First coined by Ronan Harris of VNV Nation, the term ‘futurepop’ has given a home to a number of bands over the years. In retrospect, Ronan has stated that he wished he never had termed the genre, but it can’t take away that groups such as Apoptygma Berzerk, Haujobb, and Cut.Rate.Box use/used this term to describe their electronically driven music. But what is futurepop? Well, if we scrutinize these bands, it would be overflowing with the hooks and catchiness of pop music, but using elements from darker, harsher electronic/industrial music (creating a “futuristic” sound), to counterpart it. Covenant are probably the single band that could identify with this the most, specifically on this album, Skyshaper.
Departing a bit from the cold sound that was their last album, Skyshaper identifies with aspects ranging from Covenants whole career, whilst adding upon to it also. To understand how, one must take into account what the band is inspired by. A major play on this album, said by the band themselves, is the film Blade Runner. Having a futuristic and dark tone, Blade Runner is a science fiction film that had bleak settings with opaque lighting and cinematography. Said to be influential in many aspects, the film was still not received well commercially, as it was released after the seminal Star Wars trilogy. However, as a cult film, it garnered much claim, and found it’s way into the hands of the three members that would form Covenant. From lyric themes to furthering the musical boundaries of their past, Covenant seem to have set a new level for themselves, of a different kind. Listeners know their glory days are over, happened long ago. As such, their new level is not so much having an impact/being the best album ever/etc., because they have done those things. Rather, this new level consists having a straight line of consistency without getting boring or monotone.
Skyshaper, however, is missing something. Not because there is a loss of technicality (is there such a thing in this type of music?) or direction, but because it’s hard to identify the albums emotions, and quizzical to form your interpretations, feelings, and opinion on it. I mean, all the tracks have something to offer, even the love to hate song Happy Man. All the tracks are passable. But as a whole, Skyshaper still needs a serious element that was found in previous albums. While it might not hit you immediately, upon further listening, one discovers a giant gaping hole through the album, which has never happened to Covenant before. One contributor to this is the fact that many of songs are just passable, as stated. It is safe to say that Covenant have found themselves a bit jaded. The listener can see that Covenant have tried their hardest, but after doing this for over ten years, you can also see that they are indeed tired. But some of the fault can be dispersed by the fact that they focused too much on too little. For instance, the band went through at least one hundred and fifty versions of the song Brave New World. And while this is one of the albums highlights, one can certainly question whether a lot of those takes could’ve been spent, in exchange for more focus on the quality of other songs.
What makes me this picky is that the songs aren’t bad, also previously stated. They just need an extra push, one that could’ve been easily obtained. Even some of the greats on this album could use a little spice, because that is the gaping hole in the album: energy. Starting their new goal, “…having a straight line of consistency without getting boring or monotone
”, with this album, is not the way to go. Early Covenant albums were chock-full of infectious grooves, club-thumping hits, or memorable songs that made you think. But, aside from the three tracks on this album, the rest all passes by rather quickly and blandly. The factor that affects this, like most of Covenants music, is Eskil. I’ve said it countless times before, because it’s true: Eskil is the driving force in the majority of Covenants music. Indeed, vocals are almost exclusively the focal point for this genre, and most groups do have a great voice. And while Eskil isn’t especially bad, he is, just like the music, mainly unemotional and stock. There are flashes of his old-days brilliance of course, but the one-way approach he has on this album gets old fast, because of his complete loss of synths to his voice. This happened on Northern Light, but his interest of vocals might have been compensated in the rush to get this album done.
And while I do paint a sad picture, some songs do pull through. Ritual Noise, Pulse, and Brave New World are the essentials here. They all contain the hooks and quirks of futurepop, and even hold throwbacks to old Covenant in bits and pieces inside of them, an element not found in the previous LP. Ritual Noise has got to be the best Covenant opener so far; starting out a bit slow and dark, it suddenly becomes a raging beast of fast melodies and rushing beats. Pulse continues the albums running pace, with added atmosphere from synths and a darker beat that polarize the extremes on Ritual Noise. Brave New World continues after a filler track (Happy Man), and is an instant classic to Covenant. With a piano harmony that softens things up, Brave New World is a ballad like side of Covenant and works brilliantly going against Skyshapers’ grain. But then the momentum stops, for the most part. To get a picture of the rest of Covenants sixth record, just take the reasons explained and add them to the next six songs. Aside from the few and far between flashes of brilliance (like snippets of creepy urgency found in Spindrift, for example), the rest of Skyshaper is indeed quite forgettable.
Futurepop is an eclectic sort of music, but it also can contain mixed bags and bad bands amongst the classics of the genre. Thus, as Covenant had established themselves long before this album came out, they still remain among the top in the genre, and a personal favorite. Yet, as a fan of the band, I find it hard to say that Skyshaper is the one Covenant record that can be skipped on the whole; painfully average, the casual fan will only need Ritual Noise, Brave New World and Pulse to enjoy. As a fan of the band, I will be anticipating the new album, but, with the utmost disgust for myself, braced all the same.