The Rickety Old Shack

The Kovenant — SETI

album cover

Back when I dug out my original review of this album, which was published back in 2003, I was surprised at what I had written. I remembered disliking SETI strongly, but given my appreciation for Animatronic (review) — which persists even to this day — it was shocking to read such a thorough trashing of the follow-up to that record.

Suffice it to say, it took only a minute or so for me to realise that Past Derek wasn't exaggerating much, if at all. The opening track, "Cybertrash," really does start with exactly the same composition as Animatronic with only slight differences in samples used. I am still shocked at the balls it takes to rip off your last album so blatantly. I listened to both albums back-to-back for this review, so it was unmistakeable. Even worse, though, is this rendition felt like a lazy imitation of the first attempt.

Even though SETI features a very strong engineering job, the actual performances captured on the record vary in quality. Lex Icon drops his distorted vocals almost entirely and opts for a midrange clean tone that mostly works, although not always. The guitars are very thin and are absent in long portions of the material, which lean even more heavily on the synths. The drums sound almost entirely programmed, even moreso than Animatronic which I chalked up to Hellhammer's trademarked trigger-heavy sound and restrained playing. "Via Negativa" actually features chirping hi-hats that pre-date trap music by almost a decade, which was a surprise to hear when I revisited the album. Unfortunately the song is still very mediocre, despite this novelty.

The main issue with SETI is that it seems to be a bunch of skeletal guitar tracks with a swath of electronic elements thrown over top, but things don't gel like they did on Animatronic. Instead of a true blend of styles, this record feels like underwritten guitar and drums slapped together with a wall of EDM synths. The Kovenant, in filing down the rougher edges of their sound left themselves without a decent hook. Somehow, though, we ended up with an album that runs 67 minutes even without 2 "bonus" tracks. The food is terrible, but at least the portion sizes are generous.

Even in moments where the songs show promise — like the headbanging intro to "Acid Theatre" — things quickly go off the rails, assailing the listener with goofy misfires like blending barely passable clean vocals with a theramin. There are some good ideas littered throughout SETI, but the execution is jarring and awkward. Even though the concept the band is going for is not significantly different from their big change-up on Animatronic, the material on this record lands with less-than half the success rate. For instance: the novelty of the Babylon Zoo cover on Animatronic ended up working out while I don't think anyone — anywhere, ever — wanted an industrial goth cover of Metallica's "The Memory Remains." The Kovenant manage to undershoot even my lowest expectations with this cover, turning int a sterile, lifeless rendition that eschews everything that made the original a good song. This record is littered with female vocals, except the cover song that is mostly remembered for Marianne Faithful's haunting refrain — what the fuck?!

The bright spots, like the sinister harmonics over the thick, headbanging thump of the main progression in "Keepers Of The Garden," are more frustrating than redemptive. "Pantomime" has a similarly enjoyable intro section but then, as soon as the vocals come in, it all falls apart. Lex's vocals had moments on Animatronic where they didn't quite fit, but the frequency of these occurrances is significant upped on SETI. Instead of just being a very competent screamer, Lex opted to be a medicore clean singer with some really bizarre tendencies.

Seventeen years later, I don't find my opinion of SETI has changed at all. My dissatisfaction, especially in comparison to its predecessor, remains the same — and the gulf in quality between the two records is just as massive. Not only do I not think this record would win over anyone who didn't like the band previously, I can only guess how many fans the group shed as a result of this album. The group would never release another studio album, and has been completely inactive since re-issuing some of their earlier work. I don't know if this album killed the band so much as signalled its iminent collapse, not that it matters at this point.

Summary

Even with the benefit of 17 more years, the follow-up to The Kovenant's well received Animatronic album still falls completely flat. Opting for even more melody and electronic elements, and using minimal harsh vocals, SETI is an underwritten, awkward affair that fails to capture the groove and catchiness of its predecessor. After making a successful pivot from a traditional black metal project, The Kovenant stumbled big time in their attempt to sustain their momentum. There are so many better industrial rock / metal albums from this era that sound far better than this offering.

Album Information

Release date: March 31st, 2003
Record label: Nuclear Blast

Lex Icon — vocals, keyboards
Psy-Coma — guitar, keyboards, programming
Hellhammer — drums

Track Listing

  1. Cybertrash
  2. Planet Of The Apes
  3. Star By Star
  4. Via Negativa
  5. Stillborn Universe
  6. Acid Theatre
  7. The Perfect End
  8. Neon
  9. Keepers Of The Garden
  10. Pantomime
  11. Hollow Earth
  12. Industrial Twilight
  13. SETI
  14. The Memory Remains

Link: spotify.com

—by Derek

Published: June 10th, 2020.