This guide comes after a lengthy break in my long-form writing. In order to get back on track, I realised I had to cover a band where I could really spin a tale, both in terms of the band’s own history and how their music affected me. And when I think back to which band broke the Anglo-American dominated nature of my CD collection back in the late 1990s and dragged me willingly into the ‘scene’ that has dominated my life ever since, Apoptygma Berzerk are the band most responsible.
The name means little to many, indeed it means nothing at all in linguistic terms. However, behind that incomprehensible name is a fascinating, diverse, sometimes frustrating project, one who’s never afraid to state its influences, but always willing to take them in a variety of directions. It is a project of many facets, many influences and many motivations, and hence despite not having the largest backcatalogue of all the bands I’m planning to cover, it’s still my longest Listener’s Guide to date.
Apop (as they will often be referred to from here, APB is also a valid shorthand) have had a fluid line-up, but at the heart of the project is Stephan Groth. Born in Denmark but of Norwegian nationality, having resided there since adolescence, he is the driving force and one constant factor in the story I’m about to tell. The albums do feature the other members on occasion, more frequently in their mid-late-00s era, and there’s always a multitude of guest players. For instance, Stephan’s brother Jonas gets a significant number of credits throughout the band’s history, but only officially joined the live band in 2009 as keyboardist. It’s confusing if you’re trying to track who’s-playing-on-what, but for now, just don’t forget who’s in charge!
Also a note about formats. Apop’s discography can initially appear to be a confusing mix of albums, singles, EPs and DVDs. It’s common for the same tunes and versions to crop up on multiple releases, several years apart. This will be of little concern to those of you who now enjoy your music via streaming services, but completist physical-format collectors will have their hands full. I’ll be taking a middle track on this aspect, summing up the key tracks era-by-era and the most effective route to collecting them. Comprehensive but not exhaustive – check out Discogs.com if you want the final gaps filled.
One difference from other listeners guides will be that all the singles and EPs will be described as part of the main text, due to their significance in tracing the creative history of the project. So the ‘Singles and Versions’ section after each album will be, in this case, just ‘Versions’. Shortcuts to collecting them all will be covered in ‘Apop Collected’.
I’m Not Afraid To Die
Apoptygma Berzerk began in 1989 as a collaboration between Stephan Groth and Jon Erik Martinsen (though the latter left the project before this paragraph even ends). Their initial output was the demo tape Victims of Mutilation. Far removed from the band we know and (hopefully) love today, this is bedroom-quality EBM of the old-school variety. Now mainly of curiosity interest for two reasons – the existence of a track actually called Apoptygma (no further clues) and the first of several versions of Ashes To Ashes, the only track on this demo to be reworked at later date – more than once, in fact.
This demo was sufficient to get the Tatra label interested and the first official Apoptygma Berzerk release arrived in 1991 – the Ashes To Ashes 12” single. A throbbing bassline that could have been lifted from That Total Age, a vocal snarl from the Skinny Puppy school, offset against heavenly synths that until now simply didn’t belong in this style of music. The B-sides were less memorable – Wrack’em to Pieces takes vocals into extreme metal territory (wrong kind of Norweigan influence) and Dust to Dust tries for a cleaner vocal and something approximating to a xylophone solo but isn’t developed as far as it could have been.
The project got more attention after providing a couple of tracks to the 1992 ‘Sex, Drugs and EBM’ compilation – the techno-inspired Borrowed Time and the first of several versions of Burning Heretic – full of gothic melodies and religious reference, it was the basis for the Apop sound of the 1990s, introducing Stephan’s more ‘natural’ vocal style, which, whilst no sign of true virtuosity, served him well across the many styles he’d later practise. The concept was developed fully on EP The Second Manifesto. The medieval intro leads into Spiritual Reality. The hammering beat and mechanical bassline wasn’t unlike the kind of thing Project Pitchfork were playing at the time, but Groth’s musings about his own faith and mortality made this tune very much one of his own. Burning Heretic also appears here in it’s “Gothic Version”, stripping out the drums and bringing it’s distinctive synth riff to the fore, it’s like 90s darkwave-meets-John Carpenter.
1993 saw the release of Bitch – aimed firmly at the dancefloors, it’s a hard-hitting, dismissive “take a swipe at the ex” tune, but it’s assembled with sufficient maturity to forgive a subject matter too often the subject of musician’s “early works”. Backed with equally gutsy versions of “Ashes To Ashes” and “Borrowed Time”, the single is a prelude to the first full-length Apop album Soli Deo Gloria. Stephan Groth has never exactly kept his religious background a secret, but a debut album that translates to “Glory To God” is certainly a case of wearing one’s heart on sleeve. Be assured, however, that he’s no bible basher either, and it’s just as well, because this album is enjoyable by people of all backgrounds, faiths and denominations.
