Over four years ago, Karyn Crisis released Salem’s Wounds, the debut album of her new project, Gospel of the Witches. While I found it to be an overly long, lopsided album, it was still awesome to see Crisis return to making heavy music again, and I was eager to hear more from this project. Fast-forward to 2019, and the Gospel are down to a tight three-person line-up, with Crisis once again teaming up with husband Davide Tiso, who handles the guitar, bass, and songwriting this go-’round, rounded out by Skinlab drummer Fabian Vestod. With four years between albums, are we looking at a stronger, more concise Gospel?
After several playthroughs, the answer is a definite “yes.” Gone are the electronic elements that were prevalent on Salem’s Wounds, as are a majority of Crisis’ trademark growls and shrieks, though those are more of an accent mark rather than a key focal point. The end result is that Covenant sounds more organic and free-flowing, more intensely spiritual, and infinitely more concise than on Salem’s Wounds without losing the power that the Gospel were going for on the debut. For instance, opener “Womb of the World,” like the debut’s “Omphalus,” wastes no time in building up a frightening trance, with Karyn displaying her vocal versatility once again with growls, screeches, and angelic singing over a sparse, driving riff and Vestod’s impressive tribal drumming. And like “Omphalus,” it doesn’t overstay its welcome, making an impact and leaving me wanting more.
It’s the album’s comparative brevity (48 minutes compared to Salem’s 61) and compact nature that allows the band to deliver a stronger, more potent package. There are more ambient songs that are suited to pulling the listener into a heady trance, such as the minute-and-a-half “Silver Valley,” but those cause the longer songs, such as the powerful “Benevento,” to explode with spiritual energy and rage. The give-and-take between the ambient, docile numbers and the more aggressive songs on here adds a stronger overall feel to Covenant that was somewhat lacking on Salem’s Wounds, and by the time “Diana Mellificia” razes everything in sight, you’re left slack-jawed and overwhelmed.
Sadly, the album doesn’t stop there, with “Circle of White Light” and “Blood of the Mother” following immediately. While they’re not bad songs, they could have been shuffled within the tracklist. “Diana Mellificia” is such a strong, powerful statement that it deserves to close out the album, and the two following tracks don’t do enough to captivate. Also, and this is a minor quibble, I miss Immolation frontman Ross Dolan’s trademark growls, balancing out with Crisis’ shrieks and screams. That said, though, Covenant hits with a stronger intent than the debut did, even down to the organic production, allowing everything to breathe a bit better than Salem’s Wounds.
Much like Salem’s Wounds, Covenant continues to grow on me, with its teeming spiritual energy and stronger songwriting. Covenant took the promising hints laid out on Salem’s Wounds, and used them to craft a better album. Much like her previous band, Crisis, I see Karyn and company influencing a whole new generation of spiritual metalheads. Covenant makes an impressive case for that happening.