Evergrey add another progressive metal masterpiece to their roster with A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), an album that has that rare larger than life feel to it but still manages to display and aggression and intensity in the performances.
The Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) is the 13th album from Evergrey and their first for Napalm Records, so one might expect big things from the band and they certainly deliver. The band itself is in its 27th year, which is a pretty amazing feat in general. When you think about the pandemic, that we are still largely in, seeing a band like Evergrey have three solid releases in the last four years really says something about the commitment of the band to their music. The current lineup came into being and has remained constant since guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl arrived as new members following the release of The Glorius Collision in 2011 and this lineup had their first release with 2014’s Hymns for the Broken. The Storm Within followed in 2016 and The Atlantic in 2019, completing what was thought by many to be a trilogy. Cancelled tours and the pandemic gave the band some time for recording and Escape from the Phoenix was released in early 2021. A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) was recorded at Top Floor Studios in Gothenburg, engineered by Jakob Herrman and produced by Tom Englund and Jonas Ekdahl, with mixing and mastering by again by Jacob Hansen at Hansen Studios (Volbeat, Epica).
Evergrey waste no time launching right into a heavy riff in “Save Us”, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Tom Englund’s vocal prowess is on full display as the first verse starts and the fan gang vocal chorus adds some more intensity to the song. Keyboards come in to add some atmosphere during the chorus sections. Later in the song Englund and Henrik Danhage trade guitar solos keeping the intensity going in the song. This is a perfect introduction to not only the album but also the band and it’s good the band also released a video for the song. The keyboard and vocal fadeout makes for a perfect ending to the track as well and the haunting nature of it is something that resonates long after the song is finished.
“Midwinter Calls” is next up and another track the band made a video for, which I highly recommend checking out. The song structure has some incredibly catchy melodies and Englund’s vocals again take center stage from time to time in some sections that are nearly acapella for him. Emotion and intensity are delivered effortlessly and again a catchy chorus and contributions from fan vocals really add to the song. Guitars are heavy and driving and the solos are intense but fit perfectly within the context of the song. At this point, I can’t help but mention how Englund’s vocals remind me of Paul Carrack (Mike + the Mechanics) during some sections of the album, something that took me a while to figure out.
By now I’m convinced this album is somewhat of a departure from Escape of the Phoenix, which lacked much of the aggression and intensity already displayed. “Ominous” is one of the slower tracks on the album but still maintains the heavy feel and emotion of the faster tracks. Following “Ominous” is another slower track, “Call Out the Dark”, which features some great layered vocals and excellent use of keyboards to highlight the chorus and really make this song one of those that sticks with you. Rikard Zander on keyboards, Johan Niemann on bass, and Jonas Edkahl really shine in this song and even the emotional guitar solos from Englund and Danhage don’t overshadow their contributions to the song.
Following the two slower tracks, the band picks of the pace again for “The Orphean Testament” maintaining a bit of a darker tone which is relieved somewhat in “Reawakening” where keyboards add an overall brighter tone and feel to the track, which features yet again, another catchy chorus. The trio of Neimann, Edkahl, and Zander really shine again in this track. This song also highlights the quality in the production and effort that went into the mixing as there are sections that are relatively quiet and one can feel the quietness when listening. Granted some parts of the album do have that wall of sound aspect, but they are not too prevalent to take away from the strength of the performances.
“Heartless” is probably my favorite track on the album and one that starts out rather subdued and quiet with keyboards dominating and then settles into a bit of a heavy fast groove riff that then shifts into a heavy driving section where Edkahl’s pounding drumming really shines. The song itself shifts back and forth between these elements and of course features some great emotional vocals from Englund, especially in a section with just vocals and a lone piano backing with single notes before the guitar solos explode into the mix. For those wondering about a ballad-like song, it’s at the end in “Wildfires”, which to me seems like odd placement. The song itself is good but would have been better elsewhere in sequence to give a break from the intensity in the rest of the tracks, at least to me.
As fans have come to expect, Tom Englund’s vocals shine on the tracks as the guitar work from Englund and Henrik Danhage, and the strength of the band as a whole comes through in the tracks where Rikard Zander, Johan Niemann, and Jonas Edkahl take the lead. Evergrey has brought back intensity and aggression to their epic brand of progressive metal and as a result have one of the best albums of the year.
Written by John Jackson
- Save Us
- Midwinter Calls
- Call Out The Dark
- The Orphean Testament
- The Great Unwashed
Tom S. Englund – Vocals, guitars
Henrik Danhage – Guitars
Rikard Zander – Keyboard
Johan Niemann – Bass
Jonas Edkahl – Drums
Release Date: May 20th 2022
Record Label: Napalm Records
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Lyric video for ‘Save Us’
Video for ‘Midwinter Calls’