The Bottom Line: A Brilliant album for the singles, though Goth/Industrial fans would be loathe to miss "Apocalyptic Manifesto", and "Welcome to Earth" might appeal more to fans of techno.
Apoptygma Berzerk's debut full-length album, "7" is calculated to instantly hook the listener, and does just that.
Driven largely by the power of the two amazing singles "Love Never Dies (part one)" and "Non-Stop Violence", "7" is a bold evolution from Stephen Groth and company's earlier work. Immediately striking is the use of untreated vocals, which lends a subtle warmth to Groth's deadpan voice. The album certainly doesn't skimp on thundering beats, though the sense of melody is far more developed both vocally and musically making for both a broader pop appeal and a more layered, open sound. The live band has been on the road several times at this point both as supporting and headlining acts, which has obviously honed Stephen's ability to make a visceral connection with the listener. This is the sound of a band with enormous potential undergoing a transition. At its best the album is sheer brilliance and at its worst, unfocused.
Fortunately, Apoptygma Berzerk never take themselves so seriously that the listener is left alienated from the musical experience. While the concept behind Apop is nothing really new, they have a signature style that begins to gel on this album. The operatic building of minor-key synth crescendos laced with pop choruses and heavy guitars may sound at first like a less aggro Laibach, but Stephen makes no secret of drawing on a variety of influences.
For example, the operatic "Love Never Dies" is not only described in the liner notes as an alternate theme to Bram Stoker's Dracula, but also relies heavily on a Carmina Burana sample. Such overblown cues as these might work to lesser, even goofy effect in the hands of other bands. With Apop, the result is pure genius and Stephen sounds right at home among the swelling choruses. Other electo acts, like the out-of-print Apotheosis have used the same sample to lesser effect because they simply re-iterate the classic opera. In the hands of Apoptygma Berzerk the sample gains a fresh presence and helps add to the overall effect of an appealing new song.
In truly postmodern fashion, the track "Mourn" samples not the original Bowie version, but the Nirvana cover version of "The Man Who Sold the World". While not as immediately engaging as either of the other singles, this is the first true Apop ballad, and it's strangely endearing.
"Non-Stop Violence" is a thematic return to form, and is the most infectious dance track the group has produced to date. Better than any previous song it illustrates Stephen's stance as a pacifist and conscientious objector (a position which would get him in trouble with Norwegian Law, and delay the release of the second album, as he resisted the compulsory military service required of all citizens).
Making a repeat appearance on this album is the track "Deep Red", which is the first real clue that despite flashes of genius, the group is struggling for new material. Indeed, there are bold sonic experiments for the remainder of the album, but nothing which truly comes together with nearly the same power as the first four songs.
Overall the album begins to really embrace the signature sound of Apoptygma Berzerk, combining industrial sequencing, pop melodies and a classic gothic sense of melodramatic bombast with other forms of electronica and dance music. The results may be mixed, but you can't fault them for taking risks. The payoffs are enormous, making it their most popular album to date.