Review: Evoken - Atra Mors (2012)


artist: Evoken
release: Atra Mors
format: CD
year of release: 2012
label: Pro­found Lore
dur­a­tion: 67:10

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

Ah yes, Evoken, one of the jew­els in the crown of funeral doom metal. The pro­duc­tion of these albums usu­ally pro­gresses at the same funer­eal pace as the music itself, so it’s hardly any sur­prise that it’s been five years since Atra Mors’ decent but ulti­mately unas­sum­ing pre­de­cessor A Caress of the Void. So, what does this album bring us, apart from over an hour of ‘dark, brood­ing, bleak death’?

Des­pite sev­eral sig­ni­fic­ant line-up changes through the years, Evoken man­ages a sta­bil­ity of style that is extremely reli­able, always true to itself, and always instantly recog­nis­able. Other bands rarely man­age to emu­late it exactly, and per­haps they’re not even try­ing, which is fair enough. Evoken is Evoken and should be allowed to remain where it is without too many copycats encroach­ing on their des­ol­ate realm. Little sur­prise then that Atra Mors, from the open­ing riffs of its title track, feels like return­ing to that same old realm where noth­ing much has changed. The plod­ding, leaden riffs are still there, as is Nick Orlando’s deep growl and Vince Verkay’s subtle yet elab­or­ate style of drum­ming - rel­at­ively anim­ated for the genre, yet never out of place.

The album’s mas­ter­piece is intro­duced after the first twelve minutes: “Des­cent into Chaotic Dream”, a song that starts so peace­fully - yet gloomy - recall­ing the atmo­sphere of their turn-of-the-millennium mile­stone record Quietus, with mostly clean gui­tar melod­ies and riffs at first. In excel­lent com­pos­i­tional form, the track con­tin­ues with heavy tom and cello-embellished move­ments, as well as a proper head­banger in which the death metal ori­gins of funeral doom get a nod. The track con­cludes with one of those mourn­ful yet epic lead gui­tar spot­lights that Evoken has mastered like few oth­ers.

Six main tracks are carved into three groups by the two inter­ludes; “A Tenebrous Vis­ion” is a ghostly piano piece that leads us into “Grim Elo­quence”, a heavy track that con­tains more ref­er­ences to the past. Not in the least to the band’s own style, but I’ll be damned if there isn’t a bit of Eso­teric’s psy­che­delic fuzzi­ness float­ing around, and that solo in the middle takes me right back to Cathed­ral’s genre-busting mas­ter­piece Forest of Equi­lib­rium, 21 years ago. The track, though less struc­tur­ally coher­ent than “Des­cent…” ends on a sim­ilar excel­lent note with a sweep­ing piece of cello and lead gui­tar. The remain­ing tracks fol­low a com­par­able pat­tern: tightly writ­ten and solid, but in some ways per­haps less urgent than the ones I’ve men­tioned so far. The second inter­lude, “Requies Aeterna”, is a nice little work for acous­tic gui­tar and cello that provides a touch of vari­ation before onslaught of the last two tracks.

As I’ve sug­ges­ted, Atra Mors feels like a thor­oughly ret­ro­spect­ive album; it’s as if we’ve come to the his­tor­ical end­point of the funeral doom genre, and we’re faced with a wall of dark­ness bey­ond which we can dis­cern noth­ing at all. Instead, we turn around and see what lies behind: twenty years of an uncom­prom­ising extreme metal genre, with quite a few excel­lent albums and idio­syn­cratic styles developed. Most of all, Evoken looks back on its own his­tory, and the res­ult is a solid album, cer­tainly bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous one, but per­haps not quite as arrest­ing as the (in my opin­ion) unequalled gloom of Quietus, or the relent­less and per­haps even smooth dark energy of 2005’s Anti­thesis of Light. The ques­tion remains how­ever, if there is any­where left for the genre to go, or if this dec­ade is wit­ness­ing its final crys­tal­lisa­tion. Atra Mors sug­gests the lat­ter. That said, this album con­tains a couple of bril­liant com­pos­i­tions that will make any funeral doom lover’s heart beat fast, and it might even blow your mind if you’ve never been ini­ti­ated into the genre at all. Maybe that’s all the poten­tial there’s left at the moment.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Atra Mors (11:54)
2. Des­cent Into Chaotic Dream (11:14)
3. A Tenebrous Vis­ion (2:19)
4. Grim Elo­quence (9:40)
5. An Extrinsic Divide (10:11)
6. Requies Aeterna (1:59)
7. The Unecho­ing Dread (9:47)
8. Into Aphotic Dev­ast­a­tion (10:07)