Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Evoken - Embrace the Emptiness

Evoken - Embrace the Emptiness
1998, Elegy Records

This music comes to me like a sweet darkened healing balm to my ears, a bliss-filled smothering in the heavy air of civilizations's demise, and a long journey for my mind to take through the collapse of ruined centuries - a dream landscape littered with eidolons of the night, vast crumbling edifices swathed in the fading light of forgotten sunsets, and gloom-drowned subterranean worlds where the music of lost souls is eternally played by avatars of Orpheus - the true Lethe of Evoken. One of the reasons this band moves me to feel such a great deal of sympathy (or empathy) with their music is the ease with which their music lends itself to personal imagery: their choice of a name is very telling, and also very complementary - Evoken's music seems, to me, to be mainly a vehicle for the summoning of emotions, images, and atmospheres; and they create, through these suggestions, entire new worlds for the listener to explore - realms that are ironically always familiar, because their construction and determination are based on your own personal reactions or reflections when faced with the music. This is possible because of that double-edged irony of abstraction (the bane of serious artists, but also their greatest gift) in music: while composing lilting melodies that are uniquely evocative for their own lives and experiences, the members of Evoken have created something that transcends the mere actual and personal: they have have called into being music that is also remarkably evocative for each listener, on his or her own - are they communicating, then? Or just building a structure to be filled in by the listener? Is there a difference? The best music is always directly related to the listener, in its power of evocation - Mozart, for example, can be listened to with enjoyment and emotional involvement by almost everyone, but how many of those who find beauty in his music can explain to you exactly why, and how? The way in which the music touches the listener is always different - it summons up contrasting images, memories, or feelings in each person who hears it. Music is an abstraction, and thus impossible to categorize, rigidly define, or set within certain limits - it exists only in the space between the composer and listener, in the web of emotions displayed and understood (or misunderstood), and in the process of feelings transcribed, translated, and interpreted. The best musicians, I think, are those who are able to communicate a large body of felt experience through intensely personal abstractions - their rigidly individual language of the emotions is made universal through music. This is another mystery of music - the closer artists get to expressing their deepest personal levels of meaning, the more powerful their powers of universality grow. The deeper a man penetrates into his own unconsciousness and its powers of reflection, the closer he gets to the hands that steer us all.

But what does all this have to do with Evoken? I think it explains, in part, the hallucinatory power this music holds. Much like the other bands that hover around the genre of doom death (a subspecies of metal that thankfully has not become a trend and hasn't been defined through repetition) - entities like Skepticism, Thergothon, Morgion (to a lesser extent), and most importantly, Disembowelment - Evoken are not just distinctly defined by what they bring to their compositions, but often by what they leave out. I think doom death is the closest any form of metal music has ever come to achieving the creation of silence - that incredibly seductive tension between death and renewal, pleasure and pain, thesis and antithesis, positive and negative. Silence is the catching of the breath when the consciousness becomes aware of the passage of time - the true tone of the universe, endlessly circling, eternally dissolving. The well of souls that opens up with the first few notes of the second song on this album, 'Tragedy Eternal', for example, is particularly illustrative: Evoken do not paint a picture in detail, leaving nothing to the imagination - rather they slowly and reverently sketch in the faintest outlines, leaving a dark abyss in the middle - the 'emptiness' in the title of this record (is it any wonder the back of the tray card has a Dore picture of Dante staring down, lost in thought?), the cistern which hides our fates. That domain of shadows, the void, echoing to all the melodies they offer, is the true lure, impetus, and result of this music. You can hear the dark exhalations of this infernal chasm of the unconscious most powerfully in the first two minutes of the sixth track, 'To Sleep Eternally', where the miasma of death, forgotten love, and regret is absolutely suffocating. But around this bottomless abyss of silence Evoken erect, again and again, monuments to humanity's fall from grace - monuments that call you to color them with your own memories. Intensely architectural in scope and intent, the music can be seen as a demonstration of the powers of life and death: one section of a song builds and nurtures life, level upon level, while later another slowly degrades, smoothing the drifting descent into mute lifelessness. Usually starting on a few notes strummed without energy, purpose, or recognizeable meaning, the songs patiently coagulate, constructing different strata of sound, melody, and rhythm. The vocals are sparse and almost tuneless - they sound like a raging river, or the moaning of an earthquake. This music is like a primeval (primal) experience of nature's beauty, stretched by reminiscence through labored years filled with a strangling melancholy - the blooming of a rare black lotus presented through time-lapse photography, and later, inevitably, the depiction of its eventual death and dissolution. Unfolding staggeringly slow, 'Tragedy Eternal' can be compared to an ancient temple, where lightless streams running far underground send up vibrations and musical tones through the dark earth. 'Curse the Sunrise', the last song on this record, is the musical equivalent of the sands of time erasing the remains of ruins left forgotten in a trackless desert: the howling of the wind, the movement of the planets, the cold glint of the stars in a moonless sky - music to summon the times before man, or the ages after his downfall.

Evoken is not only one of the most important bands in the doom genre right now, they are poised, with their next release, to make a musical statement that I think will be (at the very least) enormously influential. They are the true heirs of Disembowelment, dedicated to their own sound now and to a uniquely original vision, and I sincerely wish them the best. If this album is a true indication of the depth of their power, I don't think they will fail to impress me at any time in the future. I very enthusiastically recommend this album to all of you who are searching for something much more resonant than the commonplace bands you are usually offered.