Yes, I fully realize this was released in Europe in late 2012; however, I did not, as a Yank, have access to this album until early January 2013. So therefore, I am including it in this calendar year’s releases. This is a completely new band for me as well, having never heard of them until I was going over Metal Underground’s release schedule for this calendar year. Having seen the name, I decided that I would check out the band, whose album artwork (which was awesome, more on that in a minute) drew me straight into wanting to listen to the band.
The album art is simple and monochromatic with black/dark blue background with a light grey/white almost engraving aspect to it. It is reminiscent of a Durer engraving. The saintly image in the foreground is an old man, trapped in the vestments of the faith, complete with crosses. Over his head is the traditional image of the Sun illuminating the faithful saint’s path; however, in this case, the sun is eclipsed and forming the waning crescent moon the band’s logo that illuminates the path in this fashion. It is framed nicely and the corners of the piece contain a simple celtic triad knot (symbol of trinity), the waning crescent imagery, and the pentacle (which is an amazing white magic symbol designed to ward off evil, black magics by representing childbirth). Simply, the art of the album serves as a hagiography for the band’s mission statement.
From their website (Nine Covens), the band states that they are “focusing on the brooding aspects of Black Metal,” in hopes to “challenge … human failings and those of all enemies of reason.” This is to “confront the eternally weak and all those who follow without question.” In conjunction with the album’s artwork, they are off to a great start!
The album itself is strange in its presentation. It contains nine individual songs which are divided into four specific pieces: 1.) “On the Resurrection and the Harrowing of Hell,” [divided into three parts], 2.) “On the Ascension and Torment of Hell,” [divided into two parts] 3.) “On the Day of Judgement” [divided into two parts] and 4.) “The Exile’s Complaint” [divided into two parts]. This lead to my conjecture that the band appeared to use classical composition to write this album, dividing it into individual movements and modes of thought while attempting to express the central theme. In the more artistic forms of metal and progressive music of late, this type of typology feels more common of late; however, this is the first time I had seen a band obliviously embrace this classical style of composition.
The album is well produced for its intent. The guitars are not fuzzy and underproduced just to create that ubiquitous rawness so ever present in typical Black Metal. Each instrument is clearly heard and no one aspect of the music stands over the any other (yes, you can hear the bass!), providing depth to the music. The vocals are tied firmly into the mix, making them at times unable to be heard clearly; however, the singer’s voice is piercingly shrieked and is treated with what sounds to be a voicecoder like effect, giving it a bit of an echoey, sermon-like quality.
The overall use of harmonizing guitars, tremolo picking, and blast beats give the music a very old school Black Metal feel. Its soundscape is frozen and inaccessible at times like good Black Metal should be, giving the album a very much retro feel that appears to be a trend in modern metal and progressive music (disparaging referred to as Vest Metal). However, due to the production quality, they did not fall into this trap. Ultimately, they provide pure on Black Metal without many progressive flourishes or approaches (sometimes they pull directly into thrash).
Therefore, as this album has been quantified and presented as a very definite Black Metal album, fans that find this particular brand of metal or music as muddled or confusing will not get as much from it. Another concern was that they described that they were focusing on the brooding aspect of Black Metal. Brooding, while interesting, can be another term for navelgazing angst. This band ultimately does not fall into this trap. Further, my conjecture was rewarded by the composition of the album: the groupings sound very much different from each other without varying the sounds too far, but the individual pieces of each group feel very much like movements within a greater part. Ultimately, great Black Metal must provide the listener with a pay off at the end of each good album: catharsis. By writing this album in this means, Nine Covens is able to build the emotions in each grouping to lead to individual moments of catharsis (the Second Part of “On the Ascension and Torment of Hell” does an amazing job at this) while providing one for the entirety of the album.