“Bitch” and “Spiritual Reality” appear here in their original forms, and that’s no bad thing as it’d be hard to improve on either. There’s a new version of “Burning Heretic”, the melodies lighter in tone allowing the rhythmic elements to drive the song forward, and even leaving some space in the mix for a thrashy guitar riff! This would become the definitive version of this tune, a regular in their live sets. “Ashes To Ashes” in it’s ’93 form remains the full-throttle slam it always was, though with an improved standard of recording, it too can be seen as the definitive amongst many versions.
There are new tracks too. Backdraft revisits the jackhammering drums and spiritual musings of “Spiritual Reality”, and is just as good at doing so. ARP (808 Edit) is a brief analogue synth indulgence whilst Stitch takes a dip into slow, seething electro-industrial (harsh vocal tracks were never this projects strong point). The only really weak track is Skyscraping (Schizophreniac), which crudely bolts together a few half-developed ideas and passes them off as a single track. Mention must also be made of the four instrumental pieces that link this album together – such things are usually filler at best, but here they really help with the flow of album and make it work as a complete piece – rare on is what is a full length debut.
And finally, we hear the beginning of an Apop trend. Cover versions. The ‘bleedin’ obvious’ 80s standards would be saved for later. For now, New York legends The Velvet Underground get the APB treatment, with a radical overhaul of All Tomorrows Parties. Taking the basic pattern of original but totally reworking the instrumentation to fit with the style of the album as a whole, it’s a refreshing break from the near-soundalike-just-a-bit-angrier covers pervading this genre.
Versions: The album has been reissued several times in various formats. The issues from the 00s usually have three bonus tracks – a version of Burnin’ Heretic very similar to the album version despite a new vocal, also a couple of other ‘Ok-but-not-necessary’ alternate versions’. ARP unplugged just loses what was good about the original.
The 25th anniversary edition is the one you want – full remaster and seven bonus tracks, some from EPs and compilations, others never heard before. Two of them are yet-more takes of “Ashes To Ashes”, for those of you interested in the early evolution of this project in terms of what made it in and what was rejected. The other two are remixes – interlude track “The Sentinel” gets drawn out to three times it’s original length by Blackhouse, whilst allied Norwegians Technomancer provide a modernised but respectful take on “Backdraft”, bringing in their own sounds without killing the spirit of the original.
Apop’s next release was the Deep Red single in 1994 – the throbbing bassline and vocal snarl aren’t that far removed from the more club-oriented tracks on the last album (indeed they reprised “Backdraft” as a B-side), though a richer, more developed production style shows an increasing maturity of sound. There’s another new track in the form of Electronic Warfare, a no-holds-barred blast though up-tempo rhythms and shouted lyrics, but despite many variations on it’s core theme, it’s not an ‘stayer’ when measured alongside their other output of the time.
More significant was Non-Stop Violence the following year, the intense catchy synth groove bearing a strong anti-war message, particularly in terms of it’s media portrayal. It refers to both the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia (then still a significant news item) and Stefan’s own battle with the Norwegian authorities over the issue of forced military service, adding real meaning to that already memorable “Catch Me If You Can” chorus. Extras include a live version of “Burnin’ Heretic” (like the studio version with some extra guitar) and “Near (Banilla Dream Version)”, a track that gives a fairly substantial clue to what awaits us on the next full-length album.
Namely, 7, released in 1996. “Deep Red” makes it here intact, alongside a conceptually similar (but-just-as-good) Half Asleep. However, “Non-Stop Violence” has been extended, complete with a false ending and an outro that puts a further perspective on the song’s meaning. But if you want the real statement of intent, it’s found on Love Never Dies Part 1. The pipe organ intro gives way to that distinctive ascending synth line, with Stephan’s verses leading into THAT chorus, lifted straight from “O Fortuna”. In our relatively small, self-contained scene, it’s an anthem among anthems, featuring as it did in many of my highest-profile DJ sets – but unlike most of the others, it’s the kind of tune “normal people” like as well. Can’t remember how many people borrowed the CD in my Uni Halls of Residence off the back of this tune alone.
And the surprises don’t stop. “Near” has become Nearer, now heard in its definitive form, and it stands as one of Apop’s best slow, drawn-out synth-ballads, a formula they’d mess up more than once later in the tale. 25 Cromwell St. is the “other” kind of slow song, a dark, seething number with stabbing synth and scathing vocals delivered as a final fuck-you to Fred West, that very British of serial killers. Mourn pays reference to Apop’s rock influences, both with an acoustic drum track and its sample of Nirvana-covering-Bowie, as if to get a two-legends-for-the-price-of-one reference in.
