[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
These last ten years have found Covenant releasing what I’d say was the best work of their career and it hasn’t been covered at all. Anywhere. They’re a very well-known commodity on club playlists and their live shows are thoroughly engaging, year after year they continue to expand their reach around planet Earth. But there’s a side to them which will never be performed in front of an audience.
Now we’ve been given a main album to enjoy by the band and it’s already drawn the usual amount of hand-wringing and over-analysis you’d expect; some of it will make you dance, the rest will provoke thought. There’s my assessment. The ‘Psychonaut’ tracks, of which there are eight will do but one thing to those who listen: remove you from your surroundings and take you deep into the forest where these creations came to life. The sequences are grand, the production is raw and the vocals have been shown the door.
This kind of material requires concentration to parse through and at first more than a little patience, do not give up.
“The Blinding Light” sends us on our way, seguing seamlessly from the more accessible daylight side of ‘The Blinding Dark’. With it’s abrasive opening you’d be forgiven for thinking it was going to be nothing but noise (quiet, please) without an end or a destination… after this palette cleansing, though, the mood shifts and a person can begin to feel the cold seeping in through the cracks in the wall. One doesn’t have to be terribly astute to recognize the influence of their country of origin to understand just why the endless and impenetrable darkness carries such a weight. For weeks out each year there’s little to no light in parts of Sweden, they clearly were out to encapsulate this with their equipment.
Serialized installments focused on the topic of Death follow: Ideology, Superstition, Spirituality, Belief and Identity all are reduced to their points of origin. “Death of Identity” might just be the most subversive song Covenant have yet written and not just because of it’s length, they’re pushed at the endurance of their audience before but they have not managed to cover this much emotional ground previously. This piece moves through the naivety of infancy, the strident passions of youth, the resigned apathy of middle age and the bitterness of the twilight years without ever dropping the ball or losing momentum. It may be the better part of an hour you’ll spend with this tune but it’s an investment which will reward you increasingly with each visit.
And on the topic of repeated airings allow me to also note the extensive amount of detailed synthesis displayed: every note and every last second of recording space has been saturated with what sounds like a low, throbbing sub-bass. I’ve gone through multiple settings on my equalizer and it is always present, like the dull beat of a tell-tale heart underneath the floorboards.
There are two more tracks which wrap this massive release up and one of them completely blew me away. I’d never in a million years have expected them to pen a piece like “Wolf Hour”. This is an unrelenting, predatory monster which could have gone on for hours and I would have just kept listening. To hear this and then the final composition making up ‘Psychonaut’, “New Dawn” is to be taken through every last conditional extreme only to notice that you’ve been lured into an existential, barren wasteland that will probably now kill you.
When they finally do decide to call it a day this will be the crowning achievement, their ingenuity and fearless innovation has now been fully realized.