Tending the Dire Hatred
CoC interviews Vince Verkay of Evoken
by: Pedro Azevedo
Perhaps those who enjoy playing or listening to doom metal are the cursed offspring of some fallen angel or whatever other cliche -- but this interview did at times look like some sort of divine curse had been cast upon it. Originally meant as an interview with Evoken guitarist Nick Orlando many moons ago, it eventually ended up answered by drummer Vince Verkay, after many a problem was encountered. Yet, doomed or not, those who were involved persevered, and here are Vince's answers to CoC's questionnaire. Evoken have delivered three massive slabs of doom metal unto this world. The first, the _Shades of Night Descending_ EP, showed promise, but seen in the context of the two full-length releases that followed, it was just a simple prelude for things to come. _Embrace the Emptiness_ continued the doom/death of its predecessor, but with greatly enhanced sound, atmosphere and songwriting. Its title is a fitting one, as the band mercilessly drags the listener through the bleak fields of sorrow they create. Then _Quietus_ further increased the potency of Evoken's crushing sound, as the band continued on with their masterful dirges. Not simply your basic slow downtuned metal here: many nuances and carefully placed passages keep the music itself interesting throughout. I urge you to read on if you have even a passing interest in doom metal, for Evoken are without a doubt one of the greatest bands ever in the genre. Their latest opus, the magnificently crushing _Quietus_, is also, in my opinion, one of the finest records of 2001.

CoC: What was the original feeling that gave birth to Evoken? How has it changed over the years?

Vince Verkay: Well, I wasn't the original founder of Evoken, but I did join in its early stages, almost the beginning. What started Evoken was basically when we heard demos from bands like Disembowelment, Thergothon, Winter, etc. -- it was that almost a shock at the time that there were bands that sounded like this. It was so different from what we were hearing, the way it almost brought chills from such a dark, heavy and ominous atmosphere. After hearing such sounds spill from the speakers, we decided that we wanted to create that same atmosphere, to stick out from the rest of the pack that was all death metal at the time. When Evoken formed it was to surround that basic concept of being the stand out from the infinite pile of bands that were coming out those days. You have to remember around that time in 1990, doom this extreme was in its infancy, with very few people coming to grasp that such bands existed. Over the years we have expanded beyond what our initial goal was. As you grow as a band, you start to understand that to accomplish the atmosphere you're looking for, you don't have to simply play at a snail's pace for twenty minutes. Now, don't get me wrong: the main focus of playing this genre is to play slow, but we just started to realize that you can incorporate other arrangements. Especially now that we have five members, each with their own unique perspective on how things should sound. In the very early stages of Evoken it was basically only influenced by two people. That, without a doubt, winded up painting us in a corner which you can hear on _Shades of Night Descending_. We'll never settle, which basically is the blueprint in keeping Evoken alive. Each album we grow with influences coming in from all sides. I hope that we never settle, because when it comes to that point, there's no reason to continue, no reason to grow.

CoC: With _Embrace the Emptiness_ and _Quietus_ you have, in my opinion, created two of the best doom albums ever. What were the most important elements and the musical objective in your mind when crafting such sombre music?

VV: Wow, that's quite a compliment and something that I will never get used to. With both albums, the most important thing was to capture the same sound we do live on tape. Something we wanted to avoid was being trapped in that void so many bands find themselves in: a band can go into the studio and sound like complete crap, then you see them live and it's 100 times better, or vice versa. For us, production was the main key, because that's what makes the atmosphere on the album immense. We wanted to be able to hear all the nuances without sacrificing another instrument in the meantime. Another concern was to make the album the heaviest ever. We have heard so many albums that the atmosphere was there but that heaviness, that was almost the anchor for the music, was missing. That's what makes listening to these albums more enjoyable. Just to hear the heavy sound, almost weighing you down further and further into unknown depths is what I continue to play for. The most important musical objective is really hard to say as a whole. Each member has their own opinion on what we are trying to achieve. Basically, I can take the guess at we're not just happy being one of many doom bands to exist. We want to be "the" doom band that everyone agrees to be the heaviest, darkest, and most ominous doom band ever. To basically look back on all of our releases and not see one weak album or one so-so album to be released. So many doom bands have started out great only to fall by the wayside by creating something not genuine, almost fake, just to become commercial. That's not what writing music is about, to me anyway. This genre has to come from deep within, an outlet, to express something that in everyday life is hard for the average person. Once you abandon that concept to write more commercial material, that's when you lose that initial drive, that influence that got you started. If you look back at all the bands that attempted to go commercial, they failed miserably. Those are the bands that will look back not with their heads held high, but with that empty feeling that will corrupt their thoughts until they meet their final rest.

