There is no denying the fact that melancholy is prima facie, an aesthetic emotion in art. Throughout the ages, artists have portrayed this emotion through their works, while ruminating on the relation of their innate feelings with the artistic output. However, melancholy has been often neglected as the common notion behind its perception is of a dual nature. There are both positive and negative aspects to it and people often tend to ignore the positivity. What, one may ask, is so positive about evoking sorrow?
The answer lies within our subconscious but only a few are able to comprehend it. Art, especially music, is a vessel to vent out the feelings of dread which can never leave the psyche of man. Funeral doom, like classical music, is a medium of sonic art which is synonymous with the aesthetic of melancholy.
Ever since its inception in the early 90’s, funeral doom has carried the burden of delineating man’s most dreadful and harrowing emotions with grandeur. Though, sadly, it is still a style of art which hasn’t received ample appreciation due to its foreboding aura which tends to repulse casual listeners of heavy metal. But of course, understanding of this genre takes much more effort and demands a spiritual connection, which eventually is extremely rewarding.
Evoken are one such act, who have kept true to this secluded style of art, ever since they started treading the path which not many had dared to trod during that era dominated by death metal. They are certainly indebted to the legendary and ‘cult’ Thergothon for the inspiration and also for their band name, which was again taken from a song-title by those seminal Finnish pioneers of funeral doom.
1994 was the year when Evoken blew the clarion on an unprepared audience, through their debut ‘’Shades of Night Descending’’. This release had a major impact on me, as it exposed me to the slow, despondent sounds of death/doom during my late teens. After its release, the seeds were sown for their debut full length ‘’Embrace the Emptiness’’; a malevolent spawn which consumed several years of song writing and composure before finally exposing its hideousness during 1998.
The stage was set for Evoken (US) to plan greater things as their first full length had attained attention and praise from the doom metal underground. And they marched ahead, with a firm vision to achieve newer vistas of creativity and get better with their craft. ‘’Quietus’’, the sophomore album was another result of the band’s arduousness and visionary ideology regarding funeral doom metal. This record displayed a congruence of somber, mid-paced to slower, funereal doom metal and classical elements which was induced with the usage of an archaic Cello. The blending together of these facets was indeed revolutionary and helped Evoken in carving a niche in the dungeons of doom metal.
‘’Antithesis of Light’’ was a further descent into the maelstrom, with its complex, yet baleful aura. The experimentation in sound had continued to grow impregnable and effective with the incorporation of faster, double bass sections and odd time signatures. These lyrics from the album aptly justify the vision of the band as their creative measure is endless and its perception is in the ‘eyes of all who see’.
‘’Eternity has no bottom
It is the breath of a dying sun
Exhaling its icy last gasp
Above the pillars of the dark corruption.
Hanging low in the vast nothingness,
Symbol of destiny – mirror of the ages
Eternity is an illusion
Burning quickly away into molecular shadow
There is no measure of it; it’s depth in endless
It is in the eyes of all who see.’’
The challenge to create a follow up for an album like ‘’Antithesis of Light’’ was indeed very overwhelming and painstaking. Expectations from the fans were immense and the band could not have compromised on anything at that point in their career. And thus, ‘’A Caress of the Void’’ was conceived after two years of meticulous work. It was a different album and ventured into the abyssal darkness of the void, removing the ‘epic’ and dreary ambiance of its predecessor.
At this point of time, Evoken were at their peak of the career, nearing almost two decades of existence. But what was to come ahead was neither expected by the band nor the fans. The upcoming years were tumultuous in a way due to certain issues with the band’s founding member and main composer Nick Orlando. His real life commitments made it hard for him to propel the band in a newer direction and he had to be pushed to the sidelines, unfortunately. There was a deathlike silence during the years after their last release and many speculations regarding their future were being postulated. A ray of hope was seen when a new split release with Beneath the Frozen Soil came out during 2010. It hinted that expecting a new album could very well be a good thing after all.
Enter 2012 and Profound Lore Records announce a record deal with Evoken’s upcoming album which would be the label’s 100th release. This album, which was going to be their fifth was entitled as ‘’Atra Mors’’ – Latin for ‘’Black Death’’. It was also going to mark the band’s 20th anniversary and hence the expectations were obviously gargantuan than ever before. My skepticism was apparent with the fact that Nick wasn’t a member anymore and given his repertoire, I was really interested in seeing how good this album turned out.
Like every Evoken album, Atra Mors didn’t reveal its charms very easily and required subsequent listens to grasp its hidden treasures. The song writing, as always is exemplary and captivating. It was intriguing to hear a lot of newer ideas which moved in the old school death metal terrain, which have been suavely juxtaposed with the trepid funeral doom-esque sections.
The moment, ‘’Atra Mors’’ reveals its glory, the above mentioned ideas become instantly recognizable. A maddening frenzy of nocturnal emissions envelops the album and weaves hallucinating deliriums. It casts an ominous shadow of perpetual woe and emancipates shades of despondence and bitterness.
After the exhaustive twenty minutes of the album’s beginning, a brief piano interlude in ‘’A Tenebrous Vision’’ brings a wave of calmness amid the brooding chaos. However, this brief moment of tranquility is ruptured by ‘‘Grim Eloquence’’, which is perhaps the most ambitious composition on Atra Mors. It gives a nod to Antithesis of Light and Quietus with the somberness while also exposing the listener to the realms of dark ambiance through Don Zaros’ dismal keyboard sections. The unforeseen orgy of guitar solos towards the closure collect reminisces from Esoteric’s Paragon of Dissonance.
The voyage continues with ‘’The Extrinsic Divide’’ which emphasizes on bleakness and decrepitude. Trademark, reverb-laden clean leads, devastatingly heavy rhythms and a morose death metal flavor. It consists of the perfect ingredients which are mixed amicably to create a bedlam of cacophony.
‘’Requies Aeterna’’ evokes a gothic environ with the majestic cello and acoustic guitar harmonies, preparing the listener for the impending distraught pummeled through ‘’The Unechoing Dread’ . It paints macabre pictures of ghoulish spirits trying to push oneself into abysmal darkness, screaming profanities and making gestures of an untimely end. The end, however, draws nigh with ‘’Into Aphotic Devastation’’ which begins with a grotesque violin annunciation and embarks on a stellar expedition, into the unseen and absolute. Its stark radiance reminds of the frailty of emotions which encapsulate the sheer embodiment of mortal sub-consciousness.
It is in the unfolding of this narrative that the dictums of melancholic reflection are to be experienced. Once again, Evoken have triumphantly created a magnum opus which envisages vivid episodes of man’s rendezvous with his inner self; a tumultuous inquiry into the realms of infinite obscurity which make a lasting imprint on the sublimity of being. Atra Mors is an odyssey and we are the travelers of this steep voyage. I am, thus reminded of these lines from the poetry written by Poe which will aptly conclude this article.
‘’And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh- but smile no more.’’
01 Atra Mors
02 Descent Into Chaotic Dream
03 A Tenebrous Vision
04 Grim Eloquence
05 An Extrinsic Divide
06 Requies Aeterna
07 The Unechoing Dread
08 Into Aphotic Devastation