Not to be confused with the early ‘70s occult folk outfit of the same name, the metal band Coven formed in Detroit in 1985. Soon after the release of their 1987 debut album, Worship New Gods, the foursome would be contacted by the Jinx Dawson-fronted unit who once reminded us that witchcraft destroys minds and reaps souls, and forced to change their name to Coven 13, but for the first record, which came to enjoy a kind of limited cult appeal over the years since its initial issue, they were still Coven, and so it is on the new Shadow Kingdom Records repress of Worship New Gods. The new version is billed as a 25th anniversary celebration release, but it’s not bloated with special bonus tracks, interviews or anything like that, instead just focusing on the album itself. Frankly, that’s treat enough. Shadow Kingdom have spent the last few years paying direct homage to the NWOBHM and classic metal, but Coven are a bit harder to place stylistically, aligning themselves to fantasy metal on songs like “Riddle of Steel” and the Camelot-themed “Wicked Day,” a sort of non-industrial proto-goth on “Kiss Me with Blood” and keep a semi-pagan sensibility in their use of runes on the album cover and in the memorable finale, “Loki.” Whatever else it has going for it, Worship New Gods bleeds personality. The vocals of David Landrum are more swaggering than one might expect for something so stylistically varied and roughly produced (the album sounds both of its era and of its budget), and bassist/keyboardist Roger Cyrkiel, who also recorded, adds a flourish of melody and atmosphere that goes beyond the traditional metal songwriting. A song like “Ruler” may have gang-chant-esque backing vocals in its chorus, but “Threshold of the New,” despite having a near-Misfits punkish forward drive in Brian McGuckin’s drums, is as atmospheric as it is abrupt, Landrum’s vocals holding to a sub-swirl of compression and echo and guitarist Todd Kreda offering surprising shred in his solo.
It’s pretty easy to see why Worship New Gods earned its reissue. Apart from the fact that Coven have reunited as Coven 13 with second guitarist Richie Karacynski and reportedly begun work on a new album to be released on Shadow Kingdom, this nine-track/39-minute collection seems to feed off its blend, and while in the years since its initial release, some of the elements at work across this material have broken off into their own styles – goth, doom, pagan metal, etc. – these songs arguably capture a crossroads moment in the growth of metal as a whole. Apart from that, it sounds cool. More to the point, it sounds Old, and mysterious, and obscure, which no doubt accounts for a good portion of its appeal. That said, Coven had a surprising grasp on their aesthetic, multifaceted as it was, and songs like “Burial Ground,” “Wicked Day,” “Ruler,” and “Threshold of the New” sound dated here, but not at all irrelevant. “General’s Eyes” is memorable in more than just its commonality of progression with Metallica’s “Four Horsemen” (and, by extension, Megadeth’s “Mechanix”), and whether the foursome is thrashing out as they are early in that track or working in the more open, plodding style of “Loki,” they maintain a strong undercurrent of craft and pop hooks that works to tie Worship New Gods together as a cohesive whole. Landrum’s vocals are rough in some places – on the closer he seems to be struggling to keep up with the chorus – and his over-the-top approach probably isn’t going to sit well in all ears, but he effectively caps the atmosphere in “Riddle of Steel” and “Kiss Me with Blood,” and despite only being three tracks apart, the stylistic gap between those songs is much wider. I don’t know if Coven set out to make an album so varied – it’s hard to listen to a reissue like this and divorce hindsight from what actually went into making it a quarter-century ago – but the nuances they bring to their approach make Worship New Gods a richer listen than one might initially think on the first or second time through.
A 25-year-old grower, then. So be it. Coven may not have gotten much past tape-trade-fodder status in their initial run (they’re slated to play this year’s Hammer of Doom fest in Germany, so perhaps the profile will be somewhat higher this time around), but Worship New Gods remains an intriguing work overall, filled with catchy songs and a seemingly willful lack of allegiance to one aesthetic or another. Cyrkiel’s production, blown out though it is, gradually becomes a part of the ambience and a factor in tying the material together. As the 2:32 “Jail House” – all post-Motörhead biker rock topped with darkly psychedelic cooing from Landrum – runs its course and the duo of “Threshold of the New” and “Loki” round out the album, the latter works to bring Coven full-circle, beginning as the opener did with a short spoken clip before embarking on its more doomed lumber. Easy to read in influences from Judas Priest to Danzig to Saint Vitus to Mercyful Fate, but if Coven were doing anything on their first record, it was establishing a sound of their own. Several sounds, more accurately. In 1991, they’d go on to release the Ragnarok full-length, originally recorded to be a sophomore full-length but ultimately issued as a demo tape, and then disband until finally coming back together in 2005. It probably would’ve been easy for the band and for Shadow Kingdom to include Ragnarok as a part of this release, or other demos recorded in some Detroit garage or something like that, but Worship New Gods is complex enough to stand alone. It’s a pretty quick listen, and it requires some adjustment to its atmosphere – that is, it might be a couple times through before you really get what the band is going for – but after that initial acclimation, the experience only becomes more rewarding for the effort put in. Classic metal enthusiasts, whatever subgenre they might prefer, should have no trouble meeting Coven at the burial ground.
Tags: Coven, Coven 13, Coven 13 band, Coven 13 Shadow Kingdom, Coven band Detroit, Coven Detroit, Coven Detroit band, Coven Shadow Kingdom, Coven Worship New Gods, Detroit, Michigan, Shadow Kingdom, Shadow Kingdom Records, Worship New Gods