"Harmonizer" (Album, 2002)
When I first saw Norway's Apoptygma Berzerk (APB) at Infest in 1998, I largely wrote them off as Depeche Mode wannabes. Since then, however, their game plan has focused and this latest album is a shot into a far wider commercial arena than anything before, yet it retains a decidedly unorthodox styling on almost half the tracks. The result is a slightly incongruous but mostly effective marrying of the European underground electronic scene and the trance and even house touches of more familiar chart-bound releases. This combination is perhaps most reminiscent of United States of Mind Covenant and the lighter side of VNV Nation; placing this album firmly in the 'future pop' category.
Although the style may vary, there are some constants to this release. There's an irrepressible pop joyousness to Suffer In Silence that permeates much of the rest of the album. Lead singer Stephan Groth's vocals are distictive, cogent and capable of adopting differing techniques as the tracks demand. The use of female vocals on a couple of tracks, including Propaganda's Claudia Brucken on Unicorn, give the vocals a welcome variety. The song writing generally is solid throughout, again irrespective of the style - from the low-fi retro groove and vocodered vocals of Rollergirl that recalls French artists like Daft Punk, to the more straightforward dance pieces like O.K. Amp - Let Me Out. In terms of weaknesses, perhaps the album lacks a firm, cohesive sense of direction (to the uninitiated this could even be mistaken for a compilation) but at least this approach offers many unexpected surprises. More 'problematic' for some may be the sheer light dance poppiness of it all. This is typified by the single The End of The World, which convincingly challenges Covenant's flirtations with the Ibiza euphoria moments found on United States of Mind.
I'm not familiar enough with their back catalogue to judge this release in the context of all previous APB albums; but whilst Harmonizer doesn't sound like a 'classic' album, it is very accessible and for that reason alone is likely to out sell all its predecessors. This increasingly assured attitude combined with the band's well-known high levels of professionalism could see Apoptygma Berzerk break through to the mainstream. Whether or not that is a good thing is another matter entirely of course, but Harmonizer is great, guilty fun. 7/10
Official Apoptygma Berzerk website: http://www.apoptygmaberzerk.de