EVANGELIST – Ad Mortem Festinamus

The simple and heavy approach of doom metal often lends itself to a “live in the studio” sound. When you consider how many doom and sludge bands have taken their cues from the first two Black Sabbath albums and Rodger Bain’s pioneering but minimalistic production style, it sort of makes sense that many working within these often insanely heavy subgenres would take a quick, no-frills approach to recording. That’s not always the case with Evangelist. The mysterious and Lovecraft obsessed Polish doom merchants took two years to record their debut album across various sessions, and although later releases came together in a more streamlined way, nothing was ever completed on the quick and the cheap.

Their 2020 release ‘Ad Mortem Festinamus’ brings together material recorded over a four year period. Three tracks were left over from album sessions back in 2016, while a further three numbers were recorded fresh for the release. What’s important here is that this disc doesn’t feel thrown together in any way: despite a huge gap between the recordings, they compliment each other well and none ever sound like stop-gap offerings or fillers. In the main, it’s all very good, at least musically; vocally, things are more an acquired taste since their frontman favours a truly bizarre and overwrought warble, often bringing a sense of the theatrical to their doom. Still, it often seems to work for them.

Unfortunately, there’s one occasion where Evangelist truly miss the mark on this release. Even more unfortunate – especially if you’re a first time listener – their worst track this time out (and possibly ever) has been used to open this disc. ‘Percival’ isn’t just bad; it’s positively nasty. The slow and heavy riffs are always great, and the way the heaviness is counterbalanced with some retro twin lead harmonies lends this especially doomy piece an important levity. The problems arise with that aforementioned lead vocal: the frontman settles upon a mix of gothic croon and lilting folk melody (as loved by Delain’s Otto Schimmelpenninck) and when adopting this sing-song style to something heavier while telling all about the myths and legends of English knights, it all sounds…rather silly. It’s a pity, as his bombastic and carefree performance really overshadows any of this song’s commendable features. It’s best heard once and then forgotten.

The best of these recordings, ‘Anubis (On The Throne of Death)’ works a slow, Cathedral-esque riff throughout the bulk of a slow and heavy six minutes. The core of the track features a massive dirty guitar, but unlike some doom bands, there’s also a lot of melody drifting in and out of the performance. This becomes particularly obvious through the usage of multi-tracked lead guitar sounds that owe more to stoner rock, a couple of Slayer’s slower and threatening workouts, and even Thin Lizzy, than the purer end of the doom spectrum. To lend an important contrast, the tempo increases during the climax to allow a very old school lead break to sit naturally. Whatever angle the music takes, though, the performance always strikes the perfect balance between heaviness and melody. Vocally, it’s a little more challenging, but thankfully their nameless frontman never spoils the music with a guttural roar or too much of his previous bizarre silliness; instead, he taps into a massive, theatrical croon that actually seems to suit the music. He can be still be somewhat of an acquired taste, but in a different way. When performing something that’s more suited to Euro prog metal, he sounds at his best using that broad range to deliver broad melodic strokes with a metallic bombast. There’s far more at stake, of course, and eventually dropping into neo-gothic spoken passages, he shows huge faith in the audience’s willingness to go with him on a whim. Within this track alone, Evangelist take the listener on an epic journey where heaviness is contrasted with the theatrical and the theatrical is subjected to the unexpected derailment of something almost Gregorian. In short, as far as gothic doom metal/dark progressive metal is concerned, these guys are unafraid to experiment and this could be one of their best tracks to date.

Much simpler, though still impressive, ‘Towards The End’ is a prime piece of very traditional doom. As you’d expect, the huge, heavy riff that’s set in place from the outset recalls some of the genre’s classic performances. The band’s unnamed guitarist is certainly more than capable of offering a riff that not only has a massive presence, but is also capable of maintaining listener interest even at times where the arrangement is…less than busy. Nothing ever feels like it outstays its welcome, though, and when it comes pretty close, he offers a brilliant solo that pays tribute to the cleaner guitar sounds of the 80s. There’s a lot about this choice of lead sound, in that will remind some listeners of the glory days of the NWOBHM, instantly appealing to those hoping for more melody. Also flaunting the band’s most melodic side, a cover of Manilla Road’s ‘Mystification’ provides a superb contrast with the heavier material. What’s more, Evangelist really make this tune their own. It would have been easy enough for the band to reproduce the heavy-ish prog metal tune verbatim – its semi-bombastic style would have suited Evangelist well enough – but, instead, they offer fans something far more interesting. Stripping the arrangement down to its melodic core, the five minutes are filled with intricate semi-acoustic guitar melodies, over which a rich, booming vocal maintains another somewhat theatrical presence. By offering the cover in this quieter manner, they not only show off the song’s key melodies but also demonstrate how, as a band, they’re more than capable of a sonic range when so many other doomers stick to the heavy…and heavier still. In many ways, this perfect blend of sedate prog metal sounds coupled with a huge voice almost makes Evangelist sound like a strange Queensryche tribute act, but it’s something that suits them well.

The remaining numbers aren’t as inventive, but are still well played – and even at their most pedestrian are hugely preferable to ‘Percival’. Whether Evangelist find themselves waist deep in the trad doom of ‘Pale Lady of Mercy’ where the main riff shows an obvious love of Sabbath (albeit played a hundred times heavier and intercut with brilliant horsey squeals) before sounding like a slowed down 80s prog metal workout, or trudging through the heavy wastelands of ‘Puritan’ where the band latch onto more Cathedral-ish goodness that allows their unnamed guitarist to wield a lot of musical weight, there’s still something for the more committed gothic doom fan to enjoy. Neither suggests ‘Ad Mortem Festinamus’ should be approached casually, but that was always going to be the case.

Between the epic nature of ‘Anubis’, the classic doom of ‘Towards The End’ and an unexpected acoustic piece, this release covers a lot of ground in a vinyl friendly thirty seven minutes. From a fans’ perspective, at the very least, it’ll mark a welcome return after a lengthy silence. It won’t win over those important new fans easily, but despite wobbly beginnings (‘Percival’ really brings a whole new meaning to “misjudged”), this release has a lot to offer the bigger doom metal fan with a lot of patience.

December 2020