Since you are reading this page, chances are you did not stumble here by chance: you must have heard of Evoken because you've been a doom metal fan for a while or are just starting to get into this amazing genre. Whichever the case, Atra Mors will not disappoint you.
Unlike 2007's A Caress of the Void, which was a solid effort in itself but below Evoken's standards, Atra Mors finds this New Jersey band as a renewed and recharged force. The intensity in their slow-building music is immediately noticeable, and as with their earlier masterpieces, the songs have an underlying presence beneath the more obvious tones of despair and misery. What some may be quick to classify as typical doom-death is actually a studied, painstakingly composed effort embodied by monstrous guitar riffs played at a glacial speed so that they have a more lasting effect and some of the most inhuman low growls you will ever hear.
The combination of acoustic guitars and funereal keyboard work form the groundwork for most of their songs, even the heaviest ones. New keyboardist Don Zaros has an knack for crafting the darkest, most unsettling atmospheres, underscoring the lugubrious churn of the guitars at every turn. Rather than merely following the guitars or adding colour, he renders the shapeless riffing all the more intense and chaotic, adding 'vertical' melodies to the songs and giving them a dreamlike quality.
Vocals are still mostly conveyed in an aggressive manner: they consist of very deep low growls, but John Paradiso also employs a good deal of spoken lyrics, particularly on the title track which is obviously about the "black death" disease that wiped out the majority of the European population in the 14th century. The whole album is characterized by very slow yet heavy riffing and a tenebrous atmosphere that is unbelievably suffocating.
Except for the two brief instrumental pieces, the songs are in no hurry to reach their breaking point and only resolve towards the 10-minute mark, which is where Evoken presents their greatest strength: melody. If you think the ending of the first song was masterful, wait till you hear "Descent into Chaotic Dream." It starts off very slowly with whispered vocals getting buried under a towering synth effect and apocalyptic drum fills. The ending of this song is arguably the finest moment on a doom metal disc I've heard in recent years. Droning guitar arpeggios are set against a monstrous wall of sound, and each melody is so intricately layered and emotionally powerful that it stays with you long after the CD stops. Yet, you keep hearing the song when you're not listening to it and you get this unstoppable desire to go home and crank it out. It becomes dangerously addictive.
The other songs are also awesome and each piece is a part of the puzzle. "A Tenebrous Vision" is a two-minute instrumental driven by a weird Thinking Plague-esque piano melody that marries the most bizarre notes and still achieves perfection and manages to create the desired feeling of apathy and gloom. "Grim Eloquence" harbours unsettling electronic-like beeps droning under an unusually sweet-sounding synth layer while the drowned, cascading guitar wash of "An Extrinsic Divide" brings to mind Thergothon's best moments with vocals that can only be delivered by bands like Winter and Disembowelment. "The Unechoing Dead" is perhaps the most 'typical' song in that it picks up tempo (well, it's still slow, but it's fast by Evoken's standards) and pushes into typical doom-death territory a la older Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, but when the super atonal bass line emerges out of nowhere you know this is Evoken, and this is good. The sick, minor chord progression of "Into Aphotic Devastation" finds them at their creative zenith: vast-sounding, Cimmerian passages, vocals discharged with diabolical screams, darkly textured guitar themes, and a wealth of melodies that soars over the whole thing. Devastating indeed.
If you were to run into ten different die-hard Evoken fans (which is highly unlikely given how criminally underrated this band is), each one would probably pick a different favourite album by them. I personally gravitate towards Quietus the most, maybe because it was the first I heard by them and I was delighted to see drummer Vince Verkay had taken the time to sign it for me. Also, it's their most funeral doom metal-sounding work; the arrangements are suffused with complexity and the songs are uncompromisingly heavy. That said, I have yet to be disappointed by any of their albums and I consider Atra Mors one of the strongest doom metal discs of 2012.
If you're a fan, you will love this one.
- Atra Mors
- Descent into Chaotic Dream
- A Tenebrous Vision
- Grim Eloquence
- An Extrinsic Divide
- Requies Aeterna
- The Unechoing Dread
- Into Aphotic Devastation