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Artist: Covenant
Title: Modern Ruin
Genre: Electronic
Release Date: 14th January 2011
Label: Synthetic Symphony / SPV



Album Review

January 2011 finally sees the release of what has been announced for almost an eternity - COVENANT’s new album ‘Modern Ruin’! If I remember correctly, a first tentative release date was announced for 2009. Then it was postponed to spring 2010, autumn 2010, and now - five years after the last studio album ‘Skyshaper’ - ‘Modern Ruin’ sees finally the light of day! Some of the new songs have been performed at COVENANT’s live shows since 2008 - the first surprise (shock, I dare to say) is that some of these songs are NOT on the album! ‘If I Would Give My Soul’, ‘I Close To Me’ and the catchy ‘Come’ did not make the final cut, even though the feedback at the shows were always quite good.

The short instrumental and title track ‘Modern Ruin’ opens COVENANT’s latest journey into futuristic sounds, machine noise and emotional humaneness. The title of the album is ambiguous, it implies optimism as well as doom and fatality. After the intro the by now well-known ‘Lightbringer’ follows, arguably one COVENANT’s poppiest songs ever, and a rather optimistic sounding tune. But the optimism soon makes place for melancholic melodies, hypnotic beats, flowing soft sounds, dark drones, a very urban feel and a pretty futuristic soundscape. All the traditional COVENANT trademarks are there, and we get a few new ones as well. However, I have to admit that it took some time to get my head around ‘Modern Ruin’. It is not a flashy or intrusive album, nothing that would jump at you to grab your intention in no time. This album does need time!

For the most part, this album seems to be somewhat withdrawn, cautious, introvert and decidedly non-aggressive. COVENANT is popular first and foremost for their club hits, for their danceable tracks which are aggressive but elegant at the same time. It was tracks like ‘Stalker’, ‘Like Tears In Rain’ aka ‘Der Leiermann’, ‘Dead Stars’ and ‘Call The Ships To Port’ which made COVENANT huge in the electronic underground. If you are looking for something like this in the new COVENANT album, then ‘Modern Ruin’ is probably bound to disappoint you. But one of the band’s greatest strengths are also the darker and slower anthems, the brooding and contemplative tunes which are quite hypnotic and excite with their intricate high-level sound design when listened to via your headphones at home. On ‘Modern Ruin’ you get quite a few of those!

On the other hand this is exactly why ‘Modern Ruin’ needs a few listens to actually sink in. If I wrote this review after the first one or two listens it would have been less positive, to be honest. I had two weeks now to listen to the album over and over again, and it actually gets better and better each time. ‘Judge Of My Domain’ and ‘Dynamo Clock’ are the two tracks which are closest to classic COVENANT club fodder. Stomping beats, Eskil Simonsson’s mesmerising and vivid vocals, dark atmospheres and the catchiness of COVENANT’s “Pop with an edge”, as they put it themselves. Both tracks still offer a few new elements and prove that COVENANT always have an eye on the most recent trends in electronic music outside the Goth / EBM scene. They still love to experiment, and track number four - ‘Kairos’ - just proves this. A weird, one-minute short ballad full of atmosphere and with Eskil singing in higher notes than before. ‘Kairos’ is almost like a short interlude but it enthrals with the very intimate and emotional vocal delivery.

Next is probably the most epic song of this album, ‘The Beauty And The Grace’. Many will already know it from the ‘Lightbringer’ EP, where it was featured in a remix by new member Daniel Myer. The album version is more like the “full” version, and one of the strongest songs of this new COVENANT output. It surprises with something which sounds like an acoustic guitar(!) but Daniel Myer assures that it’s actually a processed piano sound. Anyway, a very beautiful and haunting song with a brilliant build-up, and in my book one of the highlights of ‘Modern Ruin’! ‘Get On’ is another piece which confirms COVENANT’s will to move on and experiment, and which will surprise many listeners for sure. Did you ever expect 70s analogue synth sounds on a COVENANT album? No? Here you are - ‘Get On’ sounds as if TANGERINE DREAM entered COVENANT’s studio to combine their psychedelic Krautrock-Electronica with COVENANT’s definition of modern Electro Pop. A very playful song full of bubbly analogue sounds, dreamy layers and a chorus which just supports the 70s retro-feel of the song. For me it just works, and the song is a brilliant composition anyway.