There’s a couple of tracks that pale in comparison to the above (though they’re not exactly bad) – Rebel meanders too much and Love Never Dies Part 2 is an acoustic strum that pales in comparison to the first part. But this is an album where even the hidden tracks are worth listening to. Fast-forward after this song to get a reprise of Non-Stop-Violence, a stew of samples, several minutes of grinding noisebeat and a final composition known only as Untitled Too, a cynically melodic dose of synthpop on which to end the album. An album that delivers on every level. Even if it’s not quite my favourite album of all time (though it’s in the Top 10 for sure), it’s certainly one of the most ‘complete’. It’s a must-hear for anyone who’s read this far.
Versions: The 1996 Tatra original is a good bet if you can find it, but also consider the 1998 version on Metropolis, which works a couple of tracks in from the subsequent Mourn EP and actually improves, rather than disrupts the feel of the disc as a whole. Avoid later issues as sample rights issues crept in and hence the version of “Love Never Dies” here loses its critical choral sample. This and later releases (including vinyl and cassette) do have some bonuses of their own, including another attempt at the unplugged style on “Mourn (Lo-Fi Version)”, a song significantly more suited to such a treatment than ARP from the first album.
Stephan Groth’s battle with the Norwegian authorities was a Pyrrhic victory, avoiding the army but instead having to work as a mental care assistant for 14 months. The Mourn EP therefore had to wait until late 1997, and with it an upbeat dancefloor-friendly remix of the titular tune that even became the preferred live version for a while. There’s also a rare example of a hidden track getting remixed – Untitled Too is given a satisfying chip-tune feel by Sweep. No, not Sooty’s sausage-brained canine sidekick, but early Apop member Jon Erik Martinsen in his own project.
There’s also a couple of cover versions. Electricity is the kind of song Apop simply couldn’t get wrong, and sure enough it’s a straightforward take on the original that served for many years as a handy method of getting DJs between 80s new wave and 90s dark wave. More curious (and oft ignored) is Ohm Sweet Ohm, the final tune on Kraftwerk’s ‘Radio-Activity’, an essentially melodic ditty that again suits Apop’s style perfectly. As a delayed accompaniment to ‘7’, this EP serves it’s purpose well, but it also marks something of an end to an era for the band. The next single sees a significant change in direction.
Welcome To Futurepop
The single Paranoia arrived in 1998 – the gothic synths are played down, a hard techno-throb drives the track forward, and whilst Stephan hasn’t lost his songwriting knack (yet), it’s clear that more commercial forms of dance music are finding their way into their sound (especially on the “Haunted Club Version”). There’s also another cover version, but a drawn-out e-piano take on Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” is indicative of a band in transition.
1999 saw a brief period of daytime darkness across Europe and APB celebrate the occasion with the single Eclipse. With a cover clearly inspired by the X-Files and a sound now incorporating cheesy synth-stabs more befitting epic trance, it’s an indication that the evolution of band’s sound to their next creative phase is now complete. The Dimension D Rmx of the song is full of acid squelch and harder beats, and there’s also Beatbox, six and a half-minutes of hard techno and processed vocals, which worked well on tour but can be tiring as a solo listen.
All this leads up to the white crop-circle cover of Welcome To Earth in 2000. The gothic stylings have gone, clean lines and extra-terrestrial influence are now the order of the day. The two lead singles are here, and Apop doubles down on the commercial dance influence with opening track Starsign, the lush synth riff and hands-in-the-air-chorus, the hard beats unpinning it and songwriting rich in new millennium era angst. Futurepop, if not named here, was certain born.
Kathy’s Song is the other enduring classic, a slow piece that employs Apple’s female voice synth in one of the biggest mid-song breakdowns the genre would ever see, the “Come Lie – Next To Me” part even acknowledged by Steve Jobs himself as a particularly creative use of his user-friendly tech. So confident were Stephan and Co with their new sound, that they applied it to their second Metallica cover – totally and without shame. There are many reasons why recording Fade To Black with pulsating keyboard lines and a synth-bell chime should never have worked, but for some strange reason, it does, and brilliantly!
As for the rest of the album? There’s returns to hard tech beats (Soultaker), and chiptunes (the obligatory ‘hidden track’), but elsewhere we find that, hand on heart, this disc isn’t quite the equal of it’s predecessor, with some low-key filler material, and a tries-too-hard attempt at a semi-cover of Badalmenti’s Twin Peaks theme on Moment of Tranquillity. It wants to be the equal of “Nearer” from the last album, but it’s overly-sweet and drawn out, and Garland Briggs’ definitive “Love Is Not Enough” sample is wasted. A pity that the album couldn’t deliver for its full duration, but still well-worth acquiring for the half-dozen dead-certs.
Versions: Whilst issued when the CD was still the “big thing”, vinyl and cassette re-issues would follow several years later. If you’re interesting in bonus tracks, there’s only a couple – Sweep’s remix of “64k” is forgettable, but “Eclipse (Black Sun)” remix is an interesting alternate direction the song could have taken, and hence might be of interest for those of you who thought the album version was “too Ibiza”.
