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Doom is like a great wonderful tapestry of slow and downcast music with a hundred different forms and moods, and I've listened to a lot of it this past couple of zodiacal courses. This split probably surpasses the new Ereb Altor for my funeral doom tipple of the year by dint of 42 new minutes of music from Evoken, with Beneath the Frozen Soil more as an epilogue or bonus seeing as they are new to me. And not that good, but we'll come to that. Also, this has some of the finest, most appropriate cover art I've seen in 2010.
Evoken have abandoned the experimentation and meandering that took them through slight shifts in genre in their pre-Antithesis of Light years, and though that might be a minor gripe for some it makes these new recordings a sure thing for me. Essentially a short album's worth of the band's dilatory death/ doom is provided here, following lethargically on from A Caress of the Void.
'Omniscient' draws heavily on 'In Solitary Ruin' with haunting flanged guitars punctuating the crawl of super-distorted riffs and sepulchral keyboards. The growls throughout Evoken's contributions are a highlight, as on all Evoken releases. On 'The Pleistocene Epoch' they are utterly unbelievable, like the words of a bestial and ancient god being dragged through soil to the half light of early morning among the tombstones. Hearing them gust across the minimalist clean guitars and drum tattoos in the middle reminds me of the mix of apprehension and delight I had upon hearing growled vocals for the first time.
The beauty of a split with a band who take their sweet time with their music is that even here there is a definite build from one track to another. After the ten minute slab of Evoken tradition that was 'Omniscient' and the descent into vocal hell of 'The Pleistocene Epoch', 'Vestigal Fears' introduces some piano with the twanging guitars. Four minutes in, some savage chugging guitars lead to the first of several enormous climaxes with those huge, deep growls and Castlevania keyboards all over the place. 'Into the Primal Shrine' is a seven minute outro, a few terrifying growls presaging a crashing wall of erosive riffs and creaking melodies. Perfect.
Beneath the Frozen Soil
After that, the Swallow the Sun-like clean guitars and whispers that open 'Ironlung' are like a Tiger beer after a viscous draught of Jeagermeister - unsatisfying, thin and lacking in flavour. As the track moves into downtuned but comparatively weak guitar riffs and far lighter growls, it becomes clear this quakes under the awful gaze of Evoken. The gravelly baritone singing later on is fairly cool however.
The remainder of this band's contribution is a two-part song, 'Monotone Black' I & II. It's fairly repetitive, and that's not a hypocritical comment after the incredibly lengthy and slow-moving antics of the funeral doom elite - while Evoken take their time, they are constantly moving toward greater scale and emotion, even from song to song. The first part of 'Monotone Black' trawls along with the same melody looping over and the soggy rasps of the vocalist adding little, failing to evoke (wahahaha) much of a response from me. The song's second part is somewhat more enticing, moving into Mourning Beloveth's pastures of early Anathema worship with despairing guitar riffs and steady drums. Still, it doesn't leave me with the same glorious, earthly apathy as Evoken's material, and if anything it cheapens the effect that band's four mammoth compositions had twenty minutes ago.
If you liked the last two Evoken full-lengths, then this is an obvious purchase, since the price of the split would be fair for a 42-minute album, especially given the quality of music Evoken supply. Hence my rating. You may even partake of Beneath the Frozen Soil with joy, but for me their 22 minutes of music was merely incidental. This split should perhaps have been released as an EP.