November 9, 2018 Evoken – Hypnagogia (Album Review)
After six long years, New Jeresey’s Evoken are back with Hypnagogia, out Friday, November 9, 2018 through Profound Lore Records. A long overdue return, Canadian independent record label Profound Lore was similarly responsible for Atra Mors in 2012, and for the first time in nearly a decade, Evoken’s lineup has stood for consecutive albums – founding member Vince Verkay on drums, longtime frontman John Paradiso on vocals and guitar, Chris Molinari on guitar, Dave Wagner on bass, and Don Zaros handling keyboards. Additionally, the band tasked New Jersey compatriot Steven DeAcutis of Sound Spa Studios for recording, mixing, and mastering, and reached across to the Pacific Northwest to employ Adam Burke for album artwork. So, let’s dive right into the abyss with the veteran Funeral Doom Metal act.
For those who need some brushing up, emerging first as Funerus, and later Asmodeus, the band would soon take the name Evoken in 1994, releasing Shades of Night Descending EP in 1996. With their full-length debut Embrace the Emptiness in 1998, 2001 saw the release of Quietus, followed by Antithesis of Light in 2005, and then A Caress of the Void in 2007. From this point, there were several lineup changes, most notably the departure of founding Guitarist Nick Orlando, as well as more recent members, Keyboardist Denny Hahn and Bassist Craig Pillard. Soon, a revamped lineup assembled for the mighty Atra Mors.
Which leads us to present day with Hypnagogia, an album which takes its name from the mental shift from wakefulness into the beginnings of sleep. Evoken break new territory here, as Hypnagogia was also written as their first concept album, describing the last moments of the life of a wounded World War I soldier. Bitter about the deceitful circumstances that lead him into his fate, more so than the eventual fate itself, the soldier takes pen to paper and keeps a journal of his last hours, fading in and out of consciousness, sleep, and eventually, corporeality. Within the mythos of the album, readers of the journal are then doomed to experience these final moments, and add their own lifetime of pain and misery for the next suspecting vessel. Any one of these concepts is enough to bring listeners to their knees; having them compounded into a single narrative ensures only the heartiest of souls will survive the journey.
Eight songs in total, “Valorous Consternation” opens with a bit of guitar that, almost light-heartedly, suggests the style of the Chicago quartet Pelican, and the mood is almost bright, before settling into some dark machinations similar to My Dying Bride. The band has mastered the art of solemn moments crashingly broken by dark, brooding guitar; Drummer Vince Verkay describes the aim of these progressions as “emotionally exhausting.” Taking its title for the German concept of one person taking pleasure from the pain and discomfort of another, “Schadenfreude” is an odd topic for a broken warrior beginning to weigh his mortality; the soaring guitar laid over a slow, broken rhythm section is where the skill and emotion of Evoken really come through. Further pain and utter disaster sets in for “Too Feign Ebullience,” where crushing guitar and mournful vocals drag for most of the track’s ten minutes, buoyed only slightly by ambient drums and guitar near the closing movements.
The title-track neatly bifurcates the album, with its disconcerting guitar riff easily taking the place of any vocals, slipping the listener from the physical world into a dreamy motif. “Ceremony of Bleeding” gives a subtle nod to the early cycles of the post-Daz era of Anathema, namely “Restless Oblivion,” the opening track of Anathema’s 1995 album, The Silent Enigma, and the track keeps the mood of deep, oblivious sleep. The largely instrumental “Hypnopompic,” like its name suggests, brings about the end of the soft escape of slumber, as the harsh reality of life takes focus. “The Weald of Perished Men” could serve as a bold sendoff, meant to honor a collection of dying warriors, covering their ghostly wails as they wait to be buried amongst their brethren, or, perhaps more chillingly, it refers to the lives of those unlucky enough to stumble upon the journal. The opening notes seem almost jovial, before the gloom returns and the reality of the surroundings takes full effect, and another ten minutes of disquietude follow.
Hypnagogia sees Evoken break away from the earlier successes of Atra Mors and Quietus with a fresh take on the crippling melodrama they are so apt to craft. As with most of their work, and this genre as a whole, the album is best taken in one painful sitting, with an evening set aside to ponder one’s own place in the universe. There are slow middling portions scattered within that call for courage, but overall Hypnagogia is a welcome addition to the band’s impressive catalog, and will make for several new droning additions to their live repertoire. Cryptic Rock is pleased to give Hypnagogia from Evoken 4 out of 5 stars.