Apparently Evoken state that they wanted “to present the listener with an emotionally exhausting record” and they have certainly done that, I have fallen asleep several times listening to this. That’s not a criticism in the slightest, I just find funeral doom takes me to that place where I am comfortable enough to do so. You submerge yourself into its melodies and your body reacts, I am sure it is something to do with the resetting of circadian rhythms or something like that and an hour’s worth of this sort of music is going to mess with them whatever way you look at it. Hypnagogia is the achieved effect in more ways than one. Subject matter here on the US stalwarts 6th full length album is far more serious as themes concern a soldier in the trenches during WWI realising that his death is inevitable and the war as is meaningless as his life is to those who have cheated him out of it. Redemption, hate, suffering and despair are all thoughts going round in his head as he writes a bitter final journal. Heavy stuff! The stark artwork of the cover sums it up perfectly
Solemn tones ebb in on opening track ‘The Fear After’ we are in no rush as many of the numbers here straddle the 10 minute mark and things rumble in with harmony and melody really noticeable at the forefront. This is serious stuff to accompany the grim subject matter and Evoken have constructed an album that’s incredibly well thought out and not for the casual observer. Adding to the tone comes John Paradiso’s weathered, rough as bark vocals, there’s all the emotions one would expect conveyed by this tale and although mood often lifts and lightens the weeping of strings in the background and tinkling of keyboards hit like the bitterest of tears. It’s all quite beautiful although I am sure there is no way the group wanted to romanticise things in any way more than the great poets of the war. I don’t have the lyrics but am sure they are as profound and deeply honest as the music. I swear I hear a roar beseechingly pleading “set me free” amidst the futile horror of it all. There’s a canvas of pain being etched here. The entwining melody of songs such as ‘Valorous Consternation’ completely haunt, this is not easy to shift and works perfectly with the dolorous themes which are also expressed so perfectly in the vocals. Listening to this I feel transported to the frontline, looking over it and taking in the scents and sounds of tortured psyches where annihilation is just a heartbeat away. There are occasional gallops and explosions to percussively hit here, but this is not revelling in death and there isn’t a shred of glory to be found. I do wonder how others would interpret such a theme and there are times I think of bands such as My Dying Bride whose sense of purpose prose and seriousness as well as something in the way of musical sensibility could rise to the occasion. This is certainly a million miles away from the shredding shell-shocked nature of a group such as Anaal Nathrakh who also delved into the trenches of history recently though. The title of the song ‘Schadenfreude’ couldn’t be more apt but that is far from what Evoken is doing with their respectful look at the horror of it all. If the delicate motion of the strings don’t stir some emotion in your heart here you are already dead in that respect.
I feel my comments about falling asleep somewhat flippant on sitting down and really concentrating and listening here now, although I guess it is an acceptable response and illustrates the levels you can listen to this on. It is a draining experience though and so it should be, this is an album that deserves to be heard properly and you should soak yourself up in its anguish and mental torture. There is something to love about each and every track, the glistening guitar strains of ‘Too Feign Ebullience’ remind of Esoteric and for me Evoken have always been as with them the top of their game as far as funeral doom is concerned. Looking around I see the album is also coming out on vinyl, two tracks a side and that is obviously the best way to completely appreciate it. (Besides you won’t be able to fall asleep keep having to change sides). The emotionally stirring gravity even found in the two shorter instrumental tracks Hypnagogia and Hypnopompic are more affecting than many bands pack into an entire career and by the time you finally descend to the depths of finale ‘The Weald of Perished Men’ you cannot help being lost in thought over the suffering endured by our predecessors in the very name of freedom itself. With all these reasons on board the mark given here can only be looked upon as completely justified.
(9/10 Pete Woods)