Hypnagogia refers to the period between wakefulness and sleep – an ethereal period that can give rise to phenomenon such as auditory hallucinations, sleep paralysis and unrestrained, abstract thinking. New Jersey funeral doom/death-doom band Evoken’s ‘Hypnagogia’ is a concept album about a dying soldier, bitter and disillusioned by his experiences in WWI. In his final hours, he pens a journal, wishing to leave a part of his soul behind to torment anyone who reads it. All who read his words shall find themselves overcome with despair, ultimately taking their own lives and adding pieces of their own souls to the misery and power within its pages. This is, according to drummer and lyricist Vince Verkay, a metaphor for a series of events in his own life.
As far as funeral doom goes, Evoken is incredibly important and considered by many to be one of the genre’s originators. Their music is beautifully nostalgic, masterfully nihilistic and heartrendingly suicidal. Appealing perhaps mostly to those who have suffered themselves, listening to Evoken is a profoundly cathartic experience, with each release being even more emotionally devastating than the last. Hypnagogia is their sixth album and it is nauseatingly miserable – a thick wall of swirling agony that permeates the air, wrapping itself around your chest and stealing the air from your lungs.
The opening track, The Fear After eases us into the album with melancholic keyboards, giving way to groaning guitars and mournful, distant howls, building a grey and atmospheric cloud of mental anguish. Oneiric violins cut through the haze, dancing delicately between the weight of the other instruments, while the bass and drums sound as though they are echoing through ancient brick walls, or perhaps coming from within the listener.
Verkay’s drumming is a major highlight of Hypnagogia. Ranging from the brachycardic pounding that typically characterises doom metal to more rapid and ever-evolving death metal rhythms, it serves as the gnarled backbone to an emotional release. Sadly, there are times when the drumming gets buried under the mix, and other times when it sounds digitally compressed rather than simply lo-fi. This is no more obvious than on the fourth track, To Feign Ebullience, an otherwise perfect song that suffers slightly from St. Anger syndrome.
Between vast spans of depression, melancholy and dysphoria, there is a brief respite with the titular track, Hypnagogia, a keyboard-dominated, psychedelic and spacy instrumental. This is followed up two tracks later with Hypnopompic, a wistful interlude reminiscent of early Satyricon and representing the period that comes between sleep and wakefulness. Snuggled warmly within the void between the two instrumentals is Ceremony of Bleeding, a gloomy, unapologetically gothic dirge, with both growls and unexpected clean singing adding yet another aspect to Evoken’s ever-evolving sound.
After the false awakening that is Hypnopompic, Evoken lulls the listener back into the nightmare with the final and longest track The Weald of Perished Man. At just over ten minutes long, this track is a journey in itself. John Paradiso’s vocals are incredibly tormented and unique as he impatiently cries for death. He sincerely sounds like someone who is ready to leave it all behind, someone for whom the dying process has become tedious. The album then ends rather abruptly, leaving the listener alone with their thoughts as the weight of Hypnagogia dissipates like an episode of sleep paralysis.
Funeral doom has never been an accessible genre, and Hypnagogia is not an accessible album in the least. A dramatic work of complexity that begs to be listened to on vinyl and by candlelight, this is a voyage that pairs well with a glass of wine and a personal understanding of mental illness. This is not an album to be passed over, but beware – you will need time to recover after your first listen.
Evoken’s Hypnagogia is out now and can be purchased here.