Like fabled beast-human hybrids the walking wounded among modern civilization recognize each other with a radar informed by experience in the flesh. Yet with the written word relegated to attention deficit afflicting glowing pads, the effects of catharsis become emulated and grossly malleable product for well-cast consumers and thankless followers alike. This is no curse or phenomena of man old or new but the connection sought with art does begin to demand so much more than the art itself when interactivity is expected. To think that all-too-personal and surreptitiously alluded pain can have such impact within allegorical paeans as those of Evoken‘s ‘Hypnagogia’ is a testament to the succinct nature and repeatable poetic value of modern music. Written in dark and damaged times, the sixth full-length from this now legendarily influential Lyndhurst, New Jersey funeral death/doom metal band marks their first defined concept album that appears a full six years after the plague-seething ‘Atra Mors’ (2012) appeared as a nail in a yet burdened coffin.
The true fallout of World War I was not only the eight million dead and the vile, secretive extermination camps unearthed… but the seven million left permanently disabled and the additional fifteen million left seriously injured. Many of these folks would succumb to disease, live crippled and traumatized civilian lives of suffering that would curse generations beyond with a grand European bitterness amidst the atrocities and social unrest of the times. Amongst the embittered, gravely injured and soon to pass is the protagonist who has only his journal to punish the world with. Unlike the fleshing out of human knowledge provided in the toilet paper scribbled cantos of an imprisoned Ezra Pound, the protagonist in drummer/lyricist Vince Verkay‘s concept writes of horrors and lies in his journal before forging a writ with a vengeful god to possess the book of truths when he would pass into death. In turn this malevolent spirit would inhabit the piece and imbue the reader with suicidal thoughts with determination. However that may sound in summation the established Evoken fan will understand that the pieces are merely suggested in Verkay‘s typically dark and emotional Baudelaire-ian lyric prose. Fitting themes for the bravely revised and deeply moving sound of a band that could have easily relied on nostalgia and self-absorption to reacquaint themselves with their fandom.
From their death metal inspiration as Funereus in the early 90’s to their rise as a most prominent spectre of funeral doom metal in the post-millennium Evoken represent one of the oldest surviving figures of North American death/doom. By the time the infallible majesty of their fourth album ‘Caressing the Void’ (2007) had sunken in, co-founding member and guitarist Nick Orlando (ex-Funebrarum) made a general exodus from extreme music following Funebrarum‘s second album in 2009. Written in a seemingly democratic form of collaboration while taking their time in creating higher artistic forms, the labors involved in creation of funeral doom metal meant adjusting to the tastes and tendencies of a new guitar presence. The line-up has been largely steady since 2008 with the addition of Dave Wagner (ex-Abazagorath, ex-Funebrarum) on bass but the second guitar slot next to John Paradisio (Grim Legion) was first granted to Chris Molinari (Divine Silence) who lent some of his gothic/melodic death doom influences to ‘Atra Mors’ before being replaced with Randy Cavanaugh (Anticosm, Grim Legion) more recently. Molinari was still the second guitarist for ‘Hypnagogia’ sessions and though the melodic sensibilities of Evoken have changed pointedly within the space of half a decade it is clear that the same set of artists, songwriters and production team were responsible for ‘Atra Mors’ and ‘Hypnagogia’ alike.
Consider the leap ‘forward’ in atmospheric values, songwriting, and sonic fidelity made in the couple of years that separated Evoken‘s debut ‘Embrace the Emptiness’ (1998) and their first masterpiece ‘Quietus’ (2001). This same type of leap can be observed in the achievement of ‘Hypnagogia’. The thrust of their death metal influenced funeral doom always took into account the psychotropic atmospheric achievements of projects like Disembowelment and Esoteric but also the melodic (some would say ‘gothic’) edge of Thergothon and Morgion. With this sixth album it seems that the Peaceville melodic death/doom scent of the past beckons the project into a new direction with even more of the presence that Evoken developed in the mid-to-late 2000’s. Death metal is not merely used as an aesthetic but the pure death metal sections are not as intricate as they are atmospheric in terms of guitar work. Whereas ‘Atra Mors’ was growling and aggressive in tone the rhythms of ‘Hypnagogia’ are slickly resonant without feeling soft or unsubstantial. Soaring cello work and clean spoken vocals interject themselves into most every piece, recalling the glory of ‘Quietus’ more than expected. Evoken somehow appear more menacing with some softened edges but, the experience is not so polished that they’ve lost their beloved sonic personality or old school death/doom snarl.
