Legendary Evoken unearth pure despair, sorrow with gut-wrenching ‘Atra Mors’

It’s expected in a category called doom metal that the listener is not expected to feel uplifted while listening to the music. It’s called doom for a reason, in that what you’re hearing is going to be dark, foreboding, and potentially miserably affecting. You should kind of know what you’re getting into.

Obviously from the many, many entries on Meat Mead Metal, it’s clear I enjoy doom metal a great deal. I would guess it sits alongside black metal and the sub-genre in which I indulge the most. But it didn’t really occur to me until recently how little of it really makes me feel dreary and downtrodden. Most of it is incredibly heavy and feels dark and drab, but when it’s over, I don’t often find myself wondering what it’s all for. That’s not a criticism, really, because there has been so much great doom metal recently, much of which would heavily make up a best-of list if 2012 ended today. But not a ton of it reaches that bottom-of-existence plane that often.

And then along come Evoken, with their first set of material since 2007’s “A Caress of the Void” to change all of that. Not since Loss’ “Despond” from last year have I felt this cathartically miserable listening to a record. I don’t consider those emotions as negative. We all face sadness, regret, pain, and despair in our lives, and too often those pitfalls are ignored. Look at mainstream culture. It’s all happiness, gloss, and bubblegum, and really, whose life is really like that? Mine sure as shit isn’t, and I certainly would not say I have a bad life. But those feelings arise sometimes, and if they’re ignored, they keep getting pushed further and further into the back of the mind until one day it becomes too much. Addressing these feelings when they’re on the surface is a healthy way of life, I feel, and Evoken sure sound like they feel the same way.

The band’s incredible new album “Atra Mors” will not make you feel like opening a bottle of bubbly and celebrating life’s many wonders. Instead, it’ll make you address the darkest recesses of existence, the absolute worst of humanity, the most pitiful elements of our daily existence. It’s a coincidence that I spent so much time with this record this past weekend, when so much bad happened, because I had this story planned for this week. But I didn’t want to feel good about things regarding what was going on in the news. It was time for me to grasp the seedy bottom of society and try to make sense of what it is. That’s a shitty, lousy way to spend your time, but ignoring it and pretending it isn’t there is the worse option for me. This music helped me get there and absorb the despair.

Then again, Evoken always have been this way, no matter what’s in the news. Their epic, emotional version of funeral-ready doom metal makes you invest your time and brain to their music, and there’s no taking a quick trip with the band for a speedy turnaround. Their songs are long and crushing, and when one of their records ends, you know you’ve done some serious work. “Atra Mors” (translated from Latin means “black death”) lasts a little over 67 minutes, and you will feel each second of it. Even the two interlude cuts, as lush and gentle as they are, only serve to let you breathe momentarily before diving headfirst into another tarry pool of woe.

I hate to jump toward the end of the record already, but I was overcome by the track “The Unechoing Dread.” This is one of those standout tracks that the moment you hear it, you know you’re onto something special. Vocalist/guitarist John Paradiso goes back and forth from a Tom G. Warrior-style morbid speak-sing on the verses, to a heart-wrenching growl elsewhere, and nowhere is the sense of sadness and madness more pronounced than it is here. The guitar work from Paradiso and Chris Molinari sets the perfect, goth-tinged backing, while Don Zaros’ thick fog synth work spreads like a poison over your body, into your lungs. But this is the second-to-last song on the album, so you have a huge haul before you get to this point. And definitely do NOT jump ahead.

The title track is the opener, with hints of deathrock in the guitar work, a slow, trudging pace, and deliberately unfurled growls. “Descent Into Chaotic Dream” has a clean, seemingly calm intro, but that all folds into an assault of crushed bones of lungs, sitting underneath the enormous weight of this sadness. “Grim Eloquence” reaches into the cosmos for some inspiration, with its slinking programming and an orchestral synth backing, and with about two minutes remaining, all of the hammers are dropped, and they turn this into a dust cloud of devastation. “An Extrinsic Divide” also brings back the deathrock feel, but also dumps noise, hiss, and muddy grit in your lap. Closer “Into Aphotic Devastation” opens with a hint of beauty, as strings are dripped like glaze over a watery melody, but eventually that too is blown to bits by their volcanic tendencies, and the song puts a stunning, bruising exclamation point behind this richly harrowing experience.

Once again, Evoken deliver an incredible platter of true doom the way very few bands pull off these days. There will be tears, frustration, anger, and depression seeping through your pores, and you’ll be better for it when it’s all over. Plus, you will have just witnessed an incredible document that should help the other members of the doom genre find their inner blackness again.

One final note: This is the landmark 100th release in Profound Lore history. Not sure there could be a more fitting record to encapsulate what that label has meant to metal and delivered by way of dark arts since it began. The first Profound Lore release I ever covered was Amber Asylum’s “Still Point,” the label’s 22nd release.  We hope to be here to bring you PF release 200, and so on, as well.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Evoken-Official/91505789372

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

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