This album has been out for nearly two months now and, after repeated listening, I am only just ready to write a review. Why? Because it’s the lengthy and desolate masterpiece that we’ve come to expect with every Evoken release, and they always take time to fully absorb.
Evoken have their sound fully established by this point in their career: bleak, horrendous-sounding epics that wallow in desolation but at the same time have a sense of grandeur: their songs create images of worlds beyond our perception, worlds of grotesque and sorrowful nothingness. Luckily, they haven’t shifted their style too much with ‘Atra Mors’ – it’s the classic Evoken sound, but this time it’s a little more refined, with the addition of a few added dimensions.
Some of these additions are: clean/spoken vocals on some tracks that add to the sombre atmosphere, cello interludes and even a melodic guitar-solo. All of these are integrated perfectly into the ebb and flow of the music; they aren’t simply hammered in for the sake of variety. The songs (and album as a whole) seem to demand the inclusions of these elements. The guitar solo at the end of ‘Descent into Chaotic Dream’ works perfectly: a melodic and achingly melancholic coda to the album’s top song – it starts off as a classic Evoken dirge, eventually interspersed with pieces of moderately speedy and ugly death metal, before ending quietly and melodically with the solo. It is the album’s highlight for sure, closely followed by ‘Grim Eloquence’. This is not to downplay any of the other tracks; the whole album is great and of course, like all Evoken albums, best listened to in its entirety. In light of this the cello-lead interlude tracks add to the overall journey feel of the album; plaintive and emotive stops for breath amongst the onslaught of the other tracks. They work perfectly.
Special mention must also go to the artwork and lyrics. The cover is my favourite Evoken cover ever: a black and white picture of hooded figures moving away from, what I believe is, a plague pit. Evoken have found the one image that perfectly personifies their sound; just look at it and you’ll understand where this band is coming from. Lyrically Evoken capture images of hopeless voids better than almost anyone:
“I will diminish those centuries and persecute those with quiet desperation...”
This comes from ‘Atra Mors’ (Black Death), and the lyrics are written from the perspective of the plague itself. A novel idea, and one captures the feeling of something that exists beyond man, something hideous and eternal that looms over every living thing, until eventually nothing lives at all. On the album’s final track ‘Into Aphotic Devastation’ we are given:
“A soundless realm, an unforgiving place where time seems endless.”
The imagery creates visions of a place of no life, light or hope; a nowhere realm far beyond our consciousnesses. This concept is key to grasping Evoken’s essence. There is something meaningful about staring into the void. In some ways you may even want to experience the void, and with Evoken’s music you can in some way.
The bottom line here is that if you liked anything Evoken have unleashed before then you will like this. Everything is here: the crunchy and low-tuned guitars mixed with plaintive clean playing, the low, guttural vocals, the perfectly paced and powerful drumming, the keyboard atmospheres, and overall the long and sorrowful walls of grief and pain. But everything is a bit better this time around. The five year gap between this and the last album has clearly refreshed the band. Each element of every song works perfectly, not a note is wasted. These are long songs that require their length, not songs that go on forever just to be epic. Essentially, ‘Atra Mors’ is a masterpiece. It is probably too early to tell, but give it a few years and I can see it overtaking ‘Antithesis of Light’ as their greatest work in most listener’s estimations. It seriously is that good.
While Evoken are a funeral doom/death band (and no doubt one of the best to have ever existed) their total mastery of their sound and dynamics, their dedication to utter musical bleakness and their frankly brilliant compositional skills make them transcend genre, to take their place on a plateau of Neurosis-like greatness, where they create their own genre of ‘Evoken-metal’, something that exists on its own plane, going to places where others can only follow or look on in awe.