valo's vocals being replaced by another soaring cello.

The band wrapped up the set with some of their well known Metallica and Sepultura covers and finally a spot of "Norwegian Black-Metal" in the form of Grieg's "Opus 23". At one point something happened which I have never before seen at a metal gig. A hail of lingerie descended upon Kivilaakso and, whilst Toppinen was introducing the next song with some self-deprecating remarks, he wandered around the stage sniffing and selectively stowing these items in his pockets. So, they're evidently popular with the ladies; I only hope Apocalyptica aren't going the way of HIM.


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