Review

Review

Apoptygma Berzerk: The Singles Collection

Co-founded in 1989 by Stephan Groth as a vehicle for the then-emerging Electronic Body Music movement, Apoptygma Berzerk (also known simply as APB) climbed steadily in popularity within Europe?s electronic dance genre after the 1991 release of single Ashes to Ashes, but fully entrenched themselves in the international music scene with the 1994 release of their first full-length, Soli Deo Gloria.

Best known for wrapping catchy, danceable synth-pop rhythms in dark, ominous Gothic ambiance, APB has become one of the most recognized names in EBM, straddling genres from techno to Gothic to pure pop. In the past decade, Groth has also distinguished himself worldwide as one of the leading techno remixers ? not only chopping, twisting and augmenting the work of other notable electronic artists, but constantly reinventing his own popular singles as well.

Those hook-heavy titles have been remastered and assembled here in their many incarnations for a retro-futuristic 2 CD set (limited to 2500 copies) spanning the entirety of the band?s singles off Norwegian label Tatra ? now released in the US this week courtesy of always-reliable Metropolis Records. The eight original titles include hits like ?Kathy's Song,? ?Eclipse,? ?Paranoia? and ?Non-Stop Violence,? but Groth & company have also thrown in plenty of extra goodies ? including remixes from the legendary VNV Nation, Germany's Beborn Beton, and other guest artists, plus some atmospheric instrumentals and live performance.

Arguably any dance-oriented band thrives mainly on the strength of their singles, which themselves are chiefly dependent on solid, get-on-the-floor beats. If you're not familiar with APB, you'll learn once you give the first disc a spin that they've got the groove thing down ? but there's some incredibly infectious hooks at work here too, thanks largely to Groth's vocal skills and a knack for simple but powerful melody lines.

Despite being APB's first qualified hit, ?Ashes to Ashes? gets surprisingly light treatment here compared to later tracks like ?Kathy's Song,? which is subjected to no less than six different variations ? all of which capture the airy, spacious feel of this classic Euro-club favorite (even if you don't know the name of the band or the song, you'll probably remember that sexy robot voice that purrs ?Connecting to neural net...?), but it's VNV Nation's interpretation that comes off as the most powerful, stripping the tune down to Groth's clean vocal line, underpinning it with a fat bass sequence.

Other standouts include the tweaked-up ?Dimension D? remix of ?Eclipse? and the crazed ?Beatbox,? reminiscent of early Skinny Puppy; the old school industrial groove of ?Paranoia (Haunted Club Version)?; the rivet-head mania of ?Deep Red?; and especially the horror movie atmosphere of ?Burning Heretics (Gothic Version)? and closing track ?Snutt 7.? Other odd but entertaining bits include the surprising death metal-style vocals (huh?) in ?Wrack 'em to Pieces? and a chaotic version of ?Non-Stop Violence? intercut with excerpts from a CNN newscast.

The evolution of each single over time reveals this melodic strength, as the technology and technique advances and mutates. So many club remix projects lose sight of this, piling on newer, faster beats in an effort to make outdated material feel more current ? a practice which almost never works. Thankfully there's a real fresh take on each variation, and I was surprised to find that tracks like ?Kathy's Song? actually became more intriguing with each new spin.

There's another kind of evolution going on here if you look at the stylistic changes across the band's two-decade history: despite their earliest popular records reflecting fairly Utopian cyber-rock themes (even grandiose religious symbolism is employed in one version of ?Kathy?), you can really feel the growing sense of doom; as the band?s work progresses, their futuristic outlook remains, but turns decidedly darker, filled with uncertainty, cynicism and even horror. But amazingly, the positive vibe is nearly always there, as the human heart within the filter-tweaking beat machine... after all, even the darkest dystopian sci-fi flick needs a hero you can root for.

Since this collection contains all the signature elements that have permeated EBM and rave culture over the past twenty years (like those damn ?Hoover? synth stabs and tons of robot voices) it's certainly not going to win over any converts from those who think this stuff all sounds alike. But for dedicated techno/dance fans who probably already have some familiarity with Apoptygma's work, this set may enhance your perspective and give you a whole new appreciation for the band. Others looking for a good overview of one of Gothic, electro and rave music's more influential names, it's a perfect time capsule representing their constant and expanding influence on the scene.

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