NINE COVENS don't hold the keys to black metal's future; in fact, they operate largely within rather well established, even tediously familiar, genre artifices past and present. But in this age of infinite bands peddling semi-infinite repetition, this obscure musical ensemble possesses something of much greater value: a concept.
And no, we're not talking about the already tiresome habit whereby many modern bands - including NINE COVENS - are maintaining their members' anonymity by hiding behind whatever's at hand: masks, hooded cowls, assorted farm animals, etc.; but rather their peculiar obsession with one George Pickingill: a so-called "cunning man" with nebulous ties to all manner of occult covenants, pagan, Luciferian, and otherwise.
Thus, in a move that parallels much of black metal's post-Inner Circle experience - i.e. drawing inspiration from one's own national history, myths and religious beliefs (or lack thereof) - the UK-based NINE COVENS has evidently chosen this particular and not at all well-known British anti-hero to inspire the themes populating its own songs.
This brings us to the group's sophomore recording, "On the Dawning of Light", and its - you guessed it - nine songs built on icy, grim, brutal, but cleanly produced black metal; hallmarks borrowed, at various times, from the likes of DISSECTION, IMMORTAL and SATYRICON, and then capped with enthusiastic wiccan incantations that would please Martin Walkyier to no end.
Naturally, no concept alone can carry a musical endeavor, and thankfully, while it may not move mountains of creativity or reveal unexplored dimensions of inventiveness, "On the Dawning of Light" does deliver several particularly finely wrought black metal songs in the likes of "As Fire Consumes", "The Fog of Deceit" and "Over the Oceans' Way" - each of them rich in violence and variety, not to mention sublime melodic horrors one can't help but hum or even whistle as they breathe their last.
But again, results will vary depending on one's ability to lay hands on a lyric sheet capable of illuminating NINE COVENS' tales of dark folklore. Without that, the mysterious group's extremely competent, but anything but groundbreaking musical creations across "On the Dawning of Light" can only offer so much morbid entertainment.