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Album Review: Evoken – Hypnagogia

On their upcoming album Hypnagogia, American funeral doom legends Evoken deal with one of the darkest chapters in human history. It began on 28 July 1914. It lasted 4 years, 3 months and 2 weeks. It claimed 15 to 19  million dead soldiers and civilians and 23 million wounded military personnel. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history – The Great War: World War I.

Evoken. Photo by Jenny Panic

Founded in 1992 in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, under the name Funereus, Evoken were one of the founding fathers of the American funeral/death-doom scene and soon became one of the most famous and critically acclaimed bands in the genre. It’s been six long years since the release of their fifth album Atra Mos, and now they are finally back with another full length offering.

Hypnagogia is a special album in Evoken’s extraordinarily consistent discography, as it is the band’s first attempt at a concept album. As drummer/lyricist Vince Verkay explains,

Hypnagogia is based around World War I and its physiological impact on those who fought. It’s used metaphorically about events that impacted me the past three years, which I will keep to myself. But the story behind this World War I theme is based on a soldier who was so bitter about being lied to and is losing his life. He’s wounded in battle and decides to write a journal of his final hours, describing what he sees and what he feels as his life is slipping away.

This lyrical concept is transported by some of the most emotionally gripping compositions Evoken has written to this day. Expanding their sound into even more atmospheric territory than previous releases, Hypnagogia is an album that gets a lot of its emotional impact from the contrast between melancholic melodcism and the band’s trademark aura of crushing heaviness. The drums and bass are high up in the mix most of the time and add a layer of weight to the already heavy guitar riffs that at times even sprawl into black metal terrain. John Paradiso’s vocals range from gothic spoken word through death growls to even deeper, gurgling growls, always fitting the mood and pace of the music. Perfectly incorporated synths give the overall sound a dimension of beauty that serves as a counterpart to the bleak riffs and throw the listener into an intense and soul crushing listening experience, evoking conflicting emotions of euphoria, desperation, and hopelessness. As drummer/lyricist Vince Verkay says,

As we do on every record. we definitely wanted to avoid repeating ourselves. We wanted to keep it Evoken of course, but go a little deeper with melody and arrangement and also try new things; to present the listener with an emotionally exhausting record.

And emotionally exhausting it is. Over the playing time of 61 minutes, Hypnagogia takes you on a challenging journey through highs and lows, and in the end leaves you dead beat and worn out. If that’s not what you want from an album like this, funeral doom might be the wrong genre for you. The horrors of war, approaching death and trauma are perfectly transported by the music and the sparesly sown moments of hope only intensify the dark atmosphere of the album.

Hypnagogia is one of Evoken’s most refined and well-rounded albums yet that only further strengthens their position as one of the best bands in the funeral doom genre and also serves as a good starting point into their discography for new listeners.

Hypnagogia will be released November 9th via Profound Lore Records and can be preordered on Bandcamp.

Check out the band’s Facebook page, as well.

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