Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Covenant - Feedback


Now here is a golden oldie from my past. Back when I was in high school, I was a huge, huge fan of a lot of electro-industrial stuff like Front 242, Skinny Puppy (see below), Front Line Assembly and Covenant. Now, I often don't take stuff labeled as such seriously, but I think that bands like Skinny Puppy and Front 242 are totally unique acts that really do something totally unique within the whole scope of pop music, regardless of their genre. In fact, in some ways, I think that Front 242 is one of the most innovative electronic bands of all-time, period, and that Skinny Puppy totally transcends genre altogether, but that's beside the point. Covenant is another beastly band that is basically a Swedish electro band. This cut, taken from their second album, 1996's Sequencer, is a barn burner. Don't think of it as electro-industrial; just think of it as a song. It'll sound better.

This beast is grating and repetitive, but very beautiful. It immediately builds atmosphere, particularly once the obviously synthetic and creepy choral patch comes into play. A slightly less creepy but still strange voice robotically growls, "I consume the wind that makes you cold, And drink the blood of the bleeding souls, To check your fear and hide the noise of the howling wolves that steals your voice." What the hell is he talking about? It certainly doesn't sound very nice, or does it? He's actually saying that he gets rid of the wind that makes you cold, drinks blood to check your fear and hide the noise that steals your voice. Is this guy some kind of weird guardian? He's certainly creeping me out. Maybe he's kind of like Arnold in T2 or something, and doesn't know how to talk to people.

Then this nervous little synth line come in, and then a powerful beat. Every element in this song has syncopated perfectly and we are now driving at full speed, but we still seem to be going slow, dragged down by the slow, pulsating, quivering synths beneath us. He continues: "I confuse your mind to feed your dreams, To read your thoughts and keep them safe, From harmful truth and the hopeful lies of the tempting demon that hurts your eyes." Here we have more stuff that he's keeping you from, but it seems to get even more confusing here. He seems to be some sort of omniscient entity that controls your mind to protect you, but it seems like maybe a few things are being sacrificed in the process.

Then, the incredible chorus hits us. It stops and builds until we hear him say, "I will protect you from your visions, To save you from illusions," as the chords shift and progress in this most gorgeous way that draws so much attention to the way the song has been structured up until this point. "I will protect you from ideals, To save you from defeats." Are these lines not incredible? This dude, whatever the hell he is, is basically trying to protect you from that which makes you human. He repeats himself, and we get such a strong, undeniable sense of the invincibility, the omnipotence of this force - at least within the song itself. The music mesmerizes us draws us into this strange world where we are slowly drained of our humanity with every beat and every squiggle, with every bit of feedback layered over the beat. With visions can come illusions, and even if they are sometimes true, this guy protects us from them. I get this really strong sense whenever I listen to this that things are being gradually destroyed - but with a quickness that sneaks up on and surprises you. But perhaps the most shocking line is the chorus' second, because ideals are just so clearly considered to be such an integral part of being human. It's like, at a garage sale where you're desperate for cash, you could maybe - maybe - sell your visions, but if some schmuck asks for your ideals, you'd say no way, I'm no chump, chump.

But isn't it true, that if we didn't have ideals, we could never be defeated? The thing that I find with this song is that that idea is offensive, but it's frighteningly seductive. It's like you want to give in and just let the guy erase your humanity and get rid of your ideals. But maybe that's just because I like that wacky Taoist crap. I mean, I don't actually want someone to get rid of my ideals - that'd be terrible - but the song has a musical quality to it that is really, really hypnotic and absorbs you in it in such a thorough way.

Then the music slows again, and builds. The lyrics take a turn, and the guy becomes more aggressive. "I consume the wind that makes you bold, And suck the blood of the living souls, To make you numb and hide the noise of the howling wolves that is your voice." Here we see the wind is the source of boldness and courage, along with the cold. That extreme can be the source of courage, a well of strength. This, to me, seems very Nordic, and I love it since I love the cold and the feeling of invigoration it gives me. Then we see that this guy is just sucking the blood of the living in order to make you numb; this is pretty obvious, of course, that numbness would follow if he did all these things. But I really love the twist on hiding the noise of the wolves, which he says is, in fact, your voice. Before, it was that which erased your voice, but now, it is your voice. Isn't this so wise, though? I mean, it's obviously drawing on some quasi-Romantic imagery of nature and relating it to interior processes and states (like emotions, etc.), but isn't it so true how some things which can make you feel silenced can then become that which you use to break that silence? For instance, desire - a fitting analogue for howling wolves. Sometimes, I think everyone can be silent when they feel desire, because they don't want to express it. It is that which silences you. But then, you can decide to express that desire, and those howling wolves become your very voice. I think it's really powerful, beautiful and astute. And if this dude were to indeed silence our humanity, our visions, our ideals, then desire would naturally be supressed, as well.

The music goes marching on, and the situation seems more and more dire. He finally goes on, "I seduce your mind to fear your dreams, And read your thoughts to keep you blind, From harmful truth and the open skies, Of the outside world before your eyes." Here he continues being really open about the destruction he intends, talking about instilling fear of our dreams and keeping us from harm - even when it is borne of truth - and of the openness that awaits us before our eyes (and within our minds and hearts). Again, I really like the equation of nature and ourselves.

Then, it builds. Again. To a fucking beast of a climax. But how does this really change from before, musically? I can't really tell if it does, but I don't think it does. The song has just built the tension so damn well that it sounds twice as loud and twice as powerful. The urgency of what he's saying is escalated, and we are drawn deeper downwards, helpless against the force of this song and its unstoppable voice. Then, when it stops again and begins sparkling with that extra synth line, it just goes nuts. But it's all still so restrained. It's like there's this bizarre ecstasy filling the listener; perhaps the bliss of the ignorance the voice seems to promise. But it's totally bittersweet, of course - how could it not be? There is this profound resignation, this surrendering of our humanity, that is inherently sad but made to feel somewhat sweet. That is part of the magic of this song; its ambiguity and the emotional and intellectual confusion it engenders in the listener.

But who - or what - is this guy? I love the song's title: Feedback. Maybe it's supposed to pertain to television, media and technology? It could be anything that makes us feel noise. Or maybe it's literally supposed to mean "feedback", as in getting a reaction from someone else. Or maybe it's self-feedback, a self-reaction. Maybe the title is a reference to how we feel when we listen to it; what kind of feedback do we give to the song? How do we react? It's clear that this force is powerful, and it's here to stay. It's also strangely seductive. But what the hell is it? I love not knowing.

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