Covenant – United States Of Mind

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

Covenant’s long-awaited fourth album is here and boy, was it worth the wait. The Swedish trio have been wowing audiences across Europe with their blend of EBM and synth-pop, and played London twice last year to sell-out crowds.

The thumping beat which begins the album’s opening song LIKE TEARS IN RAIN leads into a bouncy electro motif that builds and builds throughout the track. It’s a combination of euphoric melody and wistful longing lyrics that Covenant, like their good friends and label-mates VNV Nation, manage to pull off effortlessly: “Every street I ever walked / every home I ever had / is lost……Every thing I ever touched / every thing I ever had / has died”.

NO MAN’S LAND sounds more like something off their SEQUENCER album – a repetitive dance track with a distorted beat – but it’s followed by the bizarre synth-ballad AFTERHOURS. I have heard different opinions about this song, from it being a gentle, refined masterpiece to a folly of stupidity. This is probably more on account of the lyrics than the layered washes of keyboard: “I want to burn myself / I want to violate you / I want you to hurt me again”. It does sound a bit like the Human League, I suppose, but the clanking noises in the background contrast nicely with the lush chorus.

HELICOPTER and, later on, HUMILITY are very different: minimalist beats and soft, almost spoken vocals about the relationship between man and the world we have created. Both songs remind me of THE YOUNG GODS’ last album ‘Only Heaven’, especially when the sampled rotorblades find their way into the mix on the former.

The introspection of HELICOPTER is brilliantly shattered by the euphoric trance intro of TOUR DE FORCE. The melody cascades across the song and propels it at speed towards a rousing finale. It’s probably the most VNV moment on the album. UNFORGIVEN sounds more like Depeche Mode with a beat and some choral samples behind the chorus – it’s followed by the trip-hoppy HUMILITY, where Eskil’s vocals sound even more like Dave Gahan.

The 80s electro of DEAD STARS is followed by the punch-the-air floor-filler techno of ONE WORLD ONE SKY, the track that has been moving some serious ass at their live shows over the last year. I have fond memories of Eskil and Co leaping around onstage to this one like demented kangaroos through the dry ice.

The album finishes with the appropriately-named STILL LIFE, which remains beatless until the last minute, when a quietly throbbing pulse emerges behind the ambient soundscape. It’s perfect way to end the album; a late-night trip through the deserted streets of an American (judging by the title of the album and the photos on the sleeve) metropolis. There is a track afterwards – 4½ minutes of silence cheekily named YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN MUSIC. Very clever…

Covenant’s last album EUROPA had some stand-out moments, but was generally a bit samey and underwhelming. UNITED STATES OF MIND is leaps and bounds ahead of it, taking in a diversity of styles, atmospheres and feelings that Covenant have previously been unable to reach across an entire album. It’s a soundtrack to the size, speed and power of progress of the modern world and its effects on the primal nature of earth and man.

The EBM and darkwave scene is undergoing a bit of an explosion across Europe at the moment – Covenant have just raised the stakes even further.

5 stars