Retrospective: Evoken’s “Atra Mors”

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Perfection. It’s elusive. It can take a lifetime. Fortunately for us, the guys in Evoken have been refining their craft for over 20 years now (first as Funerus then as Asmodeus and, since 1994, under their current moniker). Don’t let that make you feel old; maturity can be a good thing. A few gray hairs in the pubic region merely serve to show your experience and wisdom. In fact it’s those years of struggle, turmoil, lineup changes and letdowns that led to what may be the absolute best “funeral doom,” or hell, just the best doom album ever recorded.  Today we take a look at Atra Mors—the 100th album released by Profound Lore, and one of the very best.

If you’ve ever listened to Evoken, you probably assume that they reside in a remote part of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains—perhaps in a dank castle, where they imprison and torture infidels while slowly sipping wine and dining on freshly-slaughtered boar by candlelight. You wouldn’t expect that they were formed, and still reside (mostly), in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, just minutes from where Johnny Weir spent time honing his craft of figure skating and Victor Cruz learned to salsa in the end zone. Never one to be confined to their cultural surroundings, Evoken shirked the Kid Dynamite and Lifetime style pop-punk and floor-punching hardcore scenes of Northern Jersey, choosing instead to follow their own slow but determined path to doom-filled, metal glory.

Atra Mors was released in July 2012—nearly five years after their previous LP, A Caress of the Void. During that downtime, Evoken added a new guitarist (Chris Molinari) in 2009, and later received the opportunity to have Atra Mors released by the then-burgeoning Canadian label, Profound Lore. Both seemingly provided a huge boost to the band’s sound and productivity. Much like the large portions of spaghetti and meatballs provided by New Jersey’s Italian-American eateries, Evoken doesn’t skimp on the portions. Atra Mors clocks in at one hour and eight minutes. Six tracks are between nine-and-a-half and twelve minutes long, while two interlude tracks clock in at around two minutes each. This is a heaping portion of doom and darkness—a lot of bang for your buck.  Most importantly, this isn’t your jarred sauce and frozen meatballs either, this is top-notch, homemade, gourmet doom of the absolute best quality. Atra Mors is a swan song not only for Evoken but for the entire doom genre.  It’s replete with experiments that never fail, soul-crushing song arcs, hypnotizing rhythmic drones and shockingly powerful and varied vocals from frontman John Paradiso.

Atra Mors plays like an opera in three movements. The first two tracks, “Atra Mors” and “Descent into a Chaotic Dream,” comprise the first, and display Evoken’s ability to play straight up funeral-doom at a pace slow enough and scary enough to conversely affect your heart. Following that movement, “A Tenebrious Vision,” a beautiful, bending, moaning piano piece played by keyboardist Don Zaros, provides a moment for the listener to catch his or her breath. “Grim Eloquence” and “An Extrinsic Divide” create a masterful second movement—not only building tension, but also imparting a band that is willing to experiment with their Pink Floydian influences, as displayed by their synthesizer use on “Grim Eloquence.” “Requies Aeterna,” another interlude, featuring guest musician Brian Sanders on cello over what is a mournful renaissance folk piece, resets the listener for the third, final, and heaviest movement—made up of both “The Unechoing Dead” (possibly the best and most gothically influenced song on the album) and “Into Aphotic Devastation,” which ends on the heaviest and most frantic pace of the album.

Potentially the most astonishing aspect of this album is how the rhythm section—Vince Verkay on drums and David Wagner on bass—manage to keep metronome-like time despite the pace being slower than a flatlined heart. The album bounces at a pace equal to the resting heart rate of Lance Armstrong, however, it surges forth in incredibly effective fits of anxiety and violence, accompanied perfectly by melodic, mood-setting guitar work.  Don’t mistake my humor for distaste—it’s hardly that. In fact, I think one of the major aspects that makes Evoken so successful, and so much more successful than other doom bands, is that they’re able to create a mood and pace that no band on this planet is able to produce. They prove that slow tempos can be horrifying, brutal and catastrophic. If you don’t believe me just take a spin through “Descent into a Chaotic Dream,” where the pace and mood of the song mimics the title perfectly. Dream the horrifying dream.

You may have people tell you that Mournful Congregation’s 2005 release The Monad of Creation is the best funeral-doom album ever released. I disagree; Atra Mors is far and away superior, and for my money, the single best doom (any kind of doom) album ever recorded. It’s a moment in time when pain and suffering translate into something breathtakingly beautiful. Although they took their inspiration, (okay, and their name and logo design) from Finnish legends Thergothon and other bands like Australia’s Disembowelment, Evoken has, with Atra Mors, greatly surpassed the realm of possibilities originally laid out by those that inspired them. Although a single has since been released, Evoken have not released any details about upcoming albums.  We can only hope for more of the same brilliance in the near future:

-Manny-O-War

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

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