My history with Evoken handily mirrors my relationship with the genre these funereal leviathans so masterfully craft. If I’m not entirely of a mind to wallow in the brand of doom that lurches with the gait of mountains, then I struggle to fully commit. But funeral doom has never been for the casual listener, and rightly so. Evoken are ever the reliable constant and have returned to once again divide traditionalists with another morose mass of glacial grief. Hypnagogia is the Americans’ sixth album and arrives secure in its ability to fill some sizable shoes. On the back of two consistent but unexceptional releases, the band announced 2012’s Atra Mors, and with the diction of thunder levelled an entire generation with an unflinching ode to despair. Hypnagogia seeks to scale its brother’s lofty heights. not by bettering it outright, but by opting for a substantially different tact: the concept album. Despite the format’s potential pitfalls, the result is deceptively nuanced and sees the band once more darkening my door with an array of midnight emotions.
Although it’s strange to think that a band like Evoken haven’t previously embarked upon a concept record, the fact remains that Hypnagogia is their first. The story revolves around a mortally wounded soldier in WWI who, jaded by his plight, makes a pact with a sadistic god to bind the negative portion of his soul to a journal recording his dying moments. Whoever reads the diary then manifests and magnifies the same emotions until they take their own lives, thus feeding the parasitic pages and perpetuating the cycle. Fitting stuff for a doom record. As if in answer to the theme, Hypnagogia attempts to balance more light and shade than its predecessors, which, along with an enhanced sense of melody, further sets the album aside from the band’s discography.
As all good opening songs should, “The Fear After” compounds all of the album’s features in one stirring stroke. The tempos remain slow and resolute, but it’s the increased presence of harmonized strings that truly makes the song. John Paradiso and Chris Molinari feed the pace with their languorous riffing, but never to the detriment of musicality. A guitar tone made famous by My Dying Bride presides over the album and intertwines with minimalist sombre leads that further refine the songs’ bitter pallet. “Schadenfreude” also leans heavily on strings and couples a thoroughly engrossing soundscape with Paradiso’s varied performance. His vocals interchange between a booming death metal growl and a typical funeral rumble, but it’s his spoken narrative that leads the concept gently by the hand. This song is perhaps the album’s most complete offering and embodies its namesake well. By design, the evocative lamenting leads attempt to mirror the conflicting nature of schadenfreude itself and, by and large, they succeed.
Intermittently, the album’s need to color a severe canvas with sunset strokes doesn’t always combine as desired. “Valorous Consternation” harbors venomous melodies and even breaks halfway for a black metal bridge, replete with scorching tremolos. However, nestled between is an extended break of airy strings and cheap synths that threatens to sabotage the song’s cogency, which is always a risk in such a protracted genre. Similarly, while “Ceremony of Bleeding” dooms decisively, closer, “The Weald of Perished Men” wanes amidst a bloated intro and a failing finale that directly counters the song’s grandiose epicenter. Although Hypnagogia’s songs are shorter than on previous albums, the record is still subject to filler. The band’s penchant for brief instrumentals is once again indulged, but they feel oddly detached, as if guitar lines from an incomplete song had remained unfinished but utilized none the less. A concept album, let alone funeral doom, can ill afford such interruptions, but Hypnagogia‘s consistent capacity for immersion, despite its flaws, is entirely representative of Evoken‘s ability.
Evoken are certainly not a band to pander to everyone’s tastes. Their overwrought sense of melodrama can either make or break and embodies that funerary je ne sais quoi that so neatly divides metal fans. Whereas Atra Mors managed to beguile me regardless of my demeanor, Hypnagogia occasionally flirts recklessly with my attention span. However, I can make no bones about the material’s quality, and while the album won’t radicalize the genre-averse, make no mistake, these peels of perdition can still vilify within an inch of your worthless life.