The last months of 2018 have seen the comeback of one of the greatest and most influential funeral doom bands. Hailing from New Jersey, they’re preaching the word of slowness and melancholy since 1994. Even if you think this kind of music is not for you, they have demonstrated it’s not only about 40bpm tempo and super downtuned guitar riffs: their last opus, Hypnagogia, is a very intimate trip in the devastating world of the WWI, with very dark and dramatic atmospheres. I asked some questions to Dave Wagner, their bass player, who also played for many years in the death metal warriors Funebrarum and Abazagorath.
Your new album, Hypnagogia, is one of the best funeral doom (or doom Death, as you prefer) album I’ve heard since many years. Why did you choose to write a concept about WWI?
Thanks for your positive comments on the new record. We are all very proud and happy with how it came out and are also blown away by how well it is being received by the critics & fans. Call our style of music what you like, but we hope it always comes across as purely Evoken… Our drummer Vince Verkay also takes care of much of the lyrical themes and somewhere along the lines when composing the music for this album he came up with the idea to base the lyrics around a World War 1 concept. Rather than being influenced by the historical facts or the warlike imagery a War Metal band would be into, Vince had been reading the wartime journals and diaries of soldiers who lived through it and was extremely inspired by the emotional, psychological and physical trauma and misery they described. Vince then expanded this into a narrative in which a dying soldier spends his final moments transcribing his last thoughts and feelings in his diary. He strikes a bargain with an evil spirit that will allow his embittered soul to live on in the journal upon his passing. Those who come upon and read the diary will find themselves possessed by the negative emotions imprisoned in the journal, leading to madness and their eventual demise… One of the most interesting aspects of the theme is that the story telling is very “covert,” unlike most concept albums that have a more direct story line, leaving a lot up the interpretation of the listener…
There are 6 years of distance between Atra Mors and Hypnagogia. Why did it took so long for you to write a new album?
It isn’t unusual for us to take several years between albums, it’s actually probably the norm for Evoken. Part of it is due to scheduling, with everyone in the band juggling life’s demands and responsibilities to find the time to get together and at times that requires us taking a break from all activities. Part of it is because we took about 2 – 3 years to focus on performing live after the release of “Atra Mors” before fully committing to staying off the live stage to focus on writing. More importantly, we stress quality over quantity, so we make sure the material, as well as the recording & mixing, meet our satisfaction before considering a new album complete, so this of course takes time.
I like a lot how you use Cello to create such a beautiful bleak atmosphere in some song. Have Brian Sanders played with you before Hypnagogia? How much time you played live with a cello player?
Evoken has been adding cello into the album recordings since “Quietus.” Brian also recorded the cello parts on “Atra Mors,” and at that time I think we had already discussed the idea of having him perform with us someday as he seemed inclined to do it as opposed to the prior cellist(s) who I don’t think were as into the music they were accompanying… We were fortunate to have Brian performing with us during our entire set when we played in Brooklyn, NY last November just upon the release of the new album. It was a really cool moment for the band and the audience and hopefully Brian will be able to perform with us again in the future.
Are you planning some European dates to promote the album?
2019 sees us focusing more on performing in US cities that we have not been to yet. We’ve actually played in more places in Europe than in the US. So, over the next few months we will be playing shows and festivals in Portland (Maine AND Oregon), Washington, DC Pittsburgh, etc. and have some other very exciting possibilities. These days we are receiving more show and tour offers than ever before and we hope to be able to fulfill as many as our schedules will allow. Unfortunately, we’ve had to turn down a few European as well as US offers, but we do hope to perform at least one show on European soil before the end of the year and we will also see what happens in 2020 and beyond…
You are one of the funding members of Funebrarum (along with ex Evoken Nick Orlando and Dario Derna) and you played with them for many years. Are you now bringing some more death metal influences on Evoken’s sound?
I don’t know if I would be considered a founding member, but I was in Funebrarum pretty early on and enjoyed my time playing with those guys up until 2015 when I had to depart because I didn’t have time to dedicate to more than one project. Funebrarum is very close to my heart & I miss it like Hell, but I am following what they have been up to over the past few years and I am happy to see that they are more active than ever. Evoken has always had a lot of Death Metal (not to mention Black Metal) influences right from the start so I don’t think my joining the band had any big impact in that regard. And I am sure you will always find some Death metal vibes in Evoken’s creations…
This is the second album you’re releasing with Profound Lore. Is the label doing a good job for you, compared to the previous one you worked with?
We are very happy to be working with one of the very best labels in business! Chris from Profound Lore has been super supportive and patient with us when it has taken a while for us to get the albums done!! HAHA! The profile of the band has definitely risen in the time we have been with Profound Lore but Evoken has worked with several labels through the 25 years or so of the band’s existence and they have all played a part in the band’s growth and development.
