Some bands you just know are going to be unrelenting, and that’s certainly the case with long-running New Jersey mega-doomers Evoken. Their last outing saw them reissue their first demo in the form of Shades of Night Descending on Displeased Records, and now they follow that with four new tracks on a split with Swedish outfit Beneath the Frozen Soil on the I Hate imprint that also released their excellent 2007 full-length, A Caress of the Void. Beneath the Frozen Soil were also last heard from in terms of new material in ’07, when they released a split with Long Island, NY, sludgers Negative Reaction. Maybe they just have something for the East Coast, but either way, the pairing with Evoken makes more sense sonically, as Beneath the Frozen Soil are closer to them in sound and overall feel. What that means as regards listening is that the split is consistent in terms of flow, and if you’ve ever heard anything from either of these two bands, you already know the extremely oppressive nature of their output.
Evoken are positively volatile. Their six-piece lineup (which, near as I can tell, sometimes includes founding guitarist Nick Orlando and sometimes doesn’t) is brutally heavy and agonizingly slow, topped with the unearthly growls of guitarist John Paradiso, who only veers from the guttural to embark on the occasional echoed whisper (see the closing movement of “Omniscient”) or dramatic spoken part (“The Pleistocene Epoch”). If all of their albums weren’t over an hour long, I’d be tempted to call Evoken’s four-track contribution to the Beneath the Frozen Soil split full-length at over 42 minutes; in any case, they’re certainly not lacking in conveyance of aural hopelessness. Drummer/founder Vince Verkay makes the most of his nearly 20 years of experience in the band, easily taking on the task of grounding the 13-minute “The Pleistocene Epoch” – which would confound many – and knowing when to step back and give the guitars room, as on “Vestigial Fears.” Keyboardist Don Zaros provides some respite from the crushing sounds, but between the guitars (Chris Molinari makes three), Verkay’s morose pacing and the added thickness of Dave Wagner’s pace, Evoken are near-lethal in their miserable cohesion. They finish cold (of course) on “Vestigial Fears” and close their portion with “Into the Primal Shrine,” – their only cut under 10 minutes at 7:21 – which is instrumental but for a few non-verbal growls from Paradiso spread across the earlier moments.
Time-wise, Beneath the Frozen Soil make up about a third of the split’s total 64 minutes, but in that time, they give a good showing of why they’re paired with Evoken, beginning with “Ironlung” (presumably not named after the Scissorfight vocalist), which starts quietly with whispers from vocalist Göran Nilsson and light guitar strumming from Linus Pilebrand, but soon gives way to wrenchingly plodding funeral doom. In comparison to Paradiso, Nilsson changes his approach more readily from growls to black metal-style screams, peppering in some whispers and clean singing where and when appropriate. His layering techniques might also be different, but the changes are more noticeable across “Ironlung” and the two-part “Monotone Black,” which makes up the final duo of tracks on the split. One of the chief differences between Beneath the Frozen Soil and Evoken being the number of guitars and the lack of keyboards in the former, it’s not surprising their sound comes across as the rawer of the two, bassist Svante Enefalk and drummer Olof Holgersson picking up a large share of the atmosphere between them. The pause between “Monotone Black I” and “Monotone Black II” doesn’t sound like it’s supposed to be there, but nearly an hour into the split, if that’s the biggest gripe you come away with, then I think it’s safe to say everyone’s done their job.
Beneath the Frozen Soil are younger and sound it partnered with Evoken’s stately take on death/doom, but both bands shine throughout these seven tracks. Their styles are utterly inaccessible and more challenging than almost anything you could put them up against, but in its own context, the material here is excellent and makes me look forward (odd to come out of listening with any kind of positive thought whatsoever, but there you go) both to the next Evoken and to wherever Beneath the Frozen Soil might go from here, be it another split, EP or full-length release. Doom rarely ventures into territory this dark and malevolent, and it’ll probably be another 20 years before Evoken is given their proper due for how influential they’ve been in the international underground, but those bold enough to take them and their Swedish compatriots on for this split will be well rewarded for the effort. Extreme doom for the extremely doomed.
Tags: Beneath the Frozen Soil, Evoken, I Hate, New Jersey, Sweden