One thing I’ve come to expect from Covenant over the years is that whilst collectively they have a whole host of classics in their back-catalogue, yet when it comes to a single album’s content it’s generally a mixed bag featuring a handful of memorable, danceable tracks, mixed in with a number of average and often odd-sounding songs.
‘The Blinding Dark’ is Covenant’s ninth studio album and on the surface it follows the usual trend of a couple of up-tempo dancers and a host of mostly minimal and unusual mid-tempo and chilled out tracks, but this time the band have some surprises I simply wasn’t prepared for on my first listen. At first I was determined to write this off as snippets of killer and massive dose of filler, but I let the music and the lyrics sink in over a number of play-throughs and that’s when the material started to really make sense. It’s a slow burn getting used to the shift in creative direction but I have to admit I’ve begun to really appreciate it, even the two ‘interlude’ tracks and a couple of unusual instrumental works that I will discuss further into this review.
I’ll start with the two up-tempo songs on the album, as these are most likely the ones people will become familiar with once the club and radio DJs are spinning new material.
Second track ‘Sound Mirrors’ is the more melodic and catchy of the two and will most likely appeal to the long-time Covenant fans, whilst ninth track ‘Cold Reading’ is much more monotonous with very little musical development, though it has a strong enough beat and driving synth line to keep up the energy.
Mid-Tempo ‘I Close My Eyes’, whilst not a dancer, is fast becoming my favourite of the ‘classic Covenant’ style songs on this album, featuring a hypnotic arpeggio, harmonic pad soundscapes and melodic leads. Vocally this is vintage Eskil, as his dynamic vocals come into their own, expressing plenty of emotion in the delivery.
‘A Rider On A White Horse’ presents us with something completely different from Covenant. Not only is this a cover song of a 1970s Country classic, but it’s also a duet. I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first but I have to admit that it’s grown on me significantly after a few listens. It’s interesting to hear some shamanic-style drumming used here too – again, not something I’d have expected from a Covenant song.
So, what about those two unusual instrumental tracks?
Well, these are both situated at the very tail-end of the album. Firstly we have ‘Fulwell’, which on first listen immediately shocked me to the point I wondered if I’d suddenly got my player on random and it’s playing some of my relaxation/meditation material. Looking at the screen, it was still Covenant’s album. At this point, I’m essentially hearing an ambient field recording, complete with birds tweeting and some weird electronic feedback that gradually builds up and begins to drown out the entire soundscape.
The final track, entitled ‘Summon Your Spirit’, is primarily percussion, including a Shaman’s drum & rattle, accompanied by some standard kit percussion and more electronic atmospherics. I’m left feeling perplexed by the direction these guys are taking, but there’s part of me that really wants to know more about this because they’re obviously tapping into a subject relatively untapped by the majority of their fellow peers in the Alternative-Electronic genre.
The lyrics are typically cryptic, complex and intriguing. The aforementioned subject matter particularly interests me, as the lyrics are centred around delving into the dark aspect of the self, like an introspective journey of self-discovery and unearthing the inner truth we often mask with outward personas and chameleon traits. This explains the use of almost ritualistic drumming present at various points in The Blinding Dark, as there is something profoundly Shamanic about the works presented here.
It’s a bold and admirable direction to take, both lyrically and instrumentally, given that such a switch may not resonate with the majority of Covenant’s fans. Yet with many musicians, songwriters and promotions in Alternative Electronic music dropping out in recent years, it’s probably the best time to move on, stay fresh and go ahead with something that may inspire other artists to experiment a little more, rather than follow the tried-and-tested formulas of the past decade. After all, whilst Covenant can at least claim they are being progressive and looking onward to the next phase of their musical career, a large portion of new EBM and Futurepop material is starting to sound very familiar and ‘sound-alike’ in nature, resulting in a sense of stagnation and lack of creativity, to the detriment of the Alt Electronic scene overall.