You’ve played some shows with the movie Begotten on the background. Why did you choose that movie?
We started to perform with “Begotten” playing as a video backdrop when we played at Roadburn in 2011 because they had video screens. While most bands just projected their logo on the screen. Vince came up with the idea of having this bizarre & disturbing movie playing while we were onstage. I work in a TV post production facility which gave me access to some editing & dubbing applications & gear so I actually did some minor editing, for example adding in a title page with our logo and cutting out or re-arranging some scenes. We in no way coordinate how or what we perform while “Begotten” is running in the background, but often times I look back at the screen and can’t help but feel that what we are playing is eerily in sync with the imagery that is being projected. In the last year or so, we’ve been able to use the footage for our sets at Madrid is the Dark Festival, Decibel Metal & Beer Fest and Maryland Deathfest. We’ve gotten so much positive feedback to our use of the video that hopefully we can come up with something similar that is directly related to the themes on “Hypnagogia.”
Full set in Maryland Deathfest, with Begotten screened on the background
in 2013 you played at the Obscene Extreme doom night along with Esoteric and Hooded Menace. How the people reacted to your super slow music?
That was a cool and funny time. The Obscene Extreme Doom night was definitely something different for the punks and grindcore fans that were there that day! We actually had some people up onstage, drunkenly moshing around and stage diving, which was a first for us! I was getting into it. I would rock out with them when they were up there with us! The craziest & funniest part was when this one punk guy pulled down his friend’s pants and started to spank his bare ass at the front of the stage. I think it’s also possible he stuck his finger up the other guy’s asshole!! But overall, the crowd seemed to be into us and we went over really well all things considered. Anyway, it was clear that a lot of people who attend Obscene Extreme take their partying very seriously. Our show took place on a Wednesday, even before the official start of the Festival, and there were already a lot of seriously & possibly dangerously inebriated people stumbling around like zombies or passed out in the campground in the middle of the afternoon! Classic!!
You played for many years with Abazagorath under the nickname Nyarlathotep. Can you tell us more about that band?
I helped form Abazagorath back in 1995 so we started pretty early on in the development of the “USBM scene.” We were fervently inspired by first & second wave Black Metal – Venom, Bathory, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, Marduk, etc – as well as “Evil” Death /Thrash oriented stuff like Slayer, Sodom, Destruction, Possessed, etc. I have been a complete freak for the writings of HP Lovecraft since my early teens, so my pseudonym had to be Nyarlathotep; the Crawling Chaos, the Haunter of the Dark who will presage the fall of mankind & the end of the world… It was a crazy & wild time for all of us who were in our early 20s, releasing our unbridled negativity & disdain for the world around us and extremely creative as well as we were 100% focused on what we were doing… The more prominent releases that came out during my tenure include the “Channelling the Ethereal Moons” MCD (1996), “Tenebrarum Cadent Exsurgemus” CD (1997), “The Spirit of Hate for Mankind” 7” EP (2002), “Enshrined Blasphemer” MCD (2003), “Sacraments of the Final Atrocity” CD (2004), “Ancient Entities Arise” split CD with Bloodstorm (2008) and “Abazagorath” MCD (2012), not to mention a few demos, promos, comp tapes, etc. We gigged somewhat frequently in the New York City area performing with bands like Enslaved, Marduk, Impaled Nazarene, Deicide, Destroyer 666, Enthroned, Profanatica, Mortician, Suffocation, Vital Remains, Hell-Born, Black Witchery, Sadistic Intent and many more… We participated in the “USBM Attack: Satanic Metal Vengeance Tour” through much of Western Europe in April 2004 alongside Demoncy & Krieg. That was a fucking blast, living the BM lifestyle 24/7 for 2 weeks of pure Hell!! HAHA!! I stopped my activity in Abazagorath in late 2011 to focus on other things. Very importantly in my own personal development, my time in Abazagorath built the foundation for the rest of my musical “career” as it was in this period that I formed the bonds & friendships with the guys in Evoken that eventually transpired in the creation of Funebrarum and in 2008, my joining Evoken. Original drummer Warhead is still going strong with a 3-piece line up that is still releasing high quality recordings such as “The Satanic Verses” album from a few years ago and still performing live, for example supporting Varathron last summer.
What are the bass players that influenced your style of playing?
I’m no bass-geek or virtuoso so my own playing in no way reaches the technical levels of this god but to me, Cliff Burton is the ultimate Metal bassist and as hearing early Metallica turned me into a total Metalhead for life, his bass playing is what inspired me to eventually take up the bass. I am also heavily into the playing styles of Geezer Butler, Lars Tangmark of Dawn (Sweden) and Fenriz’s performance on Dodheimsgard’s “Kronet Til Konge.” I am also inspired by the leadership roles that bassists like Steve Harris, Leif Edling or even Nikki Sixx hold in their respective bands.