In the dusty indices listing bands screwed out of well-deserved recognition, Evocation should come before the letter “A” (hell, just put them on the freaking cover!). Though they lurked around during the 90s Swedish death explosion, like countrymen Entrails and Interment, they were unable to field a legitimate release and had to content themselves with cranking out demos until 2007. Since then however, they’ve managed to uncork a series of top-notch albums. While their long-delayed debut Tales From the Tomb was every bit as grisly and Grave-y as you would expect from a contemporary of Entombed and Dismember, each successive release saw them incorporating more elements of the melody-centric Gothenburg style made famous by At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility. Though their sound was never entirely unique, they always had a solid handle on songwriting and each album had plenty of merit. Now, they have a new album, and I’m sad to report, it’s the first to suffer from a major drop in heaviness and overall quality. While they continue to jet set between Stockholm and Gothenburg for their influences, Illusions of Grandeur finds them moving residences much closer to the melody of Gothenburg. Gone is the buzzsaw guitar attack of old and in its place is an approach akin to Dark Tranquility (with some nods to Draconian Times era Paradise Lost). Operating as a partial counterpoint to this Gothenburgization, is a beefed up Amon Amarth influence to the riffing and song structures. This helps to partially balance the scales and maintain some needed heaviness, but its not quite enough. While there’s still some classic Evocation quality scattered about, the material here just isn’t as convincing as their past work, and some of it is rather bland and boring. That upsets Steel Druhm.
The title track sets the template with a mash-up of Dark Tranquility and Paradise Lost, but the absence of that killer guitar tone is instantly disconcerting, as is the overemphasis on melody. Don’t get me wrong, this is slick, well-executed melo-death and the song itself is good. It just isn’t the Evocation I’ve always loved. “Well of Despair” sees the Amon Amarth-isms begin to creep in and parts of the song sound like a B-Side from Twilight of the Thunder God. However, they shake things up with riffing at 2:48 that channels Paradise Lost and it works rather well (especially when it peaks at 3:26).
More Amon-y fun awaits with “Divide and Conquer,” which approaches the level of rip-off (despite the coolness of the riffs themselves). They double-down on the viking war metal with “Metus Odium,” “Into Submission” and large chunks of “Crimson Skies,” and I inceasingly found myself wondering what endgame Evocation was pursuing here. They write some brisk, punchy riffs that Amon Amarth would likely plunder for themselves, but why would Evocation want to morph into a Amon Amarth cover band all of a sudden?
Elsewhere, things are more firmly in the Dark Tranquility camp with somewhat bland numbers like “Perception of Reality” and “I’ll Be Your Suicide.” While things end well with the above-average “The Seven Faces of God” and respectable “Final Disclosure,” in the final accounting, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the totality of Illusions of Grandeur.
One thing I can’t take away from these dudes is their ability to craft above-average riffs. Be they in viking mode, melodic or crusty, Vesa and Marko always had the gift of tasty leads. Many of the songs have a good central riff and a flurry of interesting flourishes. Likewise, Tjompe’s deathy rasps are solid and enjoyably rough. The snag is the overly clean, melodic songwriting and the absence of that vicious old school Swedish bite that made things so much fun. The Amon Amarth-meets-Dark Tranquility style isn’t nearly as interesting and sometime feels rather limp (which is odd, since I love both bands).
Another problem is the production. Aside from the aforementioned absence of the raw guitar sound, things feel too polished, modern and proper. Clean productions and I don’t get along well, especially with a beloved band that once sought to out-Dismember the mighty Dismember. Without that buzzy, raw guitar, their whole sound feels less satisfying.
So there you have it. This is an enjoyable melo-death album with a healthy dose of viking battle lust, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the earlier Evocation platters. If you never heard these cats, start from the beginning and work forward. If you’re an old-time fan, I suppose how you take this album will depend on whether your heart lies in Stockholm or Gothenburg. As for Steel Druhm, his black heart should be buried in Sunlight Studios (with a case of beer and some beef jerky).