Even Barack Obama knows it, Finland is the Capital of Metal. The country has more metal bands per capita than any other. It has also been claimed that Finland is the only country in the world where metal is considered mainstream music. What underlines the country’s position at the centre of the worldwide heavy metal community is that lots of foreigners have studied Finnish to capture not only the tone, but also the atmosphere, the sounds and the smells of hard-working heavy metal bands.
This thriving heavy metal scene keeps endlessly producing respected works of art. Nightwish’s Hvman.:II: Natvre was released in 2020, while Tarja Turunen published her latest recording, In the Raw, in 2019, to mention some. Alongside of these, Apocalyptica started the year 2020 by delivering a new album for fans who have waited a follow-up to 2015’s Shadowmaker.
One of the mainstay names in the Finnish heavy metal scene is Eicca Toppinen, a classically trained cellist who formed the quartet Apocalyptica together with three other cellist friends back in 1993. Toppinen is a character whose look is a textbook example of a heavy metal icon, with long hair and all-black apparel. However, appearances can be misleading. Toppinen is also known as a producer and a songwriter, who has composed the opera Indigo for the Finnish National Opera together with his band mate Perttu Kivilaakso.
It is fair to say that Toppinen and Apocalyptica, described as a symphonic or neoclassical metal band, have never shied away from trying new things. Since the first album released some 25 years ago, the band has added many new elements to its music, such as moving beyond the novelty of being a cello-only cover band playing Metallica by writing original material and adding drums, vocals and choirs. Now, with its latest release, the multi-platinum band manages to go back to its roots with much inspiration without sounding old-fashioned but rather timeless.
Read on to discover how Toppinen describes the trajectory of Apocalyptica and the new release, what is his relation to nature and what makes him lose track of time.
What’s your unmissable breakfast item?
I can easily miss breakfast on tour, but, when I am home where I can decide what to eat, I eat berries, natural yogurt and crushed linseeds. And have café latte.
Why did you become a cellist?
I started to play when I was nine. I never thought that playing could become my profession until I got into the Sibelius Academy at the age of 17. There I realised I might have the skills to become a professional, but I still didn’t think about what it meant, I just enjoyed playing.
Apocalyptica has released nine albums already. How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
It has evolved in soooo many ways… In the beginning, we were just bunch of friends who played cello but also loved metal music. After our second album, we started to feel more like a band and it was time to start to find our own musical identity, and writing our own music was the key to that. Therefore our third album, Cult, was a very important turning point. And since we started to write our own music, we started to add elements like drums and vocals to our music as well. So, our nine studio albums are very different from each other because it has been very important for us to always try new approaches and ways to make music, to challenge ourselves and to get inspired by something new and exciting.
Released in 2020, your latest album is called Cell-0. How was the production process this time?
The process of making Cell-0 was very interesting for us. We were on our 20th anniversary tour playing the Plays Metallica By Four Cellos concept for almost three years. The concept was fully instrumental and we brought it into 230 concert halls around the world. To us, it really meant going back to our roots – how we originally started this band. This made us dive into the original core of Apocalyptica, but, with the experience we have gained over these years, also made us to think of our musical roots with our own compositions as we made the album Cult. Therefore we decided to make a fully instrumental album and to work without a record label or producer. We locked ourselves into a studio with one recording engineer with us and began the search of the core soul of our musical selves. We wanted to be totally free of any expectations and outer influences. Although the core of the compositions was already taking shape when we stepped into the studio, the album was pretty much built in the studio. We made the production, sounds and all the arrangements during the recording and built up the songs the best way we could.
The new album comes with a strong message. Where did the environmental themes originate from?
I think that, in general, writing music or doing any kind of art is filtering your experiences and what you see, feel and think through your own personality. We all have had a very strong connection to nature, and during the recording process it started to become one of the main themes of the album. How we should find again our respect for nature and the fact that we are part of everything surrounding us – the nature, animals, other people. The greediness and carelessness of today’s people is a growing disease we all should work on to cure. This could be done by raising environmental awareness, helping people to use their very capable brains to start to make a difference for the future. With this album, we are not trying to tell anyone what to think but to give a good platform to let your mind fly and feel and raise its own thoughts. I guess every listener will experience this very colourful and emotionally strong album in their own unique way.
Let’s change tack for a moment to talk about some more personal questions. What is your own relation with nature?
I have always had a very strong connection to nature, and I need to feel that I am part of it. This helps me to stay sane and understand how small I am in the bigger picture. I feel big respect towards nature, and, for me, nature’s creations beat human creations with flying colours. I love spending time at the sea or in a forest and just follow how the weather is changing. There is so much happening when you just stop what you are doing and observe your surroundings. Nature is almost never boring.
What makes you lose track of time?
Whatever, I guess, as I am constantly losing track of time. I can’t remember which day it is and, many times, what the time is. Sometimes this happens because I am concentrating so much on something – it can be basically whatever: work, conversation, etc. And sometimes I lose track of time because I am not concentrating at all. Usually, I am late because of this.
Which media and/or social media do you follow?
I use Facebook very randomly, mainly checking and posting stuff between my friends. I know everybody on my friend list personally. I also have a public profile, but it follows my Instagram, which I mostly use. I never got into Twitter, even though I also have an account on Snapchat.
What do you like to do most when not playing cello?
Multiple things. As mentioned, nature is important for me. I spend my time either gardening, doing forestry work, boating or running in the forest. In addition, I like cooking and hanging out with friends and family and, of course, sauna. That’s one of my huge passions.
What band best represents Finnishness?
Many bands do, but I would say we represent it very well. We have the combination of a raw and beautiful sound, an attitude of no fear and a mission to create something unique, original and fresh.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced professionally?
It is hard to say. My career has been full of challenges that have felt impossible at first glance, so it is not possible to name one. In general, the biggest challenge is to avoid getting cynical and negative, as the music business can also be full of shit and things that are not real or good for you.
Who is your hero?
I don’t really have heroes I could name. I think anyone who is living his/her life truthfully, with passion, ambition and vision, while respecting other people and nature, can be my hero.
If Finland was a flavour, what would it be?
Havunneula. Whatever that is in English. [Coniferous needle]
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I never think so far ahead. I rather try to keep myself in the moment. However, if I had to think about it, I hope our great band is still vital and motivated to make great music. Besides Apocalyptica, I am also expecting new interesting projects to come up, which will help me to reach new ways of making music and develop myself. Hopefully staying healthy and having a good positive drive no matter what I am actually doing.