SPARK! released a modern classic of Swedish EBM with 2012’s Hela Din Värld, a record that traded the po-faced muscle and hate tropes of anhalt for big hooks and sticky Scandinavian weirdness. That record’s enduring appeal created something of a bell curve for all future SPARK! albums to be judged against, with last year’s follow-up Spektrum falling somewhat short. Still, amongst the numerous vocalists assembled on the latter album to replace departing singer Stefan Brorsson, it was Biomekkanik’s Christer Hermodsson who stood out the most, and the announcement that he was to be the new permanent singer for the group was intriguing.
The first full length collaboration between Hermodsson and SPARK! founding member Mattias Ziessow is Maskiner, a record that makes a solid case for the new line-up. The project hasn’t lost a step from a production standpoint, with the 16th note basslines and drums as groovy ever. Hermodsson settles into his role on early tracks “Alla på en gang” and “Brinner som vackrast”, modulating between controlled shouting and emotive singing as required, adding weight and dimension to the shifts between breakdowns, bridges and choruses. The emotional title track benefits hugely from his passionate delivery, building to a vocoder assisted climax. Even his more arch moments work well enough, like on “Vansinn-e”, where his rock wails and low-crooning come across as playful instead of corny.
That said, there is a sameyness that settles into the record around the midway point, slowing the momentum somewhat. Arrangement and production subtleties go a ways towards combatting that, but it’s hard to keep many of the late album tracks straight in your head, especially where they’ve been preceded by so many similar songs earlier. A track like “Vi Faller” is excellent in a vacuum, but its clever gearswitching and buzzy hook lose some of their strength when taken after in the company of structurally comparable songs. There isn’t a bad song here per se (“Liket Lever” is a bit filler-y, but not offensive), but with all SPARK!’s skill in creating slick, modern EBM with the classic feel and clear grasp of how to apply effective songwriting ideas to what they do, there is the sense that their albumcraft is holding their songs back from making the maximum possible impact. Consistency is a hard complaint to justify in the face of what is otherwise a solid and enjoyable contemporary body music record. With it, SPARK! retain some of the quirk and a good deal of the bounce that made us take notice of them in the first place.