CoC: One of the most impressive characteristics of those two albums, at least for me, is how the music remains so solemn and sombre throughout the disc, when so many doom bands fall for the occasional catchy melody or whatever. How important is this emotional consistency for you while creating your music?

VV: Very important. I have no problem with bands throwing in a more "upbeat" riff in a song, because that may represent the anger in their arrangements. I know that maybe the average listener will have the conception that it's thrown in their to break up any monotony, but that, for me anyway, is not the case. We basically want each and every album to crush from beginning to end. For us, that's what doom metal is all about. This music isn't about driving your convertible to a rose garden and playing cemetery; it's about the sombre emotions that everyone feels at one point in time. For us, it's just easier to write this type of music because it comes from within, with no outside interference. When people ask me about those goth, so-called doom bands that exist today, I tell them it's a joke, a facade for what they think is cool. Doom wasn't created to bring lovers together in black fishnets, it was created to explore the darker things in life, the solemn atmospheres that actually come as a sort of therapy for some of us. The average person can sit back, listen to about 40 seconds and say "This is just too depressing for me", or "How can you listen to this, it's so boring". Well, those are the individuals that will more than likely never understand the deeper meaning of this music. It's music to be absorbed, not let out. I find this genre actually picks up my day, rather than bring it down.

CoC: Though it is obvious that your music is of a very sorrowful kind, I would like to know what sort of effect you would like it to have upon the listener; or do you just try to express certain types of emotion with the music and let each person absorb it in his or her own way?

VV: I really like for each person to absorb it in their own way. That, for me anyway, is what makes music that special. It's something that you can take and turn in into your own. Obviously we write the music to have those sombre and dark atmospheres, but the music is much more than that. I would much rather have five people come up to me and give me five different stories as to what they feel the music holds for them than to have all five come up with the same thing. I firmly believe that when every review, every listener all find the same characteristics in the music, it's time to either hang it up or try other ideas. There are some characteristics in the songs that everyone will agree on, but that's just a small piece of the entire puzzle. Now, I'm not saying we write these complex arrangements and [I don't want to] sound like a complete artsy-fartsy wanker like I always read about, but I think they go beyond just songs that are played slow, with a lot of reverb, and heavier than Sally Struthers on Venus. [Venus' surface gravity is roughly 0.9 times that of Earth, so she'd actually be heavier on Earth. -- ed] I mean, we basically write this music for ourselves, but we also write it for our fans. If we didn't, we wouldn't release albums. We would just sit in our basements and record everything on a three dollar, garage sale radio never to see the light of day.

CoC: Is Evoken all the doom you can take, are you and the other members of Evoken able to enjoy much lighter and/or happier music, or quite the contrary?

