Album Review by Mark Bayross
Norwegian darkwave act Apoptygma Bezerk’s long-awaited new album is a major departure from their classic 7, but don’t get me wrong – this new direction is quite a revelation. Where 7 had a distinctly goth feel about it, WELCOME TO EARTH is a euphoric slice of sci-fi techno-pop.
The theme here is alien contact, from the album’s title to the artwork (crop circles) to the songs themselves, and it somehow manages to encompass both futuristic techno and 50s B-movie alien conspiracies.
After the collage of voices discussing alien contact that is the opening WELCOME TO EARTH comes what has to be Stephan Groth’s greatest musical achievement so far: STARSIGN is a pounding techno masterpiece that even has time to throw in a beautifully melodic chorus. Its theme of waiting for aliens to come to earth and whisk him away segues neatly into latest single ECLIPSE, a song about how an eclipse unifies the nations who witness it with yet another euphoric chorus: “And I guess we will be making history / When we all join hands just to watch the sky”. It may be about last year’s eclipse, it may be about aliens landing (Apoptygma are Norwegian, so who knows?).
After this techno perfection comes what may be the strangest song Stephan Groth has ever written – “Help Me!” navigates an area of eerie ambience, with the vocals distorted into unrecognisable shapes and what sounds like the tune being blown across the tops of glass bottles. Still, it’s funky, and there’s a didgeridoo in there somewhere, but the effect is to evoke alien voices fading in and out of the mix.
Upcoming single KATHY’S SONG is a Mesh-like synth-pop piece with a heavenly interlude halfway through, introducing Kathy Macintosh’s electronically processed vocals, while UNTITLED continues the theme of HELP ME!, except this time the aliens have not come in peace – samples from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and muffled screams in the distance do not make for comfortable listening.
Nonetheless, MOMENT OF TRANQUILITY is as described, its TWIN PEAKS theme lead-in blossoming into a hauntingly ethereal ballad. By this point, the craving for beats has reached fever pitch and Apoptygma respond with a blistering techno cover of Metallica’s epic FADE TO BLACK. They have covered Metallica before (NOTHING ELSE MATTERS on the Metallica tribute THE BLACKEST ALBUM), but this is a superb interpretation and sounds just as huge in electronic form.
After the brief 64K comes PARANOIA, a song Apoptygma have been playing live for a while now and another beat-heavy chunk of synth-pop (this time with a fetching bongos and tribal chanting finale), before morphing into the awesome dance floor-filler SOULTAKER. Inevitably, they bring the mood down a few hundred notches with LNDP3, or LOVE NEVER DIES PART 3, a simple electronic companion to the female-sung PART 2 at the end of 7. The album finishes with the church organ-accompanied spoken word finale TIME TO MOVE ON – Stephan’s closing comments reflecting on the euphoria (and terror) of what has gone before.
Actually, that’s not all: there is a hidden bonus track lurking on some copies of the album – a storming remix of ECLIPSE that’s even more beat-heavy and dance floor-friendly than the version at the beginning of the album.
A triumph, then, and worth buying for STARSIGN alone. With the electro/darkwave scene getting better and better and bands like Apoptygma Bezerk, VNV Nation and Covenant releasing material of such high quality, record-buying has never been such a pleasure.