The Kovenant — Animatronic
Revisiting this album is quite a trip, as I first discovered The Kovenant some time in late 2001. I ended up reviewing Animatronic very late into its release cycle, in April of 2002. The original review I wrote is not great, but the introduction amused me:
Before ever hearing Kovenant, I had become somewhat familiar with them, and I thought they were fucking idiots. You see, I made the mistake of reading Hit Parader and taking them seriously. I read an interview with Kovenant's Lex Icon, in which he stayed in his "black metal guy" character and it was really embarrassing. Suffice it to say, Kovenant's first impression was a fairly bad one.
I don't remember this interview at all, and I only read Hit Parader maybe 2-3 times in my life — I was never a music magazine buyer. I can absolutely imagine a black metal musician coming off like a pompous ass, in any setting really, by being comically over-serious, so I have no reason to doubt this did in fact happen.
I ultimately gave Animatronic a very positive review, however, as the record was sufficient to erase any misgivings I had about The Kovenant. At the time, I was slowly beginning to understand black metal, although I started with projects like this and Dimmu Borgir at first. Animatronic marked a massive change in style for the band, which initially came to prominence as Covenant, and playing very traditional black metal at the time.
The name change was a result of legal disputes between both a Swedish dance group named Covenant and a Dutch metal band named The Covenant. After changing their name to The Kovenant, the band members all adopted newer — and much goofier — stage names. 'Nagash' becoming 'Lex Icon,' 'Blackheart' becoming 'Psy Coma' and 'Hellhammer' simply going by 'Von Blomberg.' The band's sound shifted dramatically, incorporating a wide array of synths and keyboards, while writing material in the industrial alt-rock vein rather than frostbitten black metal anthems.
While this style shift was a Big Deal at the time, I quite enjoyed the mix of wretched vocals, dark music and the infectious melodies and grooves contained within. I figured if Hellhammer, of the mighty Mayhem, was part of the band then they had to be credible. I didn't even like Mayhem at the time, but I had read Lords Of Chaos and understood his bonafides. Ironically, his involvement in this record helped ease me into what would become a long-standing appreciation of the black metal genre.
In 2020, Animatronic still holds up quite well. The record remains very listenable, with a slick production job that doesn't feel dated, although you might be able to pick out some drum samples and synth tones that were popular in the late 90s / early 2000s. The riffs are relatively basic, but the thick, crunchy guitar tones keep the groove steady while the synths and keyboards weave ear-catching melodies throughout each track. It's an instrumental mix that blends surprisingly well with raspy, strained vocals that would fit right in on traditional black metal album. There are some guitar leads, including a tasty solo in "Mannequin," but for the most part the guitar contributes to the rhythm section.
There aren't any duds on this album, it's 10 tracks and 51 minutes of material. It took me years before I realised "Spaceman" is a Babylon Zoo cover, which makes sense given how different the song is lyrically. I had initially assumed it was an attempt at a radio single — although it was likely both. Even after all this time, Animatronic still sounds novel and engaging, and probably would still incite a long, tedious rant from black metal purists.
Over 20 years ago, The Kovenant emerged from a name change and style shift to release Animatronic upon the world. A slick blend of electronica, gothic and black metal, the band's new sound alienated some fans but ultimately produced a strong, ear-catching record. Just like their contemporaries in Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir took flack for adding synths and keyboards, so did The Kovenant. They all released some really strong albums, so the track record of purists is dubious at best. Animatronic aged quite well and is still worth a listen.
Release date: November 16th, 1999
Record label: Nuclear Blast Records
Lex Icon — vocals, bass
Psy Coma — guitar, keyboards, programming
Von Blomberg — drums
- Mirror's Paradise
- New World Order
- The Human Abstract
- Prophecies Of Fire
- In The Name Of The Future
- Spaceman (Babylon Zoo cover)
- The Birth Of Tragedy
Published: June 3rd, 2020.