The Kovenant/Covenant

In Times Before the Light
(Mordgrimm - 1997)
Note that there are three versions of this album: The original harsh-sounding release by Covenant, the cleaner re-master by The Kovenant, and the electronic remix by The Kovenant. Back when this band was still called Covenant, the band members didn't change their name and image every album, and they didn't lose themselves in electronica, they were a somewhat derivative but very good melodic black metal band with heavy use of keyboards. Reminiscent of early Satyricon mixed with Dimmu Borgir, this features harsh evil melodic black metal with buzzing guitars (think early Emperor/Darkthrone/Satyricon), atmospheric or folk-tinged keyboards, and strong gargling rasps as vocals. Songs vary from the simply harsh, mid-paced and atmospheric (Burzum), to the dark Viking/folk melodic sounds of Satyricon, to black-metal buzzing tremolo guitars and blast beats. The keyboards generally don't take over, and they add a good dark atmosphere, although at rare times they get a bit cheesy Dimmu Borgir style, and there are short glimpses of the latter-day experiments with dark electronic sounds. If you like this style, it's a very good album.
Nexus Polaris
(Nuclear Blast - 1998)
The first radical change for this band, but with feet still planted in the black metal genre, with many extra playful sounds, many of them operatic, slightly avant-garde and melodic, resulting in a very popular release that made a justifiably big splash in the scene, while alienating purists. This release includes musicians from Arcturus, Dimmu Borgir and a female soprano used by Cradle of Filth, and each of these influences are felt. The music shifts towards a highly unique blend of black metal, power metal, operatic metal, and 'space metal'. The keyboards take on a much larger role, and the vocals vary, combining the primary gargling rasp from before as well as other, more theatrical and playful voices such as groans, guttural song and operatic-style yells. There are also many of Arcturus's playful 'dark cabaret' or gothic vaudeville sounds, for a theatrical, fun and operatic dark sound. Some songs even surprisingly sound like power metal with black metal rasps and blasts. Yet other songs feel like a more melodic Emperor. As before, there are some glimpses of the future sounds but they are rare. In short, this is a very dynamic, symphonic, musically rich, highly enjoyable and superb, unique, classic release. Enjoyable and invigoratingly fresh and energetic, from start to finish, especially for Arcturus fans.
(Nuclear Blast - 1999)
This is where most metal fans drew the line, including myself. The genre shifts to blackened industrial metal, with 'astral' electronic atmospheric sounds. Basically, most of it is spaced-out Marilyn Manson with a bit of black metal vocals. Except that even those vocals take a back seat to the new range of Marilyn Manson croaks and 'fry', gothic Type O Negative crooning, soprano female operatic vocals (singing in a mechanical pop-style), shrieks, and weak raspy singing. The whole thing sounds like too much gothic electronica and the commercial elements creep in way too often for my taste, and I've been known to enjoy some industrial metal. It's almost as mechanical as Rammstein, and without the heaviness. Some tracks are better than others and the tracks do vary a lot with their various approaches and sounds: There are many enjoyable Therion-esque operatic heavy-metal segments, and some dark industrial sounds that are occasionally good, but even these always pause for some mechanical techno/industrial/dance breakdowns and the vocals tend to annoy like Manson's commercial attempts at being evil. The symphonic Samael-esque dark operatic track "Symphonies of Fire' stands out in its dark brilliance and if the whole album were like this one it would actually be good. But, no, this one goes to the trash.
In Times Before the Light (Remix)
(Hammerheart - 2002)
It just goes to demonstrate the surprisingly new bad taste of this band and the clueless viewpoint on electronica if they can release a thing like this. They took the raw, strong, lively, harsh black metal of the debut, added tons of space-electronica, constant background ooh and aah vocals, and mechanized the sound and drums, until they killed it several times over. This is worse than a useless release, it's in bad taste.
(Nuclear Blast - 2003)
I don't quite recall a band that evolved and devolved so drastically in such a short time. The transition to trance/club music/electronica is complete here, with clean vocals. There is a wide variety of sounds here again, and it's operatic, dance, electronic and industrial all at once. But it's not worth a review as far I'm concerned.

The Last Exit 1996-

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