‘Worlds Collide’ takes us back to darker realms. This song has a very urban feel with its subtle melancholic melodies and its throbbing ryhthms; a dark and rainy night in a futuristic metropolis is an association which might come to your mind when listening to the song. Which leads to the following track, ‘In The Night’. This song continues the urban and futuristic feel, and picks up again the playful analogue synth sounds of ‘Get On’. The vocals are processed with some kind of slo-mo effect, which sounds a bit odd at first but it actually supports the atmosphere of the song quite well. ‘Beat The Noise’ starts with a fanfare, a trumpet horn which is a re-iterating theme throughout the whole track, which besides this does its best to fit its title. Lots of beats and noise! You can tell that COVENANT intentionally designed this track to be as anthemic as possible. Maybe they tried a bit too hard, and I personally wish Simonsson was a little more aggressive in some parts. But it’s a great dance track, somehow a more menacing addendum to ‘Ritual Nose’, the club hit from 2006’s ‘Skyshaper’ album. I’m sure ‘Beat The Noise’ is going to be a killer at their forthcoming live shows! In context of the album it’s not one of my personal faves, though.

‘Modern Ruin’ ends on a quiet note with ‘The Road’ - you can say that it’s a good old tradition for COVENANT to close their albums with a more introverted and moody song. Just think of ‘The World Is Growing Loud’ (from ‘Skyshaper’, 2006), ‘Atlas’ (from ‘Northern Light’, 2002) or ‘Still Life’ (‘United States Of Mind’, 2000) - the album closers are often among the faves of the die-hard fans. The haunting ‘The Road’ does justice to this tradition and is just as beautiful and alluring as its antecessors.

As good as it is, I’m not quite sure if ‘Modern Ruin’ is the band’s strongest set of songs - simply because long-players like ‘Northern Light’ or ‘Europa’ still rank high in my all-time favourites from any band. Still a pity that ‘If I Would Give My Soul’, ‘I Close To Me’ and ‘Come’ - the new songs we already know form COVENANT’s live shows - are not included on ‘Modern Ruin’. I still do like these tracks a lot, and perhaps the album would be even better if they were included. And I wouldn’t mind to get 14 songs instead of “only” 11, just to begin with.

However, ‘Modern Ruin’ is a remarkable album in COVENANT’s discography, with lots of surprises and unusual moments, breaking with some of the band’s habits to introduce new elements while revisiting old territory in other moments. ‘Modern Ruin’ is probably not exactly what some fans might expect from COVENANT’s “comeback” after an almost five-year long hiatus from releasing studio albums but nevertheless (or all because of it) it has perfect chances to stand the test of time. Because ‘Modern Ruin’ is an album with state-of-the-art production, many new elements including a few bold moves as well as classic COVENANT stuff.

Note: The limited edition of ‘Modern Ruin’ comes with a different cover and a 7-track bonus disc featuring ‘Wir sind die Nacht’, COVENANT’s contribution the score of the German vampire movie of the same name. For this review the bonus disc was not available unfortunately but some might know the ‘Wir sind die Nacht’ track already from the homepage of the movie - a Techno track with female voice samples from the movie. Again a track which combines classic COVENANT with new elements!


Tracklist

CD1
01. Modern Ruin 01:28
02 .Lightbringer 05:41
03. Judge Of My Domain 06:05
04. Dynamo Clock 05:32
05. Kairos 01:11
06. The Beauty And The Grace 04:52
07. Get On 04:40
08. Worlds Collide 04:16
09. In The Night 03:20
10. Beat The Noise 06:00
11. The Road 04:53

Limited Edition Bonus-CD
01. Wir sind die Nacht 3:45
02. Wir sind die Nacht (Oscar Holter remix) 5:06
03. Wir sind die Nacht (full instrumental) 8:24
04. Wir sind die Nacht (Henrik Bäckström remix) 5:09
05. Wir sind die Nacht (sample) 0:11
06. Ich war nichts (sample) 0:52
07. Wunder (sample) 0:04


Line-up

Eskil Simonsson – lead vocals, composition, lyrics, production, synths
Joakim Montelius – lyrics, composition, production, synths, additional vocals
Daniel Myer – engineering, production, synths, additional vocals

Guest musicians on ‘Lightbringer’
Oscar Holter – Music
Henrik Bäckström – Lyrics, Vocals


Website

http://www.covenant.se/ / http://www.myspace.com/covenant


Cover Picture




Rating

Music: 8
Sound: 10
Extras: 9
Total: 9 / 10


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