DJ & Music Writer from the UK

Apoptygma Berzerk – A Listener’s Guide

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 (and 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.

Apoptygma Berzerk - You And Me Against The World (Cover)

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 you just don’t know how to bring the same level of magic to your new style in the same manner as you did to your old one.

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.

Apoptygma Berzerk - Black EP (Cover)

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 set 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”.

Apoptygma Berzerk - Rocket Science (Cover)

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.  With few anthems of note emerging from the core scene bands, it was 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.

Apoptygma Berzerk - Black EP Vol.2 (Cover)

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.

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