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Covenant - Northern Light - Covenant - Northern Light

2006-03-29 20:04

Some musical genres are timeless, like classic Blues or Rock - they may go out of fashion for a while but they always come back, usually stronger than ever.

Other genres are trapped forever in the amber of their own time period, their unique sound and cultural significance based entirely on a long dead quirk in humanity's past. Covenant, it seems, haven't realised that it's not 1982 and that "EBM" doesn't sound cool anymore.

"Electronic Body Music" or EBM emerged in the early 1980s as one of the first purely electronic musical forms. Its use of mechanical beats and samples and its aggressive tempo were unlike anything most people had ever heard before. It quickly spawned several sub-genres and influenced the rapid growth of still fledgling electronica such as Techno and Trance. Although too poppy to be considered "true" EBM, groups like Depeche Mode and Human League are the most well known proponents of the EBM sound.

Covenant are part of the self proclaimed "second wave" of EBM artists. This serious looking young trio from Sweden join outfits like Apoptygma Berzerk and VNV Nation in their quest to inject relevance into the mummified genre. On their website they go so far as to proclaim that "Covenant took over the minimalist line of electro-pop pioneers such as Kraftwerk and Human League..."

But cool as Kraftwerk and Human League were (and still are), the power of their unique sound is limited to their heyday. Listening to them now is like listening to The Sex Pistols, more a nostalgic trip to the late '70s than an exciting new discovery. EBM's power lay in its ground-breaking newness, its pioneering spirit. It's a bit hard to get excited about exploring musical territory that is two decades old, particularly when EBM's siblings, like Trance and House, have ventured gone in much more intriguing directions.

All that said, Covenant could hardly be accused of being "bad". Their music is obviously lovingly crafted and Eskil Simonsson's deep, ominous, deadpan vocals have all the trademarks of EBM greats like Dave Gahan or Phil Oakey. Their lyrics are rather silly (dance away the meters / through the muddy waters / we are submariners / close to foreign shores) but no sillier than many other Scandinavian pop groups ("Dancing Queen" anyone?).

Covenant are clearly deeply in love with making their music and, at times, the anthemic sweep of their better tracks carries them above comparisons to their forerunners. The multi-layered "Bullet" has a dark energy that propels it relentlessly forward. The self-contradictory "We Want Revolution", that melds Industrial menace and with a trippy Pop bounce, also makes for interesting listening. The rest of the tracks aren't really worth mentioning, most of them blending seamlessly into each other like so much synthpop oatmeal.

As committed as Covenant are to their craft, "Northern Light" proves that love and passion aren't enough to make great music. Covenant have confined themselves to the synthetic straitjacket of EBM, a musical movement that was never going to amount to more than a transitional phase in electronica's history. Like Elvis impersonators and ABBA tribute bands, they have consigned themselves to the relative obscurity of a curiosity - a nostalgic sideshow. I hope, for our sake, that they wake up and start using their talents somewhere more significant.

- Alistair Fairweather


"After foraging through tracks with interesting notions on how to cultivate songs and flavors, though, I found myself listening on and liking it. And really, what's not to like? There's a little bit of something for every sensation-seeker..."
- TastyBabySyndrome on

"With Northern Light, Covenant have created a work of digitized greatness, borne of future vision and evocative thought."
- Vinnie Apicella,
Counterculture UK

"Every track has the finesse and exquisite attention to detail that we have come to expect from these perfectionists, and the song writing is better than ever."
- Johan Carlsson,

ews flash! The '80s are over and Depeche Mode are no longer the pinnacle of electronic musical achievement. Pity no one seems to have told the three ultra-serious Swedes who make up Covenant...


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