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Conceptual Catharsis: Evoken’s Vince Verkay Talks New Album “Hypnagogia”

hypnagogia

By twisting approaches to death metal and funeral doom, New Jersey’s Evoken paints a portrait that is bleak and unforgiving while still retaining a dark sensuality in its tortured reflection. Through this alluring recipe, the outfit has remained enduring since 1994 when the Shades of Night Descending demo served as a precursor to metal as slow-and-steady seduction. Evoken ends a six-year break from creating new music with a major landmark in their quarter century-long career on this Friday’s new full-length concept album Hypnagogia. Fresher than ever, its eight tracks meander into the experimental realm as they tell the harrowing tale of a fallen soldier.

While funeral doom has garnered the reputation of exclusively valuing crushing sound and floating atmosphere, Evoken uses Hypnagogia to demonstrate its melodic potential. First official single “Valorous Consternation” allows the central riff to journey through crunchy autumn leaves, curating an unsettling feeling that keeps the listener vigilant about what may lay around the bend. Leading the battle momentarily into the aggression of blast beats, the pace eventually wanes once more as the quintet offers an ode to their signature grandiose gothic bliss. The varying emotional stages personify the story of a WWI soldier who’s writing his dying words in a journal to haunt readers to come. The explanation of the canvas as a conduit for the soul is profound for all art, particularly as it relates back to music.

While the colors of Evoken have changed a bit over time, their portrait still conveys beautiful turmoil that weighs heavily on the listener.

Even though the loyal opposition of the Internet has expressed some reservations about the more experimental shift in sound, it is important to bear in mind that Evoken would not be the band that we know and love if they had not taken cutting-edge risks from the get-go. To learn more about the creative choices behind Hypnagogia, we spoke to Evoken’s Vince Verkay.

evoken by jenny panic
Photo credit: Jenny Panic

Please, introduce yourself.

You’re the unfortunate soul who gets to interview a drummer. To make it even worse, a drummer in a doom band. It’s one step up from watching grass grow.

It’s always interesting to speak with an artist who’s regarded as scene or subgenre founder. How would you describe your relationship with the term funeral doom?

We just play the music we enjoy. We bring together ideas from bands who have influenced us over the years.

It’s the same relationship we have with death metal, black metal, industrial, electronica, gothic etc. From Shades of Night Descending up to Hypnagogia we never shy away from writing what some consider outside the realm of doom. When any metal fan is asked what immediately comes to mind in defining doom, most if not all will associate it with playing slow. For us, playing slow is important, but it means so much more. We reflect that belief in our music.

You guys have really proven to be masters of asserting your unique point of view while also demonstrating a willingness to shape-shift. What drove Hypnagogia to dive into the experimental realm?

Thank you. I think that’s a perfect way of putting it. We always attempt to “shape-shift” with each release. There’s one concern for us whenever writing new material. That concern has and always will be to avoid repeating ourselves. It’s quite easy to fall into that trap. Especially after several years have passed because the material on a previous album may not be as obvious.

With regard to Hypnagogia, even though there are rare elements included, we never actually sat down and discussed the direction of the album. As writing progressed, as each song developed, so did the direction of riffs to follow. Some of the new ideas were suggested and created while recording. While others were the result of initial ideas never panning out, but leading into what’s heard on the album. They are essentially an unforced progression.

What would you say to critics of cleaner production in dark music?

I wouldn’t say a word. They have their opinions which I respect. Arguing about it just creates more problems. Unfortunately, various message boards or chats have become a reflection of a polarized society. I’m not trying to be arrogant, but we write for ourselves. Otherwise it becomes pretentious.

The concept of the album is quite profound. Out of my own curiosity, what inspired you to choose WWI as the setting for the ailing writer? Despite its bloodiness, I feel like it’s oftentimes overlooked by popular history.

Well, they are used in metaphor, but on the surface, WWI ultimately showed how extreme humans can be toward each other, the environment, and wildlife on a industrial scale.

Whenever reading or watching various books and documentaries about WWI, the story focuses on those who fanned the flames of war. We see a perverse way to elicit sympathy for them. It’s only when we see various journals written by soldiers, the true horror becomes apparent. Many soldiers kept two journals because of restrictions put into place to avoid sensitive information getting into the wrong hands. These journals were really their only way to communicate with the outside world. Yet, most important, soldiers or human beings in general have a very deep seeded fear of dying without an identity. The fear of never finding peace, lost forever.

What do you believe is the purpose of leaving a piece of your pain in words on a page? Is it a form of catharsis or a residual haunt? Or maybe something else entirely?

As I mentioned before, humans share the fear of being lost to time. As generations rise and fall our memory fades. Our names, our existence are lost, for what? The glory of another? The negative energy of anger, sadness, and frustration projecting out in one final breath, only to latch onto one object. As we all know, energy never dies, it transforms. To me, those negative emotions continue long after our lives have ended.

Hypnagogia drops November 9 via Profound Lore. Follow Evoken on Facebook. Catch them live in Brooklyn on 11/16 with Runemagick who will be making their North American debut.

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