Kathy’s Song was ripe for remixing and hence got a slew of single releases shortly after the main album. I’m not in the business of micro-analyzing the different versions, so let’s just say you’re either going to love or hate the Ferry Corsten remix (available in edit and full length versions). The Dutch trancemeister has a distinct tone which is a perfect match for the original tune and by this point we truly have hit the sound of the superclubs.
Scene purists might prefer the “Victoria Mix” by VNV Nation, Ronan Harris adding some Apple synth vocals of his own and mating those to one of his distinctively dark Empire-era basslines, a combination that had merit but sounds too ‘muddy’ to let the greatness of the original really shine. There’s several other mixes to choose from across the versions, none of them are particularly flawed in any way, it’s just a case of picking your style of choice, with synthpop (Beborn Beton), chiptune (C-64 version) and trance (Green Court) all represented, though you’ll have to buy multiple versions to get every mix.
The next album Harmonizer arrived in 2002. And in a musical sense, it really is more of the same, as the only real difference is the more ‘personal’ nature of the lyrical content. There’s two dead cert-dance anthems in Suffer In Silence (featuring Icon of Coil member Seb Komor) and Until The End Of The World, the latter offering once of the most iconic synth riffs of the early 00s scene. The Kathy principle of the previous album (build up to female-vocal break in mid-song and everyone raises their hands in unison) is used twice, this time with real singers, not an Apple Mac. Unicorn features Claudia Brücken of Propaganda and hence became a hit in Germany in particular, but my personal preference is for Spindizzy – it’s marginal, but being named after my favourite 8-bit computer game ever can’t hurt (note the “hidden track” reprises both of the choruses of these tunes – in case you wanted to enjoy “the best bits” one more time).
And with the DJ choices you probably already know out of the way, it’s time to look for something else of merit. And I have to admit, other than the synthpoppy closer Something I Should Know (with ex-member Jon Erik Martinsen back on synths), I rarely revisit any of the other tracks on this album. Rollergirl is Stephan getting ready for his Fairlight Children electroclash project, Ok Amp Let Me Out is a passable but too-long tech-trance piece, there’s some forgettable minimal techno (not their thing, OK?) and Pikachu is the last nail in Apop’s slow-soft coffin. Don’t get me wrong – when this album is good, it’s really good, but the proportion of filler is rising with each release.
Versions: Some of the original versions add the original mix of ‘Unicorn’, different only in the respect that Stephan’s doing all his own vocals. Later issues may include a mix of “Pikachu” by Sonic Code (no interest) and some of the “Until the End of the World” single mixes I’m about to cover.
The anthems were obvious and hence so were the singles. Until The End Of The World got a two-part 2CD single release. Compared with the Kathy’s Song mixes, however, few of the artists chosen here really get a ‘feel’ for the original song. Martin Eyerer’s version is good as a standalone but falls into the “doesn’t keep enough of the song” trap, and Schiller’s downtempo take is a real square-peg in-round-hole job. Even Ladytron (then in-ascendancy) don’t seem to know what to do with it.
Hate to say it, but the same thing happens with the Suffer In Silence mixes, also a two-parter in it’s original form. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make a song built on synths this rich work as electroclash. Icon of Coil are closer to the mark but seem to have lost their ear for a decent anthem and indulge in too many ‘dance remix’ clichés, a pity given IoC member Seb Komor’s connection to the original. And hence it’s really only worth tuning in for the Lazard Remix, which throws in enough Eurodance ear candy to be at least enjoyable.
A couple of years later came the Unicorn EP (though it’s actually longer than most albums), which came complete in its original form with the Harmonizer DVD (though it’s also available as a stand-alone vinyl and download). There are seven news version of the title track. The Video Version uses a solo vocal and a grinding guitar riff (unusual for the time outside of live versions), whilst the Fairlight Children RMX finally gets an Apop track to work with the still-in-fashion electroclash/retro-synth style. Freezepop go in a similar direction but don’t quite nail it. The other mixes are at least interesting, though I’m not sure Hocico were the right band to call in for song this poppy.
There’s also a mix of “Pikachu” by No Comment, but there’s nothing to work with in a song this vacuous. We also return to cover version territory with a version of A Strange Day by The Cure. It might have the most prominent guitar in any APB song for a while, paradoxically turning one of the riffs from the original into a synth solo, but The Cure are not an easy band to cover and this version comes across as quite awkward for a band who usually cover tunes from this era with seemingly effortless ease. There’s also a live version of “Non-Stop Violence” from their Tel Aviv show, but it’s nothing special on a musical level. It is on a political level, though – playing an anti-war song, in Israel, admittedly before BDS began in earnest but still after much bloodshed in the region. I’ll put that one down as being a pretty bold move for now. (Note: I’ll get to the DVD part, and live recordings in general, later).
