Death, Doom and Cursed Ledgers: An Interview With Dave Wagner of Evoken

Funeral doom legends look back on the making of 2018’s Hypnagogia

Rounding out an utterly thrilling year for extreme metal, Evoken released Hypnagogia this past November — a bludgeoning masterwork that stood not only as the strongest material of their own twenty-eight year career, but as one of the most captivating doom releases of 2018. Building on the melodic ambitions of 2012’s Atra Mors, the New Jersey heavyweights pushed their sound into more immersive and melodic realms, adorning their notoriously glacial riffs with mournful atmospherics, funereal swaths of cello and even the spectral plink of a piano. Rather than dilute the bone-crushing weight of the songs, these transfixing dynamics only heightened the heart-crushing sense of despair that had dominated their five earlier releases. Unified by highly-potent riffage and emotionally-charged choruses, concussive anthems like Valorous Consternation sit neatly beside the slow-building seductions of cuts like the title track and the magnificent closer, The Weald Of Perished Men.

Thematically, Hypnagogia marks the band’s first stab at a concept album, a modern-day Gothic horror story about a dying soldier in WWI who chronicles his final hours in a journal. Vengeful and embittered, the soldier forges a cursed pact with a malevolent deity that the darkest, most poisoned part of the soldier’s soul will remain in the journal, transmitting all of his suffering and despair to those who read it. To escape the unbelievable anguish, these readers take their own lives, passing their own agonies back into the book where they await the next unfortunate soul. Transcending these inventive horror themes are subversively-poignant meditations on modern existentialism and man’s search for meaning.

Far and away the band’s most ambitious outing yet, Hypnagogia continues to find much love among not only funeral doom disciples but far and wide throughout the metal community. I caught up with bassist Dave Wagner to talk about horror movies, the curse of social media and of course, a behind-the-scenes look at the new record.

 

 With Atra Mors, the band took what felt like a deliberate step towards a more melodic style. On the new album, it feels even more pronounced. How conscious was this evolution?

I don’t think we ever deliberately set out to become more melodic. I do think that guitarist Chris Molinari joining the band as we started to write Atra Mors may have influenced this. Chris has a knack for coming up with melodies and solos of emotional devastation that will rip your heart out. I think that Descent into Chaotic Dream really showcased this on Atra Mors. The fact that distorted guitars only come in halfway through that song also highlighted a new approach for us. We didn’t intend for Hypnagogia to be our most melodic work to date; it’s just how things unfolded during the process of its creation. The clean vocal chorus part in Ceremony of Bleeding, the at times almost uplifting, feel in The Weald of Perished Men and the more pronounced use of cello performed by Brian Sanders all amplify the melodic aspects of the record.

Is taking risks important to the band and if so, what sort of creative risks did you take on the new record?

I don’t know if I’d say that risk taking is important to the band, but I know that my own mindset going into creating this album was to transcend what it means to be a “funeral doom” band. Some might call the chorus in Ceremony of Bleeding or the more melodic nature of some of the other material a risk, but it was just what came naturally to us along the way.

Beyond the lyrical themes, in what ways did the songwriting on Hypnagogia differ from the writing of Atra Mors?

We kind of have a set way of writing new material. It’s very old school. Guys come to practice with ideas and we work on and build upon them together until we feel that we’ve maximized the potential of that part. We don’t Skype or do much digital file swapping unless it’s MP3s that John Paradiso rips from the cassette recordings he makes at rehearsal.

It’s been six years since the last album – how much of that was spent focused on new music?

When Atra Mors came out, we must have spent about 3 years primarily focused on doing live shows, so I think it was about 2015 when we stopped doing shows to focus on writing. We also took a few extended breaks from activity along the way.

Were there any challenges – creative or technical – that you needed to overcome to get the record finished?

Time was our greatest challenge. Sometimes it was finding the time for all of us to be able to get together to rehearse, and at another it was long gaps of time to get back in to the studio to keep working on the record. Overall, I do think it was worth the wait as rushing the process would have compromised the quality of the album.

What was the inspiration for the story behind Hypnagogia?

Vince drew his inspiration from reading the journals and diaries of WWI soldiers that he found online. Having read a few of them myself upon his suggestion, I could see some direct correlations to some of the scenarios and thoughts expressed in these writings.

How did you arrive at the decision to record a concept album?

The full realization of a concept album came along quite late in the process. (Drummer/lyricist) Vince Verkay had mentioned a theme relating to World War I soldiers and the psychological damage endured from their experiences. I think that you need a compelling story to create a successful concept album and the interesting thing about Hypnagogia, at least to me, is that it’s a subtler, read-between-the-lines sort of existential narrative, rather than a character or plot-driven story.

In your mind, what are some particularly good concept albums and perhaps one that didn’t hit the mark?

King Diamond is all that need be mentioned when it comes to the ultimate metal concept albums. He really is the king when you consider Abigail, Them, Conspiracy, etc. All I can think of now is King Diamond’s mastery of the genre, so any bad concept albums are blotted from my memory…

Are you much of a horror movie guy?

Yes, I love horror films. From Hammer films, to Hellraiser, to Night of the Living Dead, to The Exorcist, to zombie movies and so on. Some of my recent favorites are Hereditary, The VVitch andThe Void, Also, while necessarily not straight-up horror films, I’ve enjoyed some movies that have have some horror aspects, like Mandy and Bone Tomahawk. I wasn’t able to catch the new Halloween or Suspiria in the theater, but I hope to see both of these soon.

To what extent does social media play a part in your day?

Personally, I’m not a big social media person. The only platform I’m on is Instagram. I do use it to keep informed about what might be going on with some of my favorite bands or whatever and a lot of my posts are intended to promote Evoken and I think it’s helpful to get the word out about us. Social media definitely has no influence over our songwriting. Ultimately, we create for ourselves.

Even as you veer into more experimental territory, people want to  file you into the funeral doom sub-genre. While it’s a fair classification of much of your catalog, it no longer describes the whole of your sound. Do you ever feel any allegiance to that genre, or to any other?

I think we prefer to be classified as doom death but it’s understandable that Evoken is often put in the funeral doom category. I do agree with you that Hypnagogia is more than just a funeral doom album. We drew inspiration from across the span of metal genres and beyond to create this new album. I’d like to think Evoken could become a band that can bridge the gap between metal genres.

Where do you see Evoken five years from now?

In five years’ time I’d like to think that I’ll talking to you about another new record and that we would have a lot of amazing new experiences under our belts.

Thanks a million for your time!

Thank you, it was my pleasure.

Evoken is:

John Paradiso – guitar/vocals
Chris Molinari – guitar
Dave Wagner – bass
Don Zaros – keyboards
Vince Verkay – drums

https://www.facebook.com/evokenhell

http://www.profoundlorerecords.com
http://www.facebook.com/profoundlorerecords
http://www.profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com
https://www.instagram.com/profoundlorerecords