Review Summary: smooth. very smooth. Covenant reaches for the epic and expression, even in their world of dance-oriented music.
Honestly, after United States of Mind, I thought that Covenant had pretty much said all they had to say. Basically they just released a beefed-up version of Europa, with smoother synth lines and beats. The good far outweighed the bad on that album (Afterhours, Humility and Unforgiven being the bad), but it still felt like there wasn't anywhere for them to go.
Turns out I should have taken the hint from the closer to that album, "Still Life."
Northern Light is infused with a different kind of dance energy than the releases before, and the one after, Skyshaper. No longer are they solely basing their songs on a strong beat and a catchy tune. The poppiness that has infused their music since Europa is still there, but the music now strives for beauty beyond the confines of mere dance music. The first track, "Monochrome," demonstrates this well: it begins with a simple industrial clang and fluctuating synth, but by the end of the track, the synth chords have changed to support the grandiose singing of Simonsson, epic in every sense of the word. And from there it only gets better.
Enter "Call the Ships to Port," the first dancefloor single of the album. It takes the energy of their typical work (say, "Tour De Force") and blends it in with a dizzying cascade of thoughtful lyrics and swelling synth. The difference here is that the serious tone they have taken with their previous work suddenly makes sense here, with an appropriate musical setting. Songs like "Prometheus" and "Winter Comes" seem the perfect synthesis of the hard, brutal lyrics of Montellius, Simonsson's all-encompassing baritone/bass, and the newfound expression with their instruments, the two tracks being the darkest and moodiest on the album. The polyrhythms in "Rising Sun" lend the track a strange, anticipatory energy that suits the track's etheral mood and sparse intrumentation.
However, this album has its missteps. "Scared" would have been great as a Daft Punk track, but Covenant doesn't quite have the vertical groove nailed down yet, despite what "Rising Sun" would have you believe. It's a neat experiment, I just think it shouldn't have left the studio. "Atlas," which follows the same blueprint as "Prometheus," is drowned in dissonant, falling synth noise, which destroys what would have been a cool track.
Whatever Covenant puts out is going to be great. This album is easily one of the best electronic albums I have heard. But there are a few tracks feel out of place, that don't quite fit the glossed-over vibe of the album. This is probably the last great album that Covenant will put out, as Daniel Myer has joined the group and will inevitably push their sound in a new direction.