Versions: The US version on Metropolis is similar but leads with the Harmonizer DVD title, with the CD portion treated as a ‘bonus’. The EP was reissued in 2007 with three extra tracks lifted from previously released singles, but none of the better mixes were chosen.
In This Together?
It was during the much-delayed APB show at Wave-Gotik-Treffen 2005 that I got a clue as to the direction APB would take next. Their next single In This Together was unveiled. Perhaps realising that they’d scraped the bottom out of the futurepop barrel, Stephan’s gang has picked up their guitars once more and taken a direction they’d hinted at for a while. Rock music. The title and their scene roots might suggest a NINpersonation, but that’s way off the mark. What we get here is a synth-heavy form of anthem rock with an soaring chorus more reminiscent of Bon Jovi! There’s a Flipside Club Mix for those DJs who just had to have the song in a dance-friendly format, but I’m going put my hand up and say I preferred the original (I’ll hand me glowsticks in at the door). We also get an acoustic version of “Until The End Of The World”, which proves it was a good song all along and didn’t need all that messing around with dance remixes.
This led to the full-length album You And Me Against The World. The lead single is a good an indication as any of the direction taken here – it’s synth-heavy rock all the way. As a result, there’s more credit for the other musicians than any previous album, most notably Anders Odden (frequent contributor to the band, but better known for his black metal exploits). But there’s a problem, and it ironically lies with the two other strongest tracks. Cambodia and Shine On. One a Kim Wilde cover, the other a House of Love cover. In both cases, APB’s approach is to keep everything that was good about the original and “rock it up” rhythmically. They’re two of the best covers they’ve recorded. So what’s the problem? (Other than the fact that “Shine On” is technically a bonus track and hence doesn’t appear on every version?)
The problem is that they point up the fact that the band’s own songwriting isn’t really that great after the first few tracks. Love To Blame is reasonable, You Keep Me From Breaking Apart tries to match delicate synths with guitar grind and doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot, and from there, the second half of the album is a thing of patchy pleasures. Every now again we get a nice melody or catchy chorus, but nothing matches the thrill factor of the lead single or the two cover versions. Even the Mortiis colab Maze just zooms past, thrashing about with no shortage of energy, but a distinct lack of creative spark. It’s a trap genre-hopping bands can easily fall into. Valid as it is to cut to another line of creative attack, sometimes it just doesn’t work quite as well as you hoped.
Versions: The most basic versions of the album skip the key “Shine On” cover, though if you miss it, there’s another chance below. There are a few later pressings reprising earlier non-album tracks as bonuses, but there’s also a bonus on the digipak edition called “Is Electronic Love To Blame”, a fully synthesised version of the “Love To Blame” song. It’s no classic, but at least it a tune that knows what it wants to be in comparison to some of the more awkward stylistic hybrids on the main album.
Three further singles were released – Cambodia, Shine On and Love To Blame, but unless you’re a total completist, you don’t need to hunt these down as the key non-album tracks from this era are captured on the Black EP released in 2006. If you got a vanilla version of the main album, you’ve got another chance to pick up their “Shine On” cover here. There’s also a slew of dance remixes, hypothetically a relevant move given the more rock oriented nature of the core material, but none of them caught my attention, the nearest anything gets to interesting being the sweet synths of Sweep’s remix of “Lost In Translation”.
Fast forward to the early days of 2009. The arrival of the next Apoptygma Berzerk single, Apollo (Live On Your TV) came a mere week before the album Rocket Science. Stylistically similar to the previous disc, but conceptually now focusing on social commentary and conspiracy theories, and a wider ‘guest cast’ than at any point in the past. The opening track Weight Of The World is a strong statement of intent, a drawn-out introduction leading into an Orwellian epic, the dark subject matter offset by the bright synths and uptempo rhythms. The aforementioned Apollo is next, delving into the subject of Moon landing conspiracy theories, featuring a guest vocal from Benji Madden from Good Charlotte (don’t laugh, pop-punk was fashionable once) but essentially giving us the big synth-rock lead single to serve as the true successor “In This Together”.
After that, the album continues down that path, synths and riffs working together in a manner than neither repels nor amazes, a couple of spoken word interludes proving to be of brief interest but no lasting value. Of the mid-album songs, only Green Queen really sticks in the mind, but it’s really one of those albums where you could have picked out any of the others – the band themselves play Shadow the most frequently, but I can’t work out what’s so special about it. Things get interesting with the final three tracks – Heat Death Pitch Black verges on noise-rock, Black Versus White is a remarkably catchy pop song with a guest vocal from Amanda Palmer (not her usual style but, hey, it still works), and ending their latest cover version – Trash by Suede. As with most Apop covers, it’s more a salute than a radical re-interpretation, but the song suits their guitar-heavy style of the time, that Britpoppy chorus is intact and hence from there nothing could go wrong.
