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Classic revisited

Evoken : Atra Mors

Although their new album holds some surprises and will not be everyone’s favourite, Evoken clearly remain one of the most relevant bands in the scene.

Recently, Profound Lore have been developing into one of the most important labels for the Doom scene, constantly adding bands of high quality and relevance to their roster and promoting them in a very professional way. With the release of the new album of US-veterans Evoken, the label will greatly reinforce this position. Interestingly, Atra Mors (Latin for “Black/Horrid Death”, referring to the plague in medieval times) is the 100th release for the Canadian label – a perfect anniversary album indeed.

The above introductory paragraph was easily written after I had listened to the digital promo for the first time. Almost three weeks have passed since then, and in the meantime I have listened to the actual CD a few times only to find myself at a loss concerning this review, hence my recourse to the meta level. Why is it that I am having such a hard time arriving at a clear opinion about this new album? Let’s see: it’s not that I am disappointed – quite the contrary, after the mediocre split release in 2010, my expectations were very low, so Atra Mors was in fact a great surprise. On the other hand, it does not blow me away. But wait… Some moments actually do. Yes, there are moments of sheer brilliance scattered across the playing time, classic and unforgettable Evoken moments. However, there are also moments which are shockingly dull, riffs which could have been left out altogether in my book, which do not carry any atmosphere or emotion (such as the midsection of “Into Aphotic Devastation”, an otherwise very intense track). It’s not that the album lacks ideas, either: while most of the trademarks are present, including the fantastic cello which can be heard in almost every song this time, listeners are in for a couple of surprises, too – twisted dual guitar solos; a few occasions of … No, stop – I do not want to spoil everything. Listen for yourselves and you will know what I mean!

Evoken in the year 2012 are different. It is hard to put my finger on it, but yes, there is something different about this release. In many ways it is still a logical progression from the last albums, taking up elements of earlier works to evoke a sense of nostalgia while juxtaposing them with fresh approaches. Thorough reflection reveals that the most fundamental change can be found in the arrangements: While earlier compositions used to flow naturally for the most part, allowing for the listener to fully absorb the suffocating atmosphere, the songwriting is less predictable this time with rather different parts being pieced together in a seemingly random fashion – many of the shifts are sudden and fail to make perfect sense even after repeated listening. This can be both a good and a bad thing; while it does not allow for an atmospheric depth akin to that of other albums, it creates some interesting twists which add to the album’s unique identity. Personally, I miss the fascination of the totally abysmal mood the band used to create, but as humans we always tend to stick to what we know and cannot easily get accustomed to changes. In this case, we do not only lose something dear, but also gain something new – there are parts on this album which deeply touched me and have quickly become indispensable. The final passages of both “Descent into Chaotic Dream” (a particularly interesting song building up slowly and weaving a complex tapestry of atmospheric textures) and “Grim Eloquence” alone justify a purchase and surely are among the most essential moments the Doom scene has brought about these past few years.

I have come to the conclusion that the pros and cons could be discussed ad nauseam and attempts could be made at assessing the new album’s place in the band’s discography without even coming close to doing justice to Atra Mors. For instance I could elaborate at length on the line-up changes, telling you how the new keyboard player’s style will be an acquired taste at best for most fans and make them long back to the good old days with Dario Derna or Denny Hahn. I could also comment on the controversial discussion in the scene concerning the album’s production which, as some say, seems too compressed, and yes, all these things would have been interesting somehow. But honestly: how jaded have we become? Why have I written all the above paragraphs when the matter is actually very simple?

Leaving the whole analytic part aside, a few basic facts remain: at the end of the day, all possible complaints are nit-picking and merely serve to distinguish excellent from perfect, for Evoken prove once more that they are one of the best and most relevant acts in the scene today. Through twenty years of existence, they have maintained their trademark sound without ever ending up in stagnation. No, to me this is not their best album, but it will still be among the top three of my best-of list for this year. Anyone who reads this will find it very hard to come across a recently released Death Doom album of equal quality. In this sense, it hardly matters which of the albums you prefer – you simply cannot miss out on any of them or ignore this band’s outstanding work. Further above I mentioned classic and unforgettable Evoken moments – wasn’t that enough of a clear statement already, shouldn’t I have stopped writing at that point? Well, what would have been the fun in that… Besides, it is not the sole purpose of a review to assess whether or not fans should buy an album. Atra Mors has inspired me to ponder this very purpose of reviewing more closely, and this alone says a lot about its artistic value. Now that you are done reading, you can figure for yourselves where these thoughts have taken me and whether you agree or not. Alternatively, you can just place an order at Profound Lore.

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Reviewer's rating: 8.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Atra Mors
2. Descent into Chaotic Dream
3. A Tenebrous Vision
4. Grim Eloquence
5. An Extrinsic Divide
6. Requies Aeterna
7. The Unechoing Dread
8. Into Aphotic Devastation

Duration : Approx. 67 minutes

Visit the Evoken bandpage.

Reviewed on 2012-08-15 by Dominik Sonders
Aesthetic Death
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