I think it's fair to say that I had begun to wonder if this album was ever going to appear. Endlessly delayed – 'Modern Ruin' was first revealed as the album title way back in 2009 at least – and seemingly with something of a difficult gestation, with various tracks debuted live and then not even appearing on the album when it arrived, the album finally saw a release during January 2011.
Label: Synthetic Symphony
Catalog#: SPV 91810 2CD
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Of course there have been changes within the band, too, with the addition of Daniel Myer (of Haujobb/Architect fame, of course) and the loss of Clas Nachmanson. This personnel change has definitely resulted in a shift in sound, with an increased emphasis on soundscapes and more intricate electronics.
Despite – or maybe because of – the personnel change, although it didn't appear to be at first listen, this is far more like the Covenant of old than that of the band that delivered the patchy (but still broadly likeable) Skyshaper. Make no mistake – this album genuinely rewards repeat listening, much like Northern Light, and much like that album, it is front-loaded with some stonking tracks. So the quite brilliant Lightbringer (the collaboration with up-and-coming fellow swedes Necro Facility, whose poppier take on industrial is all over it) is followed by their finest dancefloor track in nearly a decade – in the form of the sleek techno thrills of Judge Of My Domain, which comes to life with a glorious, sweeping chorus that their peers only wish they could write.
Dynamo Clock is equally sparse, and only really made sense to me once I'd heard it in a club, as it's emphasis on the thumping rhythms almost defies you to stop dancing. Resistance is futile. More surprising – at least in just how well it works – is the fragile elegance of The Beauty and the Grace, in a vastly better version that the remix that appeared on the Lightbringer single. It starts off as a gentle electronic ballad, something Covenant have had a habit of padding out their albums with over the years, but it blooms into a far more interesting beast with guitars and multiple layers of rhythms all jostling for space.
After this run, it's frustrating that yet again a Covenant album sags a little in the middle, with a few tracks that, well, appear somewhat inconsequential. Get On seems oddly familiar, as if I've heard this song on a previous album, and that synth line is something of an earworm – even if the rest of the song isn't. Worlds Collide is one that tries it's best to be all serious and overwrought, but is let down by, well, overdoing the emotion, with the track drenched in string samples too it all comes across as a bit mawkish.
The Night is very odd indeed. A retro-synth rhythm, heavily distorted vocals…and that's about it. For three minutes. Still, it works nicely as an intro to the final titanic track on this album – Beat The Noise. So good it gets it's own horn fanfare to herald it's entrance, it again builds slowly on a bouncing rhythm, before Eskil unleashes yet another monster chorus – with one of his most impassioned vocals ever – and we're off into the stars once again.
The album closes with the near-beatless darkness of The Road, apparently inspired by the titular book, and provides a link to the title of the album, too. This is a thoroughly modern album, an album of the "now", one that is taking a look at the world as it stands through the band's eyes. I get the feeling that broadly, they aren't entirely impressed with what they see.
Happily, this is an album to cherish. Vastly better than their last – and while it is by no means perfect, if you are still interested in dark electronic pop music (for want of a better term) with a heart and soul this album is definitely worth your time.