A proper look back at this album really requires some perspective on the state of music in very late 00s. The ‘scene’ from which APB drew most of their fanbase was undergoing something of a shortfall in fresh talent, label bosses and festival bookers taking few chances in the global recession and hence the “next big thing” remained well hidden for the time being. It was also a year where a number of electronic rock tracks from the wider rock scene found their way into alternative club playlists – both “Uprising” by Muse and “Papillon” by Editors saw frequent play, for example. And did any of the ‘Rocket Science’ tracks equal these two megahits? Despite best efforts, I had to admit my answer is “Not quite”.
Versions: There’s a deluxe version out with a bonus DVD. It includes the “Apollo (Live On Your TV)” video and accompanying ‘making of’, a talk-through of the album tracks from Stephan (moderately interesting), a short film of live/backstage footage called ‘Coming Home to Fredrikstad” plus a few photos and novelty clips. This version was sold at quite a mark-up originally and felt like a rip-off at the time, so only worth seeking out if you’re after everything.
Almost as an afterthought, I need to address the Black EP Vol.2. Whilst both “Apollo” and “Green Queen” were released as singles, the format was beginning its terminal decline at this point, the long-form remix-heavy EP was still a thing. It’s of interest mainly to those fans and DJs who liked Apop up to and including ‘Harmonizer’, but didn’t want anything to do with their rock-anthem era, as this is a method of enjoying the ‘Rocket Science’ tunes in a more electronic form.
There are missteps – Flipside & Parsberg brutalise “Apollo” via that school of remixing that says “sod the song, I’ll crowbar in my dance style of choice come-what-may”. Alex O nearly falls into the same trap with the same song, but the remainder of remixers, including Spektralized, Client, Essence of Mind and Rotersand do a reasonable job in setting what are essentially good songs in their own styles, although there’s no real leap of inspiration of the Ferry-meets-Kathy variety. There’s also a cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart and if you’re in any way familiar with Apop cover versions by now, you already know what this sounds like.
And as far as conventional studio albums go, that’s it. At time of writing, it’s been a decade since the last one. But they haven’t been quiet either. In 2013, they released the Major Tom EP, a cover of the Peter Schilling song that itself was a thinly-veiled Bowie tribute, but also a song I now most associate it as the theme to Deutschland ’83 and ’86 (and also crept into ‘Breaking Bad’). And it’s the best APB cover version in years, with the electronic and rock aspects of the band’s sound finally finding some degree of harmony, and really hitting the ‘4 – 3 – 2 – 1’ bridge that lets that chorus fly.
The rest of the EP is mainly remixes (the other new track, Dead Air Einz, is a case of will-this-do?). The People Theatre Remix brings back the trancey synths of WTE/Harmonizer era APB, and turn it into a real dance anthem along the way. Technomancer go for a more electro-pop treatment, but it works just as well. They also do the same thing to “Shadow”, but I’ve got a feeling nothing’s going to get me into this song, no matter how important Stephan says it is to the band’s canon. Alon Cohen puts in a version closer to the Schilling original, but loses some of the dynamism along the way, and the Code 64 mix is a stuttering abomination.
The next few years saw a series of low-profile 12” singles, which were eventually compiled to form Exit Popularity Contest. And here Apop throw their curviest ball yet. Long, evolving instrumental compositions of the kind rarely heard since the heyday of Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, mated to the more robotic beats developed by Kraftwerk and Neu! around the same time. It just so happens I’m really into this kind of thing, though that also means that I know the style well enough to expose any flaw.
And whilst I can’t honestly say this is the best example of the genre, with a few tracks (Still Nar Gruppe and In a World of Locked Rooms) simply not developing sufficiently to maintain interest, the collection as a whole is very pleasing on the ear, particularly the shuffle rhythm of The Genesis 6 Experiment, the Equinox-esque progression of The Cosmic Chess Match and (best of all) a reprise of the “Burnin’ Heretic” theme on For Now We See Through A Glass, Darkly. It’s not the only old track to see an overhaul, but you might need several listens to figure out what U.T.E.O.T.W. really is.
And this radical back path brings us full circle, returning to ‘Soli Deo Gloria’, released in it’s 25th anniversary edition in 2018 (covered earlier), followed by SDGXXV in 2019, which turns out to be that rarest of things, a truly satisfying remix album. With 18 tracks, some tracks getting multiple reworks, the collection is held together with thumping, no-nonsense takes on Backdraft (by Invincible Spirit), Bitch (by Substaat), Spiritual Reality (by Portion Control) and Burning Heretic (by Ancient Methods). All of these acts know how to not-ruin a great tune, in each track giving the original tune a level-up in terms of rhythmic intensity without spoiling its essential appeal.
