Sound: Now heres something we don't get everyday! Coven were a thrash metal outfit based in Washington, who released three records and then - as far as I know - disbanded. This is a review for their incredible 1988 debut record "Blessed Is the Black".
Coven aren't a band that many people know of, which is a crying shame because this debut is one of the finest examples of thrash you get. It almost sounds like a bastard cross of Helloween and Kreator in some places, but don't let any negative thoughts cross your mind because this album packs a serious punch. The record opens up with the title track, with a brilliant and rather epic riff that picks up pace almost straight away with yet another pounding riff. The title track alone give this album its merit, the intensity of the music doesn't let up for a second and Jay Clark's screeching vocals just add to the ferocity of the music itself. Following songs, 6669 and Burn the Cross, are much in the same vein - very catchy and very well constructed riffs, heavy as hell, violent as f--k, and made far more venomous by Jay's vocal work. Then we're treated to a slight breather - the intro to Out of the Grave is calm and clean, yet strangely harrowing, and the remainder of the song is in the vein of a slightly thrashed-up Iron Maiden in parts. A pleasent and very welcome change midway through, which is once again interrupted by Rock This Church and the ridiculously named Iron Dick (yes, theres actually a song named Iron Dick, no snickering). Guitarist Paul Hash is obviously a very talented musician and this shows through with the varied work he does on this album - not only thrashy, but also melodic, sometimes melodic AND thrashy at the same time, which is usually quite rare in these unknown bands. Other tracks include The Monger, McDonaldland Massacre (stop laughing!), a clean ballad-esque song entitled Another Life, and the epic closer of Creature of Duty. The overall sound on this album is brilliant to be honest - great guitar tone, superb mixing job, just a very solid sounding record overall. For 1988, this is rather surprising as a majority of records I own from this period don't quite have the clarity that this album possesses. // 9
Lyrics: With song titles such as Rock This Church, Iron Dick and McDonaldland Massacre, you might find it hard to take these guys seriously. Most of the lyrics are pretty good (excluding the aforementioned tracks!) but nothing too mind boggling. Some of the rhyming patterns are very predictable - in the title track, Jay sings "Searching deep within yourself/the evil answer lies/You know your heart is black as hell/and death is in your eyes". Rather basic structure and such, but not too bad overall. No one tend to care for lyrics in thrash anyway, its the music that matters in this genre so I can't bring myself to be too harsh (or too soft) on this record for its lyrics. However, some of the lyrics are very well written, such as this example from the track Another Life; "Man, lives helplessly in the dark/A pawn, Chosen to play the part/Life, it endlessly tortures me". Okay, so that last part is a bit average, but still haha! I don't mind the lyrics on this record but I can't neccessarily praise them for being masterworks.
Overall Impression: Well this album was a pleasent surprise on my first listen - I wasn't expecting it to be anywhere near as good as it turned out to be. Its absolutely bloody brilliant, and its well worth hunting down - I'd say that the songs that really stand out would have to be Blessed Is the Black, 6669, The Monger and especially Another Life. AFter the relentless onslaught of the first three songs, its throws you a curveball - then throws you a few more until the end of the album. You don't expect to hear the softer songs after the aural brutality of 6669 etc. and thats what i like in thrash - bands that can keep you guessing. Th eonly problems I can really mention are A. the lyrics, and B. the fact that this album is too short, clocking in at just under 40 minutes. But I guarentee that if you can hunt this down, you'll be hooked for good.
Blessed Is the Black was released on Medusa Records in 1988, and has been long out of print though - the cheapest copies available go for upwards of $100 so I'd recommend either downloading the album or saving your money. Its worth every penny!
Coven released two more records following Blessed Is the Black - Death Walks Behind You (1989) and Boneless Christian (1993). All records are officially out of print. // 10