It is amazing what human beings can do with music, not just the musical pieces themselves but also what can be done with those pieces. A piano piece can be played on the guitar, which can be played on the violin, which can be played on the xylophone, which can be played on a piccolo. Something loud and thunderous can be made soft and gorgeous while something contemplative and quiet can be made into a rock ballad. The expressive possibilities seem endless, and they can be quiet fun to explore, though the exploration can produce some surprising results.
I once heard someone (some anonymous voice in a comment section somewhere) say that the musical style of "metal" lends itself well to classical interpretation. Simply put, those shredding guitar rifts and heavy-handed back-beats can be quite effectively transposed into a string ensemble. I have found (from random suggestions and searches on iTunes, Facebook, and Youtube) many "tribute" albums to various bands where all of their songs were played on the piano (or a violin and piano, or with a string quartet), and I had seen many of those albums pay tribute to "metal" bands as well. Thus, the assertion did not surprise me.
Recently, however, I was visiting a blog that I frequent often. Every Monday it posts something about music, and this Monday it had a professional video from a concert for a band called Apocalyptica. They are a Finnish metal band that specializes in something called (brace yourself) "cello metal". That's right: cello metal. Three out of the four members are classically trained cellist (and the fourth one can play one as well), and they make their cellos the centerpiece of their act. As proof of this, I present to you the video from that blog, and I want you to pay attention to this video. Nevermind that the four men on stage look like a typical "metal" band (i.e., they're aptly dressed for Halloween, and one's missing his shirt), or that the stage looks like it is set for a "metal" band (complete with skulls!). Instead of all that, pay attention to these two things:
(1) The song itself. It is a rendition of "Nothing Else Matters," by Metallica (I've linked to the song in case you want to listen to it for reference). I've randomly heard this song before (on Pandora Radio), and it sounded like a typical metal song I suppose (my experience is very limited); but I've never heard it done like this before. Apocalyptica takes it and transposes it into a cello quartet piece that is (no joke) hauntingly beautiful. It sounds like something any Mozart-purist would be in tears over. Listen to that and then think: that used to be a metal song by Metallica. Amazing.
(2) The people in the audience. "Metalheads" one and all, yes? Perhaps, yet when the classical sounds begin to resonate from the stage, there is no chorus of boos or chants of "BORING!". They are all into it. Seriously into it. I don't know why, but I found that to be pleasantly surprising (which I fear means that I am a snob).
Anyway, check out the video and see what you think:
-Jon Vowell (c) 2011