Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Covenant - Brave New World

Let us return to that kitchen prep hall I mentioned in the last review, where my younger brother and I are listening to a lot of HIM and that one song by The Kovenant, among other things. We were in a used record store buying used CDs, as was the custom back then when people still listened to CDs. My younger brother decided, entirely on a whim, to buy an album by Covenant titled “Northern Light.” The Kovenant, spelled with a “K” was unknown to us back then, we thought it was the same band and even though neither one of us could identify a single song on the album my kid brother, adventurous as he is, decided to pick it up.

We loved it.

You see, we were also listening to a lot of VNV Nation in that prep hall and Sweden’s electronic band Covenant, spelt with a “C,” is a fine contributor to that whole music scene. We were a little thrown off at the clear difference in style compared to “Mirror’s Paradise” by Kovenant, and it took a year or so before we discovered the small, but important spelling difference.

I had thought this mix up was a silly mistake made exclusively by the two of us, but no, apparently this was actually a big thing. Kovenant, of Norway, used to be Covenant but were sued and forced to change their name to “The” Covenant, but that did not work either because there was already a Dutch metal band called The Covenant, because of course there was, so The Kovenant was the final name for the Norwegian metal band discussed in the last review.

Nonetheless Covenant, the Swedish one, and their 2002 fifth studio album “Northern Light” was enjoyed among one half of the Kelly brothers so much that my same kid brother went out and got their at the time new album “Skyshaper.”

We loved it.

“Skyshaper” came out in 2006, and holy shit, that was eleven years ago, where has the time gone.

I really enjoyed songs like “Call the Ships to Port,” “We Stand Alone,” and “Invisible and Silent,” off of “Northern Light” so it seemed doubtful that a better offering of music could have been put forward by the Swedish electronic band, but Covenant delivered with “Skyshaper.” From the fantastic opening of “Ritual Noise” to the satisfying ending of “The World is Growing Loud” a more or less perfect electronic album exists. There are a great couple of humours, but somewhat introspective songs like “Happy Man” and “The Men.” More than anything the track that stood out to me was “Brave New World.”

As someone who makes the effort to read a lot, my natural instinct when someone utters the words “Brave New World” is to make a connection to Aldous Huxley. In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” technology has made it possible for people to be produced in labs and everyone is sedated into numb happiness. That is not what is being described in the song by Covenant.

The “Brave New World” the idea, the term, the expression, has become a vague colloquialism to broadly mean “the future.” Much like how “Utopia,” which is Greek for “nowhere,” and Thomas More was attempting to describe a civilization that was the total opposite of English society, but now the word is thought to describe paradise; Huxley’s “Brave New World” now simple means a radical, often assumed, technologically advanced, super society. This is the “Brave New World” which we are engaging when listening to Covenant; Covenant’s “Brave New World” is the promised land.

“Where is the promised land?
Where is the brave new world?
Where do all dreams go when they die?
Oh, we can move the streets today.”

Covenant in this song is describing the disappointment and the surprise that the future world is not what was expected, it is not paradise, it is not brave or new, or really anything to be thrilled about. The future just ain’t what it used to be.

There is a verse describing growing isolation:

“The lights are fading out,
Before our eyes.
We lose each other,
And we celebrate the peace.”

Another describing a lost sense of purpose:

“Our lives are changing,
Faster than we think.
We flow like dancers,
Crashing in the dark.”

And another about pollution, physical and psychological, very topical:

“Another morning broken,
Shattered sheets of lead.
Clouds the size of oceans,
Inside and above our heads.”

There are not many words outside of the three verses listed above. The chorus repeats many times, asking the same three questions and no answer is ever given to the rhetoric. It feels very natural for a song of the nature and style of “Brave New World” to be repetitive; it is an electronic song and as such indulges into the hypnotic and atmospheric sounds. The “celebrated” beat is naturally both catchy and symbolically able to lull the listener into a complacent state of relaxed acceptance.

I would argue that the overall symbolism of this song is mild, but the sound is wonderful and attractive, and that is such a fine offer of art it leaves so little to demand more. The fact that there is anything of a conversation of value put forth is encouraging in its own right, Covenant could have elected to be a purely instrument/synthesised band but they elected to enrich their music, and us the listeners, with little drops of poetry, and in the end that is pretty much exactly what we all want in our music.

