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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Apoptygma Berzerk: Soli Deo Gloria


1) Like Blood From The Beloved (part 1); 2) Bitch; 3) Burnin' Heretic; 4) Stitch; 5) Walk With Me; 6) Backdraft; 7) ARP (808 Edit); 8) Spiritual Reality; 9) Skyscraping; 10) All Tomorrow's Parties; 11) The Sentinel; 12) Ashes To Ashes '93; 13) Like Blood From The Beloved (part 2).

It is no big secret that your average goth still preserves just enough human spirit to possess a need to dance. Neither forefathers like the Cure, nor more straightforwardly Gothic acts like Bauhaus avoided dance rhythms — as long as you could paint them dark black and pass them off as some sort of scary ritua­listic trance thing. After all, one can always take advantage of the fact that none of us are properly informed about the nightly activities of Count Dracula.

From a different corner of the market comes EBM, «electronic body music», a term introduced by Kraftwerk and, allegedly, rather confusing — despite the phrasing, it does not refer to any ele­c­tronic dance music, but only to those types that introduce «industrial» elements. In other words, take something like the nerve-wrecking chaotic, dissonant hammer-clanging of Einstürzende Neu­bauten, straighten it out into an easier-going rhythmic pattern, and you got yourself some EBM. (How the hell you are supposed to remember the difference between EBM and IDM is a question that no popular music theoretician will ever answer, because choosing the right words for their terminology has never been a conscience-bothering issue with these people).

Finally, there's Apoptygma Berzerk, basically a one-man project (formally a group, though, with permanent supporting member rotation) from the sick brain of Danish-Norwegian Stephan Groth who happened to fall upon the rich idea of combining Goth-dance with EBM and acquire the stu­dio means of carrying it out. The original idea might have been as random as the artistic name he chose for it (Apoptygma means 'fold of dress' in Greek, and Berzerk is Groth's middle name... nah, too much honor), but the delivery had plenty of gusto anyway.

Had I the misfortune to hear Soli Deo Gloria back in its own time, I would have probably lasted about fifteen minutes. Even today, there is a temptation to simply dismiss this as awful shit and move on to better things. But why yield? Just because of its techno-pop overtones? Let us just wrap them up in one brief disclaimer: those of us who have an innate animosity towards techno-pop will never love Apoptygma Berzerk (or, at least, their early formative period), but love is one thing, and curiosity is another. And surely Soli Deo Gloria is a curious album.

Imagine a Gregorian choir trading in their church organ for a bunch of sequencers and you have just begun to understand the gist of Groth's output. The «songs», interspersed with brief atmos­pheric links, are dark rhythmic grooves with heavy emphasis on life-and-death matters. Groth's vocals, alternating between «doom-laden» and «scary-evil», combine very well with the cruel-sou­n­ding electronic pulses, and most of the choruses are catchy enough to convince you that there has been some traditionally-oriented songwriting involved here. Bad news is, the traditionally-ori­ented songwriting way too frequently sounds like second-rate Depeche Mode: if there is any­thing striking about a number like 'Bitch', it is not Groth's vocal melody, but rather the constantly angle-shifting showers of electronic effects that bombard it.

The real meat is to be found on longer, even more adventurous tracks like 'Skyscraping', ones that can switch in between several different rhythmic patterns and noise sections. Groth's imagination runs wild on these things, even if he has a long way to go to catch up with the big names in the electronic business; for one thing, he never lets a single groove overstay its welcome, insisting that these are all particular movements of complex art pieces, not just dark ambient plains to cross while shooting up zombies and Neo-Nazis.

But the main issue is always the same: will you or won't you take this guy and his darkness seri­ously? Like a Jim Morrison gone techno? (Provided you take Jim Morrison seriously, but that's a different question). Will you agree that his recasting of The Velvet Underground's 'All Tomor­row's Parties' honors the spirit of the original rather than mocks or profanates it?

I vote a mild 'yes'. Mild, because Groth's rather obvious commercial inclinations prevent him from casting it all in a truly EVIL mold (à la Ministry). Gloomy, but not creepy; dark, but not abys­mal. Always stopping at that threshold that separates the cautious worker from the brave ka­mikaze. But, on the other hand, how is it polite to say 'no' to a record that does something unique in spirit, accumulates lots of effort, and is at least marginally memorable? Besides, this is just the beginning of Groth's bizarre musical wanderings, released at the age of 22. It needn't have done much of anything other than just showing promise. And not every record needs to show knockout potential to merit a thumbs up, anyway.

Check "Soli Deo Gloria" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Soli Deo Gloria" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. Wow, another band I've never even heard of. I'll get right on acquiring this guy's work.
    Nothing gives me a better feeling than acquainting myself with a unique (and not worthless) work of art. Just feels like I'm continuing to paint the canvas of my knowledge of popular music.

  2. That 'Skyscraping' song pays a tribute to PJ Harvey's 90s fierce track: 'Rid of Me', who I hope you'll come to review soon... in 2025, I hope.