Twelve albums into their career, it would be hard to think of a band so consistent, yet so ambitious as Evergrey have proven themselves to be.
This new release builds on their reputation as one of the finest Rock bands to ever come out of mainland Europe, let alone Sweden, their intoxicating blend of heaviness, sophistication and the skyscrapingly emotional voice and lyrics of main man Tom Englund.
Evergrey – Escape of the Phoenix (AFM Records)
Release Date: 26 February 2021
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Sure, there are many progressive and power Metal bands out there, but none with quite the same ability to connect in the same heart to heart way that the Gothenburg quintet have mastered.
Opener ‘Forever Outsider’ is a huge rush of blistering guitarwork and piledriving rhythms, Englund’s vocals soaring above the melee, the very human voice at the centre of the storm, as they declare their individuality and strength in that.
As you travel through the album from this initial salvo, it is impossible not to be impressed by the craft at work here, the construction of the huge themes within a cathedral sized musical soundscape that fills the senses utterly. Certainly, there is enough of the heavy duty riffing liberally peppered through to satisfy all but the most Extreme Metal fan but there is also layer upon layer of subtle touches that will stay with you long after the last note fades.
There is a perfect balance displayed here as the beautifully epic single ‘Where August Mourns’ and the gorgeous melancholy of ‘Stories’ seemingly reach into your very soul, whilst the bruising ‘Dandelion Cipher’ reminds you what a heads down thrill ride the band are equally adept at creating.
Tom Englund recently told MetalTalk (Part One and Part Two) while discussing the melancholic emotions of ‘Escape of the Phoenix’, with its messages of hope, that “’hope’ is one of the key words here. I think I have discovered the best way to describe, in that if you look at how I have written about solitude and loneliness, it has always come from a perspective of desperation, sadness and sorrow.
“But if you look at how I have written on this album it comes from a perspective of strength, self-esteem and power and that is the difference.
“I still write about the same thing, about feeling and being an outsider, but it is not something that holds me down and makes me a smaller person as it did before. It is something I am proud of and brought me to become a Metalhead and where I am today basically.”
Dream Theater’s James LaBrie
Following the appearance of Nightwish’s Floor Jansen on earlier recordings, this time it’s Dream Theater’s James LaBrie to provide his own sprinkling of magic to ‘The Beholder’ [see below], his vocals gloriously mixing with those of Englund’s in this widescreen anthem.
The delicate piano playing of Rikard Zander opens the slowly twisting and ultimately sweeping ‘In the Absence of Sun’, Johan Niemann’s bass weaving magically through the pattern before the guitars take things to another level entirely. This tonal building and deft grasp of dynamics highlights the perfect working relationship between the band and producer Jacob Hansen, each moment perfectly pitched to accentuate both the drama of the songs and the sublime playing of the musicians.
You can feel the power that drummer Jonas Ekdahl pours into his kit as he drives things ever along, letting the twin guitars of Englund and Henrick Danhage provide the grit, Zander and Niemann both adding their own colours to the rich palatte.
The intensely personal, yet ultimately universal and hopeful ‘Eternal Nocturnal’ flies on the wings of eagles, its intense musical weight splitting the sky, the thunder not overwhelming the beams of light slicing through the darkness.
The titular ‘Escape of the Phoenix’ and ‘Leaden Saint’ bring their full-on attacks to bear, bookending the exquisite ‘You From You’, all breathtaking in their own way before final track ‘Run’ brings things to a mighty close.
Incredibly powerful and moving, almost unbearably so, the track once more marks out the band as one whose ability to capture the heaviness of Metallica and mixing it with the emotional weight of early Marillion whilst stamping their own distinct mark on the music sets them apart from their peers.
Stirring, elating and dazzling, ‘Escape of the Phoenix’ is a triumph.