That random purchase by younger brother really worked out for the best.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Kovenant - Mirror's Paradise

My younger brother and I worked together in the kitchens for many years and we often found ourselves working the prep hall and listening to CDs, because people still listened to CDs back then. We both really enjoyed the music from the CKY soundtrack which was mostly songs by Finnish love metal band HIM, but there were other tracks we really enjoyed like Kovenant’s “Mirror’s Paradise.”

We must have listened to “Mirror’s Paradise” hundreds of times back then, and then as my music collection grew and grew the song was half lost in my now nearly ten thousand song playlist on my computer. It came up on random the other day, and for probably the first time in five years I heard “Mirror’s Paradise” and thought of my kid brother, those prep halls, and everything else that ran with my memories and those times.

It has been over a decade since I discovered “Mirror’s Paradise” and I surprise myself how I had never looked any deeper into Kovenant, and to this day I have barely heard an album’s worth of their tracks. Who are Kovenant?

Kovenant are a Norwegian black metal band, I probably could have guessed that, what from the screaming and everything; classic Norway.

To date they have released four studio album, with “Mirror’s Paradise” appearing as the first track on their third 1999 album “Animatronic.” They managed a fourth studio album release in 2003 but have been largely inactive since then. I would have suspected the band had dissolved but apparently there is still talk about producing a new album and the band claims Kovenant is still a thing. I have not had the time to dig up the details but it appears that fan reception to change was negative enough to really upset some of the members of Kovanent. Where they darker heavier before? I do not yet know.

If I am being perfectly honest about it, as I go through the various songs on youtube by Kovanent, I like them, but I do not love them. Nothing compares to “Mirror’s Paradise.”

Perhaps it was the right song presented to me at the right time in my life but “Mirror’s Paradise” is the sort of song I will never get tired of and could listen to every day for the rest of my life.

If you look at the other one-hundred ninety one reviews on this blog you will see that I like European metal a lot but I have little to no love for the “black” metal scene. The raw growling of a Gwar or the screeching of Cradle of Filth is a little too much for me. As someone who loves the melody of vocals these... interpretations of singing; and I use that word with its most liberal meaning imaginable; largely fail to be used effectively as a melody.

Someone on the track “Mirror’s Paradise” is doing their best Dani Filth impersonation. Ten plus years ago I did not think, or perhaps have the means, to look up who was singing on this track, but I always thought it might have featured that demon singer from Cradle of Filth, checking now I can find no such evidence suggesting so. What distinguishes “Mirror’s Paradise” from other extreme metal songs is the stoic and deep voice that sings the chorus, this strange notion that we should be able to decipher the words is present. I also really like the female harmony vocals. The overall final product is a more symphonic experience, which is exactly what I like.

The song “Mirror’s Paradise” still feels very demonic in sound and theme, but the lyrics reveal that true meaning of the song is an anti-religious one. This song is an aggressive song about how there is no after-life.

“How can you love it...
How can you believe it...
How can you need it...
When there’s nothing there?”

There is a very strong movement in Norwegian black metal towards Satanism, but there is an even stronger movement in Norway in the general population towards atheism and agnosticism, so I cannot feign even the smallest surprise that a Norwegian metal band would so directly and forcefully sing about the horrid nightmare of having all your dreams of an afterlife spirited away from you when you close your eyes for the last time.

It is a dark take on the subject, but reality is a brutal uncompromising beast with zero consideration for our emotions, and a if we wish to be honest in our philosophies about life and death we will have to weigh the overwhelming probable certainty that Kovanent are correct and there is literally nothing waiting for us when we take our great leap into the dark.

“You smile... but it’s all despair.
You love... but there’s nothing there.”

So when we pause to take “Mirror’s Paradise” as a whole there is so much more than just sound and fury of their black metal origins, but an emotional and thoughtful truth being thrust forward to our ears and hopefully our minds. It is typical that a metal song should be about death, but “Mirror’s Paradise” evokes something a little more than raw death, it challenges the uncomfortable notion that we can cheat death; it demands a look at our true morality, and all that we are, one day ends. You can see why this song has stayed with me over all this time.

- King of Braves