Evergrey take advantage of the time available with tours being canceled to focus on the recording of their 12th album, Escape of the Phoenix, which adds to their already impressive collection of progressive metal.
Since the release of The Dark Discovery in 1998, the Swedish band Evergrey has been putting their mark on progressive metal. Being a productive band, now in their 26th year, the band has released 12 albums including a live double cd with the Gothenburg Symphonic Orchestra, all the while enduring lineup changes and touring the globe, and dealing with recording during a global pandemic. With the release of The Glorius Collision in 2011 guitarist Marcus Jidell and drummer Hannes van Dahl departed the band and were replaced by Henrik Danhage (guitar) and Jonas Ekdahl (drums). This lineup has remained constant and produced Hymns for the Broken (2014) and The Storm Within (2016). Early 2019 saw the release of The Atlantic, which was one of my top albums in 2019 and thought by many to be the third album in a trilogy from this lineup. Enter Covid-19 and 2020 and the band’s tours canceled, giving them the opportunity to record Escape of the Phoenix with Grammy-nominated producer Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Amaranthe) and without the usual distractions.
After the epic nature of The Atlantic, which made so many Top 10 album lists, my hopes were impossibly high for I. Following a quick, short drum burst, the lead track “Forever Outsider” basically picks up where The Atlantic ended. Interesting drum work, heavy main riff, great guitar solo, and Tom Englund’s heavy, dark, and smooth vocal delivery matched with a strong sense of melody make the opening track a great listen and raise the expectations for the rest of the album.
“Where August Mourn” was a bit of a departure from what I expected with much of the verse sections mostly a bass line and drums accompanying Tom’s vocals. In many ways, the song seems to have lost a good bit of the metal I was expecting and veers into the territory of album rock from the late 80’s. Don’t get me wrong, the song itself is very well done and arranged, but was a bit of surprise from a stylistic point of view with keyboards taking a major part of the overall sound for parts of the song. “Stories” goes even further way from the opening track with just vocals and piano carrying a major part of the overall sound. The way the song builds works well, but it does tend to plod along for nearly seven minutes.
“Dandelion Cipher” has the band returning toward a sound more familiar to me and one thing that really stands out by this point in the album is the how important the bass work by Johan Neimann is. Many of the songs on the album have a stripped down element and feel to them which really not only allows Niemann’s bass to be heard but showcases it in carrying the songs. Once again Englund’s vocals provide a perfect foil to the somewhat dirty riff in the song and Henrik Danhage continues to impress with guitar solos that are perfectly matched to the song and yet still have that unpredictable element to them.
By the time “The Beholder” starts with its keyboard intro, I’m becoming more and more confused as this album doesn’t seem very much like what I remember liking in The Atlantic. Continuing in the slower, keyboard-heavy theme is “In the Absence of Sun” which like “Stories” relies heavily on a piano and vocal duo to set the stage for the song. In this case, the song itself does build to the heavy before fading back out with the sorrowful piano.
Thankfully “Eternal Nocturnal” and “Escape of the Phoenix” bring back the metal I was looking for and remind the listener of what the band is capable of when it comes to progressive metal, but then “You From You” ventures into the realm of metal ballads and while well done, I just can’t get behind it. The album closes with two more of the stronger tracks, which if you haven’t gathered by now, means that they are faster and fairly far away from any description of being called a ballad.
To this reviewer, Evergrey have put together an album that brings in some new elements in their songwriting that just didn’t resonate with me as I think my expectations from The Atlantic were set too high. While like on The Atlantic, the production and songcraft that went into this album are outstanding and provide that epic feel that is rare in albums, I am just not a fan of the slower, more ballad-like material.
Written by John Jackson
“Escape Of The Phoenix” track listing:
01. Forever Outsider
02. Where August Mourns
04. A Dandellion Cipher
05. The Beholder
06. In The Absence Of Sun
07. Eternal Nocturnal
08. Escape Of The Phoenix
09. You From You
10. Leaden Saints
12. The Darkness In You (artbook bonus track)
Tom S. Englund – Vocals
Henrik Danhage – Guitars
Rikard Zander – Keyboard
Johan Niemann – Bass
Jonas Edkahl – Drums
Release Date: 26 February 2021
Record Label: AFM Records
Video for ‘Eternal Nocturnal’
Video for ‘Where August Mourns’