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Death/Doom is a strange proposition for me. While I enjoy lots of epic, slow funeral doom bands, the extra hatred and the refusal to be melodic typically turns me off this genre. It's still pretty powerful here and there, but it's rare that I'll listen to more then a few tracks at a time, especially when it's in the middle of summer and all warm and nice as it is now.
But, whilst I'd probably rather be listening to something cheery right now, there's no denying that this is some overwhelming stuff here. If I had to dig out some comparisons I'd say that it's not too far from an angrier Worship, the same sort of really downtuned, really distorted guitar tone, and when the clean parts come in there's some queasy sort of seasickness in the flanged/phased guitars that float around through the mix like dead bodies down the river styx. Or something like that anyway.
Yep, this is rather excellent stuff. The fact that I listened to the 13 minute epic "Suffer a Martyr's Death" and was actually surprised that it ended so soon is surely a compliment, whilst "Of Purest Absolution" starts off sounding like a really, really hateful Electric Wizard track, and then comes down to a crushing, grinding final two minutes as a riff is repeated over and over again, getting slower and all the more heavier as it goes. The steady, slower then slower drumming in that song is pure class, and it's great throughout the rest of the album, with some perfect placed double kick fills hanging around in the mix. Meanwhile, "Astray in Eternal Night" is probably the eeriest, most depressing song I've ever heard, with some clean melodies at the start that will haunt your dreams. The use of clean parts are done impeccably, and only serve to make the album more opaque and disturbing, as strange, alien non-melodies ooze out of the speakers. I guess the closest description would be Meshuggah's perplexing, inhuman clean parts, as it's not too far from that.
When executed right, Death/Doom is one of the most intense genres around, and this is no exception. There's no comfort in the warm arms of melody, here, and nothing could be described as 'relaxing', despite the really slow tempo. For those who love their doom cathartic, hateful and profoundly inaccessible, this is the release for you. My Dying Bride fans should avoid this like the plague.
One thing you'll notice with doom metal in general is that virtually every band gets worse progressively with each release. Whether it's because they commercialize to make money, they lose the special inspiration to create such miserable music, or maybe they even simply stay the same with every release, they're almost always trying to live up to that debut.
Evoken, however, avoid this pitfall very convincingly. It's really like listening to a different band with the same vocalist on each release. The Shades of Night Descending was fairly straightforward death/doom album which incorporated, very subtly, some black metal influence which just gave it a convincing winter in a dark fantasy realm feeling. The debut album, Embrace the Emptiness, delved into dark ambient territory and saw the subtle introduction of classical instrumentation with the piano and cello. It also incorporated some traditional doom elements with majestic clean vocals and lead guitars pulled right out of Black Sabbath. The next album, Quietus, was a strictly funeral doom affair, removing some of the general death metal harshness, bringing the tempo down further than imaginable, and putting the keyboards, cello, and clean guitars more to the forefront. The themes on Quietus were almost extensively related to bereavement. Antithesis delved into minimalism, removing many of the sypmphonic elements present in the previous release, and was a nod to their predecessors, dISEMBOWELMENT, adding in blisteringly fast moments of rage. But I digress, this review is about the new album, A Caress of the Void.
The reason I go into detail describing Evoken's evolutionary progress is because it halted convincingly with this release. Barring one moment of experimentation on the second track, this may as well be Antithesis of Light, part 2. They even stole a few riffs on the tracks of the 2002 promo that didn't make it onto Antithesis, and not even the good ones either. I was most disapointed by the fact that
Introduction - Omniscient didn't find it's way onto the album, if they decided to draw from this promo, why not just re-record the best track instead of putting some of the boring filler riffs from Coveting Elysium in? Still, it's by no means anything short of a fantastic album, it's just that Evoken fans have probably come to expect something much different with each release. Whereas Quietus was almost entirely focused around keys and cello, and Antithesis made liberal use of them, A Caress of the Void contains very few keys and the cello is completely absent. Further, the outbursts of anger you would find on Antithesis are also gone. What awaits you is a somewhat sparse, purely guitar driven, doom metal album with not much to really spice it up. Even using a much more limited instrumentation than on previous albums, Evoken manage to bring you to any place but where you are now. Moments of surreal, trance-like ambience will envelop the listener throughout the album, particularly in Suffer a Martyr's Trial (Procession at Dusk). Mare Erythraeum is the most interesting track on the album, the name is derived from the darkest, most desolate valley on Mars. It's completely unlike any other Evoken song, having an undeniably uplifting, dreamy, and splendorous connotation attatched to it. A stark deviation from the usual effect of crushing your soul. Completely instrumental, it's also the only track on which keys play a significant role.
Overall, this is an absolutely wonderful album that I'd highly recommend to anyone. It's nothing groundbreaking like every Evoken release up to this has been. I guess we'll just have to hope the next album doesn't also stagnate in this territory, it has to get old eventually.