VV: Well, we all listen to different things as well as similar. We all enjoy doom and try to listen to as many bands as we find interesting. We also don't pigeonhole ourselves and listen to nothing but. Our influences really have a wide range. I can't speak for the entire band, but I can say with certainty that we all listen to bands like Disembowelment (obviously), Winter, Thergothon, My Dying Bride, Shape of Despair, Carnivore, death metal, black metal, ambient bands like Lycia, Portishead and Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc.. I also enjoy old U2, some tranced out techno, Lustmord, Brighter Death Now, Type O Negative, Rush, old Def Leppard, old Disgrace, etc.. I can go on all night with a huge list, but these are the ones that come directly to mind. As you can see, we don't strictly listen to depressive music and we certainly don't walk around with a puss on our face. It seems harder and harder to have a favorite band or even newer bands that I can enjoy. A lot of bands these days just have no relevance to what I like. They either try to sound like Cradle of Filth or Cannibal Corpse, but it's always been like that, I guess. I guess as I get older I try to find things I haven't heard before, or things that aren't as prominent anymore as opposed to years and years ago. Evoken isn't the most inventive band, but I also feel that we are doing something that isn't as dominant out of all the genres, like we stick out a bit from the absolute hundreds and hundreds of bands that exist. Evoken will never be all the doom I can take, but it does satisfy all those things that I look for in bands -- that's what makes it still interesting and will always be a part of my life one way or another, I will never let Evoken fade away or die.

CoC: How do you feel about the state of doom metal nowadays?

VV: Doom I think is getting better, as far as attention goes. I don't think it will attract the attention that the other genres have, but I think it's growing with time. Doom right now, I think, is getting the attention it should have received in the early '90s with bands that were coming out like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Disembowelment and Winter. Those bands, I think, were about to come out strong, but then black metal stepped in and basically became -the- genre at the time. I also think it's good to see different variations of doom these days with Spirit Caravan, Esoteric, My Dying Bride, Nebula, etc. all bringing more notice to the genre. I know a lot of debates, I guess you can call them, have ensued over what is doom and what is not. You have people saying that Black Sabbath started doom and anything directly influenced by them, a la "stoner doom", is really doom. Then you have the other side of the debate proclaiming that "funeral doom" or "doom/death" are the true doom bands because they are more tapped into the depressive side of the music. I always say that for me it doesn't matter what classification they are given; as long as you enjoy it and you feel that it holds all the elements of what you feel doom is, then hey, enjoy the band and not the label stamped on them. Even though doom bands live are a rare occurrence, I think the turnouts are also growing, depending on where you live, if you compare NYC to Buttfuck, Egypt... I know from our experience it seems each and every show we see more and more turnout for us and newer converts with each performance. I absolutely love it! It really makes it worthwhile hauling the equipment, dealing with shady clubs, the owners, and incompetent sound engineers. Not too long ago we would play to about ten people and have nothing to show for it but sore muscles, empty wallets from buying beer, and scratched up equipment. Now, things have been getting better with a fairly larger audience, somewhat sore muscles, half empty wallets, and our equipment has the proper protective cases. I guess we will really see if our audience is growing once we tour, whenever that will be. Doom is not only growing in audience, but also in bands. Just about six or seven years ago, doom was in sorry shape, with only a few bands, and most were classified as this ridiculous goth/doom, which, I think, hurt the genre. Fans despised this style and all of a sudden it became the poster child as to what doom was, which in turn hurt the doom bands that were doing it the right way and had talent. I still do feel, though, that you can literally count on your hand how many doom bands are in each country, but that's not exactly a terrible thing. What that does is prevent doom from falling into the same trouble the other genres experienced. That was too many bands coming out, bands that all sounded alike, eventually suffocating the genre and collapsing. Hah, now, I've read fan statements that they literally can count five or six legitimate doom fans from each area, but I think that they could be undercutting it a bit. Don't forget, there's a lot of fans out there that keep to themselves and don't post on the message boards or go to the clubs for various reasons. I think people would be shocked if they found out how many there could potentially be.

CoC: You are now signed to Avantgarde Records; how did this happen and what do you expect this to bring to Evoken's career? How has it been going so far? The release of _Quietus_ seemed to suffer quite a long delay in Europe...

