Smash Into Pieces – ‘A NEW HORIZON’

By Ian Kenworthy

Music is created in many different spaces, for many different audiences. Some bands are born to play dirty sweaty clubs, others are designed to play arenas. Smash Into Pieces aim squarely for the second option. Formed in 2009, the Scandinavian four-piece has one thing in their sights, success. You can see and hear it in everything they do. ‘A New Horizon’ isn’t just a new album, it’s a mixed media experience combining music with lush visuals and an interrelated Youtube series running to more than 12 episodes. It promises at lot, but can it deliver?

As you can tell, Smash Into Pieces aren’t so much a band as a carefully managed brand. This extends the four members who are all defined by their character traits, notably the band’s drummer – The Apocalypse DJ – remains anonymous behind robot head mask (which looks like a prop from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) and serves as their mascot. There’s a definite Simon Cowell feel to the way they present themselves, but if you feel put off before we’ve even discussed the music, remember that plenty of other big bands combine being eye-catching with merchandising, not least Slipknot, although the audience here is very different. If you remain unconvinced by how keen they are to tap into the zeitgeist, remember they released a song in 2017 called ‘Let Me Be Your Superhero’ which is about as subtle as the Incredible Hulk.

Five albums down the line, ‘A New Horizon’ is a chance to redefine themselves, not least because the previous full-length ‘Arcadia’ was only released last year and there’s a good chance everything here was conceived and recorded during lockdown. It’s an opportunity they have embraced wholeheartedly, and it feels like a genuine step forward. If you’re unfamiliar with their earlier work, imagine Linkin Park covering Rhianna; a blend that is easy and effortlessly listenable, and with just a bit of an edge. On ‘A New Horizon’ the approach has shifted in an even more accessible direction. Genre-wise, this is electropop and, at times, it sounds like a modern take on *NSYNC, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re hoping for a few hard-rockers, you’re going to be quite disappointed.

‘Rise Up’ starts proceedings in a suitably cinematic fashion with keyboards, throbbing 80’s style synths and rock edge. It is a call to arms and, despite being somewhat undercut by a wild falsetto vocal, certainly feels like a bold beginning. It might also be overstuffed to the point of being bloated, but sets the tone for what is to come. From here onward the songs are all around three minutes long (the ideal length for a single), underscored by throbbing keyboards and aimed directly at a dancefloor.

Per Bergquist is known as the band’s ‘engineer’ rather than the lead songwriter which says a lot about how he approaches music, and in attempt to explore every facet of electro-pop he approaches each song from a different direction leading to an array of interesting sounds. The results are varied but usually pretty solid, for example  ‘My Wildest Dream’ leans heavily on a Eurodance backing track that transports you to the 90s with its throbbing backbeat and synths, while ‘Glow In The Dark’  has more rock weight behind it and also features the strongest vocal performance. ‘Real One’ is a slower, more thoughtful song and sees the band at its most overtly *NSYNC. Somewhat out of leftfield, ‘A New Horizon’ is a pleasantly 80s rocker that would sit nicely on a compilation beside a Marillion track, especially as it shoehorns in a saxophone solo. Equally, ‘Broken Parts’ is possibly ripping off the Mister Mister classic, but clearly understands why that song was such a hit; it’s big, it’s earnest and it’s catchy as hell.

While the music happily wears its influences on its sleeves Chris Adam Hedman Sorbye’s vocals can be a little gauche. There is something quite comical about the lack of awareness which allows Sorbye to sing ‘I’m the only fucking real one’ when his voice is so frequently autotuned for effect. This also extends to ‘Bangarang’, a song built around a delightfully silly phrase, although it actually works in the context of a fast, fun dance tune – or at least, it does until Sorbye presents it in the album’s sole death growl, which is nigh-on hilarious.  While it’s true that a degree of self-awareness isn’t necessarily warranted, here it would have helped sell the songs as it’s not like they’re open or honest and especially combined with the band’s calculated and slightly sterile aesthetic.

Given how much it leans on historical dancefloor sounds, the production itself is cutting edge, it sounds exactly how a slick pop record should in 2021. Of course, it is likely to date quickly, but right now it feels on the pulse, so much so you can almost guarantee this is how Papa Roach’s next record will sound.

The only real misstep is ‘My Shadow’ which is awash with everything; vocals tripping over themselves, synths whooshing in and out, throbbing beats and so many ‘ohs and woahs’ it never has chance to become anything in particular. This makes it frustrating as its entire runtime is spent testing out various different music styles, only finding its feet just before the ending. Not having a real vocal hook to pin it all together exacerbates the problem and thus it feels like a missed opportunity.

Smash Into Pieces can be a lot of fun when they’re churning out faux dancefloor hits, and if you don’t take them too seriously, you’re sure to have a good time. Given its aims, ‘A New Horizon’ succeeds remarkably well and delivers on its promise. It would have benefitted from a greater sense of awareness and more than a little restraint, but it’s chockfull of huge, likable tracks. A big, punchy record aiming at arenas, it will more than satisfy fans but might leave them wondering if The Apocalypse DJ is in fact Justin Timberlake.

IAN KENWORTHY

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