In times of deeply blinding depression where lack of satisfying sleep, rescinded personal hygiene, and bouts of wandering solitude create a sepia toned tunnel of the wounded self Evoken‘s discography offers a symposium of respite to re-heat one’s being rather than further damn it. Catharsis expressed in earnest is more capable of this and the proof comes from the aforementioned walking wounded, nodding in recognition and feeling their path ahead. ‘Hypnagogia’ captures exactly that blurred consciousness following natural chemical depletion, that point of defeat and frustration beyond the anxiety of one’s future following tragedy and trauma. Where I find lasting value in this expressive pocket that exists between death/doom metal’s greatest traditions and the experimental nature of funeral doom metal in terms of Evoken is that they rarely seem bent on aggrandizing the defeat of man but rather ‘feeling’ it through their own experiences. Processing and accepting the boot of existence upon one’s back as a necessary step for any reasonable consciousness. The journal that would defeat and then absorb the souls of its readers through empathy in ‘Hypnagogia’ is a lot to consider in those terms. The very idea of perpetuating a sort of evil curse upon man through a book at least allows me to gleefully insert my own anti-religious sentiments, however unrelated.
Death doom metal fans will find great solace in the guitar work and generally deliberate mid-pace of ‘Hypnagogia’. It isn’t a Spectral Voice record nor is it necessarily as atmospheric as Fuoco Fatuo‘s latest, instead I’d liken the pace to Un‘s most recent full-length. It might seem odd then that I would suggest that the appropriate comparison would be Anathema‘s ‘Serenades’ and/or ‘Pentecost III’ era if considering the structure of tracks like “The Weald of Perished Men” and “Valorous Consternation”. Evoken have shifted their overall style just slightly towards the realm of revered bands like Morgion and Mourning Beloveth without losing the trail of old school death metal they’d so heartily picked up with ‘Antithesis of Light’ (2005). I would not say that this makes Evoken‘s sound more typical but it does feel like something more accessible and familiar without the otherworldly grime of their 2000’s era of development. It is immersive, dramatic, and so focused on expressing its concept that I (as a fan of nearly two decades) see ‘Hypnogogia’ as an intended performance piece rather than a ‘comfortable’ building upon their established legacy.
Some will expect a Socratic apologia for stepping moderately away from the established diamonia Evoken had worshiped and become though I welcome, and greatly appreciate, that they’ve stepped outside of expectations in earnest. “The Weald of Perished Men” will likely be the most troublesome paradigm to realign with, as a grand sopping opus it ends up sounding like an extended cut from ‘Solinari’ yet it works so well as a different sort of finale away from their tendency to end with a purely atmospheric piece. From the increasingly unique sounds of Don Zaros‘ keyboard work to the impossible to forget guitar hooks and death blast of “Valorous Consternation” and the signature collapse of “Schadenfreude” there are a thousand details I could go on praising. Ultimately the impact of the listening experience stuck to me immediately and steadfast thanks to my own psychosomatic dissociation resultant from forced total immersion. There were days where I made sure the only music I heard was ‘Hypnagogia’ and others where I sampled my favorite parts and reminisced about discovering their music. From the winter nights of 2003 spent walking home from work in the too-wet Portland snow to the endless hours of studying to ‘A Caress of the Void’ when it came out, I’ve realized the mileage that these pieces provide when the mood strikes.
Is there room in 2018 for another fantastic funeral doom metal record? Yes, particularly one that is easy to digest and with themes that offer depth if inclined to dig deeper. At face value it is an captivating, incredibly atmospheric, and varied death/doom record with their own signature funeral doom sound applied to a marginally more melodic focus. That Evoken are capable of new and interesting sounds despite hardships, delays and what must be a crushing weight of expectations in prolonging such a class discography is admirable. As a unit they do not appear to crumble beneath the pressure in achieving ‘Hypnagogia’. In terms of atmospheric extreme doom metal there are very few bands that appear as serious about their art and for this reason I am giving Evoken‘s latest one of my highest recommendations this year. The hour of investment might appear daunting, and you may have to find the right state of mind, but for my own taste ‘Hypnogogia’ is up there with the finest extreme music being made today.
Nature, impudent and painful. 5.0/5.0
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