VV: Well, Nick was in contact with Avantgarde for quite some time beforehand. I think it was around the time _Shades of Night Descending_ was released. Roberto wrote to us saying how much he really liked the album and that he was disappointed to see us picked up already. So, after he heard _Embrace the Emptiness_ he was really impressed and was entertaining the idea of doing something with us. E-mails went back and forth for several months until finally Roberto said "Fuck it, let's do it, fuck sales, fuck losing money, I really want to release something with Evoken", and the rest is history. What we expected was to finally have the proper label to push Evoken out to a wider spectrum. We feel that Avantgarde Music has always been noted for releasing quality albums and for us to be a part of that entity would really benefit us as well as give us a little bit more of a name. With previous labels, we weren't able to reach our intended audience like we would have liked. We would receive e-mails all the time from people asking where they could get our albums because their local shops didn't carry them, or they tried to reach our label but heard nothing back. With Avantgarde, we finally found that one chance, that one real possibility to reach out beyond our shores. So far we have definitely reached out beyond anything we tried before. It has really been a step up for us, but we are not finished yet by any stretch of the imagination. Of course there are things that we feel could be improved, but that's on both sides of the fence. We hope to correct those things so we can expand even further. I think what went sour in that instance was both Avantgarde and Evoken were complete strangers a bit. We had to get used to a certain way Avantgarde did things and Avantgarde had to get used to the way we do things. I think this next release will see better relations as well as greater sales, with the proper push on both ends. The delay in getting this past album out was something I really can't say I remember; it's a bit foggy for me. As I sit here and try to recall, I come up blank. Ah, how the brain cells are dropping like flies.

CoC: How would you compare your three records -- and especially _Embrace the Emptiness_ to _Quietus_?

VV: Hmmm, that's a good question. I would say _Embrace the Emptiness_ creates a darker atmosphere compared to _Quietus_. I also think _Quietus_ developed a more haunting and sombre atmosphere than _Embrace the Emptiness_. One major difference, I think, is the experience level that we gain with each release. In my opinion, that's something that you can definitely hear. Not only that, _Quietus_ was mixed in digital format while _Embrace the Emptiness_ and _Shades of Night Descending_ were both completed in analog. Digital was cool and very convenient, but for this next release we're looking to go back to analog. Analog, we feel, has that warmer sound which really enhances any atmosphere that you want to hear -- even though digital makes it easier to correct mistakes, etc.. What I mean by this is, you start to find yourself relying too much on the computer, which creates this almost safeguard, causing us to almost digress in our playing ability, which can pretty much cause us not to rehearse as intensely as we normally would. _Shades of Night Descending_ really was a record we went into the studio blindly. We weren't together long at all and the ideas we developed only came about in the studio during recording. We were very inexperienced, but for what it was worth, I think we did an OK job.

CoC: What can be expected of Evoken in the future? How do you think your music will evolve?

VV: That's really hard to say, actually. Of course we will continue to write the darkest, slowest, and most intensely ominous music we can. Who knows what the future may hold for Evoken. One goal of ours is to, at some point, try and either play a few festivals or tour in Europe. I think first we will wind up touring in the US only, because it would be easier for our label to support anything and it would really give us some experience in being on the road. At this point in our existence we haven't traveled very far, with the furthest being Ohio, which is about 12 hours from here. We'll just have to see what we can conjure up. As far as the music, I really don't like to predict what may happen. We really would rather have things happen naturally than to sit back and say "Well, we should try and sound like this or develop like that". There's always the conception that most doom bands exist for either two or three albums then simply fade away or completely change in their musical approach and wind up degrading into something they are not. With Evoken, we want to avoid those pitfalls and go out on top with each and every album being top notch.

CoC: Any final words for this interview?

VV: Well, thank you for the interview. I guess we both know now how e-mail can be a blessing but a curse at the same time... huh? Good luck with future endeavors with the zine. Everyone keep checking our website for any news we may have. Hopefully, we will see everyone on some sort of tour for the next album, and thanks to all of our fans around the world for the continued support of Evoken. Cheers!

Contact: http://www.evoken.com

(article submitted 12/4/2002)

8/13/2012 J Carbon 7 Evoken - Atra Mors
6/13/2008 Q Kalis 8.5 Evoken - A Caress of the Void
4/26/2005 P Azevedo 9 Evoken - Antithesis of Light
3/13/2001 A McKay 8.5 Evoken - Quietus
2/13/1999 A Cantwell 8.5 Evoken - Embrace the Emptiness
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