Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Evoken - Quietus

Evoken - Quietus
2000, Avantgarde Records

You can read in certain ancient authors about the phenomenon of black snow, a plague of the elements that natural philosophers attributed to wars in the heavens, curses of deities, or the wrath of Mother Nature. This bizarre and rare occurence is, of course, actually caused by the mixture of freezing precipitation with gray ash and soot that has been blasted into the atmosphere by an erupting volcano - but think how frightening it must be, even now, to witness such an event: the skies bleeding black, black waves of ice spilling into the streets, burying houses, villages, towns, the surrounding countryside; the ground mirroring the black in the atmosphere, the darkness of the low clouds, the benighted mists and fogs that rise from the frozen earth, the inability of the sun to pierce these gloomy shades, etc. I don't think it would be that difficult to understand the ancients and their religious denunciations in such a case...as a thing like this seem completely unnatural, an abomination, abhorrent, repellant to our fragile senses, even while it is only a mixture of two otherwise perfectly 'natural' elements: ash and snow.

When I listen to Evoken these days, in any context, I almost invariably summon up images of black snow - or avalanches, earthquakes, and other 'natural' phenomena. One listen to this new album should make the 'why' of this very clear: for Evoken have transcended the notion of a 'unit' of musicians just playing for pure pleasure, or for their audience's entertainment, if they were ever concerned with that. No, this is art of the highest order, and much as on the last album, the epic downward spiral of 'Embrace the Emptiness', they have gone far beyond the original motivations or goals of 'metal' bands into completely new territory. This album is as much a doorway or gate into a new land, inviting a journey across a blighted landscape, as their last work was. I can't help but think this way when I listen to this band: that their albums represent, at least to me, wormholes or portals into completely different times and spaces - the 'world of Evoken', if you will - a space, locale, or 'feel' that they are experts at summoning with their uniquely atmospheric abilities. If one wanted to be honest, though, this band has progressed, although it couldn't be called a 'change' in terms of style or approach - no, they have just simply become better at what they do, and more successful in doing it. As they go along they get stronger, and their abilities become wider, more powerful, more cataclysmic. Moving ever onwards, they drill down deeper and deeper into a world they discovered on their first release. The universe that 'Embrace..' opened up is now represented fully here in the space of one song - the first perhaps. And then Evoken sets their sights on South, you could say, going down, down, down, into the heart of the Abyss, dredging up some of the darkest atmospheres you will probably ever hear from any doom band. I sincerely doubt any other group has come even close to creating the massive, swelling, grandiose passages that this dreaded collective seems to cause to come into being with a simple wave of their hands.

The rhythm guitar sound is even heavier here than on the last album, and I hope Nick has finally got a production he can live with: his guitar sounds like a blinding avalanche of ice, a crushing outpouring of The Unlight, a frozen lake at midnight creaking and cracking under the strain of its own implacable weight. He uses this sound to expertly place a massive series of slabs, girders, weight-bearing structures or foundations of dusty cement beneath the ethereal whispers and ghostly wanderings of the other guitars, guiding with a gauntleted hand the progression of the songs. The keyboard work is excellent as always, building up elegant, impressive layers of elemental tones and swirling, swelling soundscapes behind or (at certain times) in front of the guitars, and Dario has tastefully created some melodies, additions, and asides here that open up whole new realms on their own. More than that, the keyboards are used in a different way on this album - they have become a necessary part of the atmosphere Evoken creates, and now occupy a central position in the slow building and tearing down of sound-worlds.

This is a monstrosity of a record, a dark monument, a night eidolon (to use Poe's term) of colossal proportions, and it is sitting here in my tape deck asking me to come to terms with it. I don't know if I can. I am eagerly awaiting the wide release of this beast...