With the key tracks in safe hands, this allows experimentation elsewhere, with even the between-song interludes given a new touch. The Sentinel is the most extreme example, given the Volkspalast-am-Montag treatment by both Purient and Blackhouse (the latter also appearing on the 25th anniversary edition of the main album). The other mixes sit between these extremes, and at least one case improves on the original, with the confused Skyscraping given some semblance of order with a melodic synth take from Monster Apparat.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of the chronological part of this story. There’s still some loose ends to tie, though….
You might have gathered that the raw albums alone aren’t enough for the full APB experience. Whilst Spotify generation can build their playlists from whatever aspect of the band most appeals, hard-copy collectors still have shortcuts. The first is The Apopalyptic Manifesto released in 1998, which is an early-era hack-job aimed at the US market. Half of ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ (the American’s didn’t get their own release of this for years), the ‘Deep Red’ single, a selection of other non-album excerpts and a couple of exclusives (including a nice bit of C-64 SID action to kick things off). It probably had value in the pre-online era USA but nowadays it’s just an oddity.
The compilation you really want is The Singles Collection. Almost every single and EP from the ‘Ashes To Ashes’ 12” right though to ‘Kathy’s Song’, omitting only the ‘Mourn EP’ (and later issues squeeze in half of this anyway) and some of the mixes from later versions of the ‘Kathy’s Song’ single (a pity to lose the Green Court mixes, but limits are what they are). Even if there’s some forgettable material along the way, if you’ve been following the text, you’ll realise a number of these tracks are well worth having. If you want the highlights pointing out, well, scroll up and start from the top. I’m not repeating myself!
Finally, there’s almost-but-not-quite-a-compilation Sonic Diary, released in 2005 as a collection of all the Apop cover versions recorded to date, including a few from tribute albums and a few previously unreleased. If you’ve followed me this far, you probably know the albums alone provide plenty of good material on their own. Of the things I haven’t covered so far, the 2002 cover of Marilyn Manson’s Coma White turns the rather sombre original into a fantastic futurepop floorfiller (if indeed, such music can still FILL a floor), and remains the key selling point of this collection, unless you’re into hunting down that musical shovelware better known as Cleopatra tribute compilations.
There’s few other covers you might not have previously heard. I have to ignore Bend And Break as I really don’t like Keane, and the version of U2’s Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses is a mess. The Damned Don’t Cry is reasonable but workmanlike, and Bizarre Love Triangle gets a piano treatment which is pleasant enough but not necessary for anything. There’s also another version of All Tomorrows Parties that splices in some of Nico’s original vocals (so it’s really an extreme remix), but I’ll take the album version over this any day.
Versions: This compilation did come in a limited 2CD version, with the second disc offering still-another-remix-collection. Like the main CD, some were previously released, others appearing for the first time here. Getting Mesh to mix “Mourn” was a smart move, as it came at a time when both bands were bringing more rock influence to their respective sounds. Blackmail try to do the same thing to “Deep Red” but forces the issue too far. The remainder of mixes are take-or-leave – with few A-list tunes chosen for rework, there’s only so good this can get.
Live and on your TV
Finally, we have to look at the live releases. I must admit as this point that the biggest issue I’ve had with this band over the years is that many of the live shows I’ve attended have been less-than-brilliant. It’s an issue with this whole style of music – there’s no getting away from needing significant amounts of playback to reproduce many of their songs live, so their live recordings often end up being slightly lo-fi versions of the album with some extra guitar riffs and synthy bits grafted on. And whilst I’ve only seen a small proportion of their live shows, they seem to a band more prone than most to off-days, especially at large music festivals, as if they suffer most whenever they can’t get a full soundcheck in. Still, I’m a big enough fan to have picked up most, but not quite all, of their live releases, so here’s a run through.
APBL98 was the first, covering the first two albums, with Stephan accompanied by long-serving keyboard player Geir Bratland (who occasionally appears on the albums, too) and on-off guitarist Anders Odden. It’s probably the most ‘classic’ setlist, encompassing their whole darkwave era, though the sound quality is only passable, and the between-song interludes, whilst clearly having seemed funny at the time, now strike me as something best left for the DVD release. Not that DVDs were widely available in Europe back then. There are some CD-ROM clips, though, but these look grainy and sound dated on modern equipment. A pity, as it’s the only way to get their live cover of “Enjoy The Silence” (they were always going to cover the ‘Mode eventually).
DVD’s were a thing by the time of APBL2000, and hence you have two different disc formats to choose from, with the line-up now bolstered by live drummer Ted Skogmann. Both have a strong setlist, though for space reasons the CD cuts a few songs from the full touring setlist, which wouldn’t matter if they’d kept the critical “Love Never Dies” in, but they didn’t. Still, extra points for the Lise Myhre comic included in the insert (complete with a cameo from Nemi and Cyan). The DVD is the way to enjoy this one – now up to at least standard resolution (and the coloured lights blur any artefacts), alternating the tunes with bits of backstage and tour footage. Plenty of bonus clips too, including an archival of Burning Heretic live in Lund in 1994, nice to see if you’re into their early stuff as much as I am.
