Album Review: Evoken – “Hypnagogia”

Anthesis of Trite

Suggesting that Jersey doom incarnates Evoken have never before written a concept album appears, at a glance, to be both true and preposterous. There have been no prog operas, sure, but are we really willing to deny that their planet-sized despair machines have always tapped directly, preternaturally, into our shared generational misery? Haven’t all previous records been their own tightly crafted masterworks of mood manipulation? It’s not even completely absurd to propose that Evoken have, until now, been writing a whole concept discography, advancing their single abyssal theme with each breathtaking hour. But for a bit of thesaurus savvy, Embrace the Emptiness and A Caress of the Void would even bear the same title. This is not a criticism. Consistency of purpose and demeanor is a virtue when quality control is this strong.

That said, Evoken seek to confound expectations on multiple fronts with Hypnagogia. Not tonally—that guitar sound has been dialed in to sublimely suffocating darkness for decades, and there’s no need to fuck with perfection. Ditto their use of synthesizer textures to expand their dismal hymns toward the farthest horizons. Cellist Brian Sanders, who added his talents to 2012’s Atra Mors, returns to play a fundamental role in Hypnagogia’s thematic development. His work is embedded throughout the record, never quite becoming the music’s dominant character, but investing the songs with a very specific and recognizable personality. Then there’s the baffling inclusion of a melodic choral section that bisects “Ceremony of Bleeding,” announcing that this is Evoken in experimental mode. Closing track “The Weald of Perished Men” is equally unexpected, a warm resolution in the vein of recent YOB and Pallbearer triumphs, and one that almost wholly rejects the stygian depths that Evoken have inhabited for their entire existence.

If you’ve seen Evoken perform live during the past year, you’ve almost certainly been mauled by Hypnagogia’s second track, “Valorous Consternation.” As evidence of the album’s potency, then, I submit that this song contains some of the least captivating music on the record. It performs its duties well enough, and it flashes moments of glory, but the relative complexity and narrative heft of the surrounding compositions make it an Appalachian among the Rockies. Even shorter pieces—the cinematic title track and penultimate “Hypnopompic”—mesmerize with their artful sculpting of emotional vistas.

And yes, Hypnagogia is a fully realized concept album. Dig it: A dying WWI soldier enlists the help of a malevolent deity to turn his journal into an inescapable mind trap, pouring subliminal psychological poisons into the soul of any who read it, driving them to inevitable suicide and thus compounding the malignancy that waits to ensnare the next victim, and the next. Bonus points for turning the atrocities of the Great War into the least terrifying element of that plot. Finding out that Evoken still have more to say is one of the most satisfying revelations of 2018.