From the cover of Northern Light, one can vaguely imagine what this album is actually like. First and foremost, it is a cold, wintery outing. Harsh atmosphere is located throughout the album, cutting through the listener like ice. Second, it’s a lonely album. Somewhat stripped down and vulnerable compared to other works, Covenant has never seen such minimal, or emotional, songwriting works such as ‘Invisible & Silent’. Third, it is a strangely beautiful album, as you find all about later on. The band, now used to getting club hits all round, releases ‘Call The Ships To Port’, continuing their reign as dance floor rulers and a top band in the EMB/synthpop scene.
By now, however, Covenant has established themselves as more than something to dance to. New dimensions and levels of creativity are ripped open and exploited, and used tactics are renewed for Northern Light. From more vocal expansions, improved dynamic song structures and years-tested intuition to a completely new atmosphere and reinvention of a lot of ideas, the band is at a pinnacle point for change. But this isn’t a mere continuation of a progression in sound, or just a natural step forward from United States Of Mind. As such, comparisons between any old Covenant and this new one are now obsolete, and will not (or cannot…?) be used ever again.
Indeed, a huge testimonial can be given by Invisible & Silent. Beginning with a few soft, tender harmonies accompanied by layered deep, scary, and dark sounds serving as an undertone, it slowly adds to itself with Eskil driving a brooding melody. Soon it reaches the chorus of the song, which is inadvertently the most beautiful thing Covenant has ever done, and quite possibly the most breathtaking thing they will ever do. Strong is the feeling of complete helplessness, but alongside it is an astounding sense of beauty, etched throughout the song. Soon accompanied by a children’s choir, Eskil’s voice brings melancholic lyrics, partnered with sampled strings that do nothing to bring up your mood. It drops back to a haunting bridge, dispassionate and dismal, followed by an equally dispirited verse. We feel it build itself back up again, and after another truly momentous chorus, Covenant throw it all together and make an astounding finale; so full of disenchanted emotion and elation, it makes even the most weathered being’s heart shift in its cage. Such is a song not only worthy as one of Covenants’ best, but a definite classic unto itself.
Another side of the coin is Call The Ships To Port, sporting example as one of the albums tremendous dynamics, also serving as one of Covenants more danceable tunes on the album. Pulsating beats move the song at a heavy pace, with little else in the way. But we are eventually exposed to a sudden, quite literally explosion of sound. A grandeur of many layered melodies sweep the listener, Eskil’s voice finally taking somewhat of a backseat for the first time, letting the listener ride the waves of sound. Another highlight is Scared, which could be looked at as a better, much improved Afterhours. Housing yet another unique electronic dynamic range, with its own set of feelings, Scared still continues the albums cold, somber tone because of ‘windlike’ sounds back dropped against a grainy, soothing beat and groove.
Many points of expression exist on Northern Light; those were only a few examples. Dynamics and fresh ideas are only the beginning, as no one can ignore the new level of maturity through which Covenant have reached. Eskil’s voice is now at an exceptional level, he uses his voice as an instrument now more than ever. Range and overall technique from him will bring lasting impressions even if you don’t like the music. Of course, when Eskil improves, the whole band follows suit. Except Eskil isn’t as much up front than previous outings, spotlighting the awesome music for longer, unusual for Covenant. But then, what hasn’t changed on this record?
Sadly, like ninety-nine percent of the rest of the world’s albums, Northern Light has its flaws too. But the falls seem to be huger and more noticeable than on previous outings, probably because of the heights Northern Light can achieve. You are not ready to come down after songs like Scared, or Invisible & Silent. There are two main reasons why this happens.
1. Because of a poor flow between many tracks, and
2. Some songs are pure, unadulterated crap.
The flow falters when you look at the track listing after listening to the album. The first four tracks are immediate classics in Covenant’s career. And then that’s pretty much it. The listener is overcome by a underachiever (Prometheus), has another classic, We Stand Alone, then slews into either mediocrity or flat out bad with the next three tracks. Scared would have saved the album and would have made a truly awesome closer, but we are next hit by a terrible Atlas, the album leaving you feeling rather disappointed . For instance, after Invisible & Silent, we have Prometheus. While not necessarily a horrible song, it certainly does not live up to the rest of the greats on the album, sounding more like a B-side to Northern Light. It disrupts the solemn feeling after Invisible, and the music itself does not belong on here. Prometheus has some weak vocal execution by Eskil, sounding rather whiny. The annoying muffled air-horn tagging along with him does not bring up the quality at all; infact by then the track is laughable.
The landside mediocre-to-bad of the next three tracks comes along like so. First we have Rising Sun, the ‘O.K.’ track. It starts off well enough, a pulsing beat that comes fast along with bubbly, cool sounds. The first hint of decay could be Eskil and his vocals. While having good technique with his articulation, his lyrics are an abomination to the song, full of cliché and oozing with cheesiness. Aside from that, the song itself is quite dull and kind of boring at six minutes. But at least it’s listenable, unlike the next track, Winter Comes. Whether maniacally planned by a devious Eskil or not, it doesn’t change the fact that this one continues with ugly, stereotypical lyrics. Winter Comes fails fantastically, unlike its predecessor, music wise too. Sinfully devoid of any energy at all, we are dragged through four and a half minutes of grey filler until something unexpected, but all the more irritating, happens. A sudden burst of white noise screams from the depths of nowhere, plaguing the listener until the track ends, if you even get that far. In my mind, Winter Comes was hopefully done as a joke, and not intended for the album, because it would be terrifying if Covenant took themselves seriously on that track.
We Want Revolution can truly be considered an absolute mess for this album. What we have here is a completely techno track. Listeners will be in absolute shock by the end, not because of the quality of the song (it is actually quite fun and intoxicating), but because after nine tracks of cold, dark songs, even if some were below average, you want
another somber song, its what Northern Light represents. Looking back on the album, fans will be utterly bewildered, as the next two tracks represent the majority of Northern Light, in atmospheric, sonic, and thematic respects. The difference is, one is great; the other is not. You’ve already read about Scared, the great one, so now comes Atlas. I despise this song for reasons further than just musical. First, album closers are supposed to be a wrap up of the album, conveying an albums unique sound, the emotions it held…and Scared did just that. Atlas doesn’t, it sounds more like a wrap up of the bad aspects this album holds. Musically, lyrically, and especially vocally, the song has a massive feeling of under whelming-ness. And not just for the song itself, but the album as a whole.
Strengths generally outweigh the struggles though, as previously mentioned. Combining eclectic, soft electronic music with a sense for melody, harmony, and theory in general, Covenant have reached a peak in maturity and yet again obtain a new sound.