New Jersey’s Evoken has been one of metal’s great purveyors of misery for over 20 years now, and within the already extremely specific niche of funeral doom has maintained a bit of a micro-niche by staying as heavy as humanly possible. Most funeral doom treats traditional heavy metal aggression as an afterthought, but Evoken’s emphasis on real guitar heft always kept them closer to the genre’s border with doom death. It’s pretty easy to envision them waving to their Australian kinsmen diSEMBOWELMENT from across the border, both bands sitting about 25 feet from the fence.
This isn’t to say that frontman John Paradiso has suddenly replaced his growls with Aaron Stainthorpe’s suicidal wail (although there is a bit of clean singing), but that Evoken has spliced their traditionally hefty funeral doom with the raw suffering and sheer beauty of MDB. On one hand, the screams and huge swells in intensity during “Valorous Consternation” (handily the album’s most brutal moment) give off an uncanny “Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium” vibe, but it isn’t just the earliest MDB that you can hear on the record. For much of its runtime, the absolutely gorgeous “Too Feign Ebullience” keeps a Skepticism feel, but as it takes on layers it isn’t hard to imagine it being an outtake from Songs of Darkness, Words of Light. This is still very much funeral doom, Evoken is just bringing in a couple other sources for their delectable despondency, and the results are golden more often than not.
As stated, Hypnagogia is also likely the least dense Evoken album in terms of colossal guitar heft, a change which might be the most notable sound futzing for some. Tracks like “Schadenfreude” and closer “The Weald of Perished Men” eschew the rhythm guitar lumber-crawl-pummel in favor of a more traditional funeral doom atmosphere. Only here, the sound is oddly… uplifting? If not uplifting, the washes of keys and leads at least communicate a scene in which not all is left to despair. Or perhaps it’s just a resignation to despair; that makes more sense considering the band.
There are a couple minor hiccups on the album, most notably the inclusion of two interludes so near to each other and some less-than-effective clean choral vocals in “Ceremony of Bleeding,” but overall the band’s decision to change it up is extremely effective. That said, these minor cracks mean Hypnagogia can’t quite match up to Evoken’s astronomical highest highs, but much in the same way that Mournful Congregation’s The Incubus of Karma failed to match The Monad of Creation, it’s hard to fault a really good album for not equaling a classic (or classics). More than anything, Evoken’s ever-so-slight evolution brings a freshness to a band that has managed to maintain an extremely high level and deft touch playing such barren music for a very long time. That’s a big positive for very negative music.