Spark! made a case for themselves as a unique quantity in the retro-body-music world on their exceptional 2012 LP Hela Din Värld, marrying the sinewy, high BPM bass workouts of their debut 65 Ton Stål to a quirky and very Swedish style of pop. Besides having terrifically catchy tunes, that record suggested an alternate history of electronic body music, where the prevalent trance and terror motifs that infected the genre around the turn of the millennium were supplanted by a broader and far more intriguing fascination with pop.
A goodly portion of that record’s charm came courtesy of vocalist Stefan Brorsson, whose off-kilter, warbling delivery sounded especially unique, doubly so when stacked against the legions of neo-old school singers bursting blood vessels trying to out muscle n’ hate one another. The departure of Brorsson from Spark! certainly raised some questions as to how much of Hela Din Värld‘s magic would transfer over to a new album, and whether any vocalist could deliver a performance comparable enough to maintain Spark!’s established flavour.
Remaining member Mattias Ziessow dodges having to answer those queries on Spektrum by enlisting a host of guest vocalists from the EBM and industrial community, eleven in total. In effect it’s a kind of producer album, with each singer paired to a track selected to play to their strengths. The results are by and large pretty good, with the caveat that the album itself feels less like a cohesive whole than a compilation of similarly minded tracks. That’s not a deal breaker when the hooks and programming are still as strong as they are here, although it’s basically inescapable for anyone already familiar with Spark!: minus a singular voice, the band feels less distinct and defined than they have in the past.
Part of this is no doubt due to the caliber of vocalists who’ve been tapped. Claus Larsen and Henrik Björkk are legends by any measuring stick, and the likes of Spetsnaz’s Pontus Stålberg certainly aren’t slouching either. As such, it’s impossible for the programming not to be overshadowed on the first few listens, and making it rather difficult to contrast the subtler aspects of the music itself across the album, let alone across the Spark! discography. One has to wonder if Spektrum might have been better served by being released under a new project name.
Understanding that, one of Spark!’s best attributes has always been their elasticity within the realm of body music, and Spektrum certainly doesn’t lack for variety. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got your shouty, foot stompy EBM as executed with NordarR on “Weit Voraus”, solid meat and potatoes sort of stuff with minimal embellishment, and honestly no real need for any. On the opposite side you have almost pure synthpop in the form of “Light’s On”, very upbeat and speedy but with all the aggression supplanted by wistful twinkling synths and a pleasantly understated vocal from Dupont’s Riccardo. The very best moment on the record is “Dysfunctional”, a track that lands squarely in the middle stylistically, all fast-moving 16th note bassline and impassioned vocals from Christer Hermodsson of Biomekkanik and SPOCK.
Other highlights include “Mittsommernacht”, with Blitzmaschine’s Holger Langermann adding just enough oafish bark to sell a song about getting hammered at festivals, and “Fangesinn”, which features a turn from Xenturion Prime’s Bjørn Marius Borg. Borg in particular feels at home in the context of a Spark! record. Availing himself of that harmonized, raspy yelp which Swedes seem to be able to unleash at will, Borg slides perfectly over a smooth and rounded bassline which sits in the same fantastic interzone betwixt EBM and pop as Hela Din Värld did.
Spektrum finds Spark!, or at least Ziessow, at something of a crossroads. While pulling in guests of this range and stature for a one-off makes for a fun experiment and a handy showcase for many of EBM’s best vocalists, it’s certainly not a permanent answer to the question of Spark!’s future. Divorced from the band’s extant catalogue, most criticisms fade away; to be clear, this is a fine LP with some genuinely terrific moments on it. Ziessow can basically take things anywhere he wants from here, with this album serving as a launching point and evidence that Spark! still has plenty to offer.