Next came The Harmonizer DVD, to my knowledge only sold as part of the Unicorn EP covered earlier. The live clip here is shorter – all but one of the setlist on offer (Kathy’s Song the exception) originating from the then-recent ‘Harmonizer’ album. The live show has been enhanced with some background projections, but we never get to see much of them. There’s also a half-hour documentary about the recent tour and music video production – and said videos are featured here too. Despite being Norwegian, two of the clips (Until The End and Suffer In Silence) are filmed in deserts, only “Unicorn” is set in a snowstorm! As the band were becoming quite a ‘big thing’ at the time, the quality of the clips are quite good, but you’ll have to grab them this way or resort to YouTube as I doubt any of the zillion music channels on modern TV will ever air them.
There was a final live DVD and CD from the ‘Rocket Science’ tour, entitled Imagine There’s No Lennon, but I’ve never been able to obtain it at anything approximating to a reasonable price from a reliable seller. I’d like to pick it up eventually, being the last performance of the 00s-line up plus offering the video clips from the previous couple of albums. But I’m going to have to leave a hole in the story for now.
Time To Move On
And this concludes this lengthy tour of Apoptygma Berzerk’s history. It’s not the first time I’ve written about them – they featured frequently in my EOL-Audio days, and two of my previous Listener’s Guides featured remixes they’d done for others (Front 242’s “Headhunter” and Project Pitchfork’s “Steelrose”). And yet, until they began their ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ anniversary, they were a band I’d largely forgotten, after a dearth of new studio recordings and a weak showing at WGT 2014. Their switches in creative direction had lost them supporters even before I’d begun tuning out myself – I’ve seen some pretty scathing comments about their two ‘rock’ albums in particular.
But writing this piece has been a reminder of what drew me to this band in the first place, and what kept me listening for so long. It explains why they still get booked high on festival line-ups. It explains why they are able to get respect, remixes and followers outside the limits of ‘our scene’. And they’re one of the key reasons Terminates Here even exists. They were my gateway to so many other things, my introduction to the electronic sounds of continental Europe. Somehow, I doubt I’d been able to write this much about one of those bands that just sets new words to the same music every few years, and still gets club play and rave reviews.
But telling the story of a band like this still takes too many words than many people want to read. Let’s have some lists for the TL/DR people.
Top xx Lists
There’s several categories here….build a playlist from whichever era(s) appeal.
The most iconic tunes from their 90s phase.
- Love Never Dies Pt.1
- Non-Stop Violence
- Burning Heretic
- Spiritual Reality
If you have still have any unused glowsticks, this will get them waving.
- Kathy’s Song
- Until The End Of The World
Some people write off this whole era of the band, but I don’t. Not entirely, anyway.
- In This Together
- Apollo (Live On Your TV)
- Weight Of The World
- Black Versus White
- Love To Blame
The Other Side
These songs don’t fit into any particular phase of the band, but are important in demonstrating the diversity of their overall sound.
- 25 Cromwell Street
- Now We See Through A Glass, Darkly
- Untitled Too (from the end of the ‘7’ album)
- Like Blood From The Beloved, Parts 1 & 2 (the Soli Deo Gloria album intro and outro!)
There are so many that they need a list of their own.
- Fade To Black
- All Tomorrow’s Parties
- Major Tom (Coming Home)
- Shine On
- Coma White
- Ohm Sweet Ohm
- Love Will Tear Us Apart
Terminates Here Personal Choice
Including covers, and comments on favoured versions.
- Love Never Dies Pt.1 (original sample version only)
- Non-Stop Violence (album version, CNN version from single almost as good)
- Fade To Black
- Burning Heretic (any version, I like them all)
- All Tomorrow’s Parties (album version, Evolve or Die mix for variation!)
- Kathy’s Song (original, but I’m a sucker for Ferry Corsten’s version)
- Major Tom (Coming Home) (original, but happy with Technomancer or People Theatre versions)
- Until The End of the World
- 25 Cromwell Street
- Spiritual Reality
- Bitch (original, but also good with Substaat remix)
- In This Together (original, not into the remixes)
- Apollo (Live On Your TV)
- Shine On
- Suffer In Silence
- Backdraft (original, but also into Invincible Spirit version)
- Weight Of The World
- Coma White
- Nearer (album version best, but Banilla Dream version also good)
- Now We See Through A Glass, Darkly
- Black Versus White
- Unicorn (Dual Vocal version or Fairlight Children remix)
- Mourn (original, Mourn remix or Mesh remix, all are good)
- Ohm Sweet Ohm
It really is the end now. If you want to read some more pieces this long, there’s a selection on the Articles Page.